- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2009

1. Is Maryland in?

The Terps should be after handling Wake Forest on Friday in the ACC tournament. The bottom of the field isn’t particularly strong, and Maryland’s high-quality victories (Michigan State, North Carolina, Wake Forest) should make up for a shaky road record and loss at Virginia to end the regular season. In this projection, the Terps would play in the Philadelphia subregional and probably would remain there even with a Sunday surprise.

2. Proud to be American

Patriot League champion American should draw a better seed in its second go-round in the tournament - in this projection a No. 13. That won’t be easy - in this case, it means facing Florida State in Miami - but it does offer the possibility of the Eagles springing an upset. The rest of the No. 4 seeds are clustered out west, so a long trip could be in the offing for Garrison Carr, Derrick Mercer and Co.

3. Ram tough

Think VCU was a handful two years ago? Get ready for the encore. Coach Anthony Grant deploys one of the nation’s best guards (Eric Maynor) and a burgeoning inside presence in Larry Sanders, and should be a chic pick for the usual 5-12 upset everyone anticipates. A methodical team like Purdue is precisely the wrong team that needs to see the impressive CAA champion in the first round.

4. What of Saint Mary’s?

Truly the toughest team in the field to gauge, the Gaels played more than a month without guard Patrick Mills (a starter on Australia’s Olympic team last summer) and their record reflects his absence. However, the point guard is back, which makes it hard to assess the team’s work with him away. Still, it’s a squad with only two top-50 victories. If any team in this projection is snubbed, the Gaels are the best bet.

5. SEC-tional tension

One of the season’s big stories is just how abysmal the Southeastern Conference is. Yes, Louisiana State and Tennessee are safely in the tournament field, but just about everyone else (Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina) bumbled badly. A conspiracy theorist would note SEC commissioner Mike Slive is the committee chairman, but at least if borderline Auburn gets in, a team that’s played well the last six weeks would get a ticket.

6. ‘Ville-age people

The Big East’s regular-season champion, Louisville probably earned a No. 1 seed just by getting to the final of the conference tournament. Led by Terrence Williams, the Cardinals have some of the most favorable geography to work with this season. Look for Louisville to start in Dayton against the play-in winner, then move to Indianapolis for the Midwest regional. North Carolina, though, will be the No. 1 overall seed.

7. Map quest

Look for fellow Big East power Pittsburgh to join Louisville in Dayton, while Connecticut and Villanova play in Philadelphia. The ACC will anchor the Greensboro, N.C., subregional with Duke and North Carolina, and the Miami subregional with Florida State and Wake Forest. Other sites include Kansas City, Mo. (Oklahoma and Memphis), Minneapolis (Michigan State and Missouri), Boise, Idaho (Kansas and Illinois), and Portland, Ore. (Washington and Syracuse).

8. What can go wrong today?

Most of the drama is gone. The ACC and Big Ten finals are about seeding. In the Southland, Texas-San Antonio can take Stephen F. Austin’s spot with a defeat of the Lumberjacks in the league title game. The real story is in the SEC, where Mississippi State could yet steal a berth if it can win for the fourth time in as many days when it plays Tennessee. Lots of people will root against Mississippi State, hoping it doesn’t pull a Georgia and swipe a spot.

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