Remember, it's never about just what one team does

Why not Cal over UCLA or USC in the Pac-10? Can the other USC -- South Carolina, in this case -- get an at-large bid? And can Maryland manage a No. 1 seed?

These questions and more are tackled in this week's mailbag:

I was wondering: When you decided to go with five Pac-10 teams, how could you take UCLA or USC over Cal? Yes, they are above Cal in the conference, but they are all right next to each other in overall records, and Cal has a regular-season sweep of USC, a split with UCLA and a split with ASU. I would think that those quality wins, plus the fact that UCLA has such a poor road record this season, would put Cal ahead of UCLA for the fifth Pac-10 spot.

Berkeley, Calif.

I didn't decide to go with five Pac-10 teams. It doesn't work like that. Each team is evaluated individually. Conferences or conference affiliation is not.

The bigger problem is what Cal has done that Jason left out. The Bears' RPI is significantly worse than USC or UCLA. Worse, the losses to Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona might be considered bad losses -- and three of those tend to be deal breakers. Cal has also lost four of its last six and has played a much weaker schedule. Honestly, Cal barely has the credentials to even be seriously considered.

First, thanks for taking the time to read my e-mail. Secondly, what are your opinions on South Carolina's chances of making the tourney this year? I agree with you that only six teams from the SEC will receive a bid. If we were to win out, including a win at Vanderbilt on Sunday, we would finish at 18-9 (8-6 SEC) and fifth in the conference. Would that be enough to get us in? If we were to lose to Vandy and Florida loses to Tennessee, we would finish sixth over Florida by way of the tiebreaker. If that were to happen, what would we need to do in the SEC tourney to slide into the NCAA Tournament? Thanks.

David Porter
Sumter, S.C.

There were plenty of South Carolina fans checking in this week, and since David was the most polite, I decided to go with his. Let that be a lesson to everyone.

At this point, South Carolina's overall profile is not good. A 15-9 record (as of Wednesday night) is not good enough when the RPI is in the 70s. Teams with RPIs that low almost never get into the tournament as an at-large. The Gamecocks also played seven -- count 'em, seven -- teams outside the RPI top-200 in their nonconference slate. The committee likes to see that teams are trying to schedule up -- and South Carolina did not do that. The loss to Georgia Southern will also hurt.

However, good news, Gamecock fans, there is a flip side. History tells us that if a team finishes above .500 in the SEC it will get a bid. So, if South Carolina can beat Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, perhaps that will be the case. Anything less than those two final regular-season wins, or winning the SEC tournament, and I wouldn't hold my breath. The overall résumé is just not good at all.

Maryland has just beaten a top-10 RPI team (at the time) on the road. The Terps' last two games are at home and soft (Clemson, 181, and Northern Colorado, 237) for a regular-season finish of 26-3 with a No. 2 or 3 seed in the ACC tournament. If the Terps win two games to get to the ACC final, beating either Duke or UNC on the way but then losing in the final to Duke or UNC, will they merit a No. 1 seed at 28-4 with their only losses to Duke, a fully healthy Tennessee and possibly UNC?

Wheaton, Md.

The best answer is maybe, maybe, maybe. I'm not trying to duck the question, but -- and I've said this before many times -- it doesn't just matter what Maryland does. Nothing happens in a bubble. One win or loss affects another. The same holds true for any team wanting to upgrade its seed. It might not be a matter simply of winning games (although that helps the most), but what the other teams around that team have done.

If Maryland were to follow your above scenario, it would have a great case for a No. 1, but if Tennessee and LSU meet in the SEC final and each wins the rest of its regular-season games, then the Terps haven't necessarily done more going forward from here. Also, Maryland still wouldn't have as many big wins (top-25 and top-50) as either UNC or Duke, and if it was North Carolina that Maryland lost to, then the Terps wouldn't even have a head-to-head advantage.

My best advice would be to keep a close eye on what happens in the SEC and the Big East tournaments and what Oklahoma does the rest of the way.

What does Texas Tech have to do to get a bid to the Dance? If the Lady Raiders win the last two and make the semifinals or better of the Big 12 tournament, will they get in? Just wondering what your thoughts were! Thanks!

Ty Horsford
Lubbock, Texas

Not to be too sarcastic, but how about a few wins? Texas Tech is merely 12-12 and has been brutal away from Lubbock (2-11). Just winning two of the last three and getting to the semifinals would not be enough, especially since the RPI has dipped into the 60s.

"You really shouldn't smoke that stuff if it's gonna affect you the way it does, huh?" -- "Foul Play"

How can you possibly believe that the ACC will get more teams in the tournament than the Big East? I would bet you my annual salary against yours that you are wrong!

Jack Hawthorne

For the record, I am chemical-free. Let's get that out of the way first.

Now to Jack's point. It's about teams, not conference. Neither I nor the committee takes a conference and then decides how many teams from that league will get in.

But if you want to examine conferences, the ACC is better than the Big East. The RPI takes the subjectivity out of it, and the ACC is the top RPI league in the country. Any other analysis I hear is based on bias. So, Jack, it's not at all crazy that more ACC teams would qualify. It's actually quite reasonable when you look at the criteria and measurements.

Charlie Creme can be reached at cwcreme@yahoo.com.