Bank on another anxious Selection Sunday for ACC and Colonial Athletic Association basketball fans, coaches and players.
Neither conference will match its record qualifiers for the NCAA tournament field – three for the CAA and seven for the ACC. Nor will the state of Virginia, which enjoyed five teams in last year's bracket, headlined by VCU's stunning run to the Final Four.
But there is plenty of intrigue as the selection committee chooses 37 at-large teams to accompany 31 automatic-qualifying conference champions.
Most of the ACC's uncertainty revolves around Miami. The Hurricanes boast two victories that no so-called bubble team can match – home against Florida State and at Duke – but those are their only wins over teams among the top 100 on the Rating Percentage Index.
Moreover, the NCAA's probe of improper benefits to Miami athletes continues to prompt suspensions. The most recent casualty was guard Durand Scott, who missed Friday's ACC tournament quarterfinal loss to Florida State.
Would the 10-member selection committee award a bid to a team that might be poised to lose even more players to an NCAA probe?
If the panel bypasses Miami, five ACC teams are likely to make the field. Duke, North Carolina and Florida State are locks, with Virginia and North Carolina State probable.
Cavaliers faithful may fret over five losses in the last eight games and season-ending injuries to Assane Sene and Malcolm Brogdon, but Virginia's 7-6 record versus the top 100, which includes a win over No. 10 Michigan, and a 7-4 road mark are far better than many NCAA hopefuls.
Meanwhile, N.C. State saw a four-game winning streak end Saturday in a fierce 69-67 loss to North Carolina in an ACC tournament semifinal.
Few fit the bubble profile more than Drexel, the CAA's regular-season champion. The Dragons closed the regular season with 17 consecutive victories and extended the streak to 19 before falling to VCU in the CAA tournament final.
Drexel absolutely passes the so-called "eye test" and won 11 true road games. But its non-conference schedule is ranked 224th by CollegeRPI.com. That could be a deal-breaker.
Ranked 66th on the RPI, the Dragons are 4-3 against the top 100, and 15 of their wins came against teams below 200. The lowest-rated team to make the field last season was No. 67 Southern California.
"We probably look at more quality teams and discuss their ability to be in the field than probably anybody else that looks at the bracket or deals with the bracketology, if you will," committee chair and Big East consultant Jeff Hathaway said in a conference call Wednesday.
"And we all know what the bottom line premise has been of the committee over the past years, and that is: Who did you play? Where did you play them, and how did you do?"
Asked cryptically – not by name – about Drexel, Hathaway addressed winning streaks.
"Winning games is obviously the bottom line and the most important factor. Winning them in a row, I don't know that that really factors into the equation. … The committee looks at trends, and we factor all those things in. So to answer your question succinctly, I'm not sure winning streaks are something that we all sit there and make a focal point.
"I will say if they won the regular season, obviously that's a big deal, because it puts them under consideration automatically. But that's as far as I can go with that."
If Drexel doesn't make the field, VCU will be the CAA's lone team, this a year after three league teams – VCU, Old Dominion and George Mason – were chosen.
The 2011 field also included a record five teams from Virginia: ODU, VCU, George Mason, Richmond and Hampton. VCU and freshly-mintedMid-Eastern Athletic Conferencechampion Norfolk State are assured bids Sunday, and Virginia could make it three from the commonwealth.
The Spartans may be assigned to one of four opening-round games in Dayton, Ohio, the same venue where VCU began its Final Four drive.
Coaches and players often reference strength of conferences when debating teams' worthiness, but Hathaway made clear the committee does not.
"Fact of the matter is conference RPI and conference rankings are not brought up in the committee room at all," he said.
The tournament's four No. 1 regional seeds also appear uncertain. Hathaway said Kentucky and Syracuse have proven their cases, but that a handful of teams figure to merit consideration for the other No. 1s.
North Carolina, Kansas, Michigan State, Ohio State and Missouri are the candidates.
So without further ado, here's my annual field forecast. I've been perfect only once, in 2002, usually misfiring on one or two at-large bids.
We'll go by seeds. There are six No. 16s – two are placed in the bracket; the other four are paired in opening-round games in Dayton, with the winners advancing to the main bracket.
Similarly, the last four at-large selections play in Dayton, giving us six No. 12 seeds.
1: Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina, Michigan State
2: Kansas, Ohio State, Missouri, Duke
3: Baylor, Marquette, Michigan, Georgetown
4: Wisconsin, Louisville, Florida State, Indiana
5: Wichita State, Murray State, Florida, San Diego State
6: Creighton, Memphis, St. Mary's, Cincinnati
7: Gonzaga, Vanderbilt, Temple, UNLV
8: Purdue, Alabama, New Mexico, Notre Dame
9: Harvard, Connecticut, Iowa State, Kansas State
10: Xavier, Virginia, West Virginia, St. Louis
11: South Florida, BYU, VCU, Southern Mississippi
12: Texas, North Carolina State, Colorado State, Seton Hall, Mississippi State, California
13: Davidson, Long Beach State, New Mexico State, Ohio.
14: Montana, Belmont, South Dakota State, Colorado
15: UNC Asheville, Lehigh, Long Island-Brooklyn, Loyola (Md.)
16: Western Kentucky, Detroit, Norfolk State, Lamar, Vermont, Mississippi Valley State
Big East (10), Big 12 (6), Big Ten (6), ACC (5), SEC (5), Mountain West (4), Atlantic 10 (3), West Coast (3), Missouri Valley (2), Pac-12 (2), Conference USA (2). The 20 other leagues send their champions only.
IfSt. Bonaventureupsets Xavier in the Atlantic 10 final, the Bonnies become a bid thief, knocking X into the at-large pool and Mississippi State from the bracket.
Cheers, and enjoy Selection Sunday.