Top of S-curve as deep and tightly contested as ever

Editor's note: Click here for Charlie Creme's Feb. 25 bracket projection.

About three months ago a certain Bracketologist wrote the following in a blog:

Yes, we are only two weeks into the season. But I'm going to say this now and live or die with it later: I would be absolutely shocked, stunned, surprised and dumbfounded if, come St. Patrick's Day, Tennessee, Maryland and Connecticut are not among the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. They are better than everyone else. Period.


It might, in fact, turn out to be true that Tennessee, Maryland and Connecticut are No. 1 seeds, but it's the last part of that paragraph that today deserve just a few chuckles and a few more guffaws. The Bracketologist went out on a limb that broke.

All three of those schools are among the best, but what's developed is that 2008 is as deep and tightly contested at the top as has been the case in years.

Little can be assumed, but it is difficult to dispute that the top eight teams, in no particular order, are Connecticut, Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina, Stanford, LSU, Rutgers and Baylor.

The Huskies should be a clear No. 1 at this point (Monday's game with LSU -- ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET -- could solidify that even more or muddy the waters further) and Baylor would have to fall to eighth in the pecking order. After that it's murky.

If there is a blanket anywhere nearby, grab it. Now toss it (figuratively, of course) over Nos. 2 thru 7. That's how close those six teams are, virtually indistinguishable when all the factors are considered. An argument could made for each of them to receive a No. 1 seed.

All have between two and four losses. Everyone except North Carolina has at least seven wins against the RPI top 25. All but Stanford and Rutgers have at least 10 wins against the top 50. All but Stanford has a SOS in the top 10.

Based on that, it looks like North Carolina and Stanford perhaps don't quite measure up. However, consider that Stanford has the longest winning streak of the group (13 games) and that North Carolina and Stanford lead their respective conferences, something that Maryland, Tennessee and Rutgers cannot say. The Tar Heels, along with LSU, have the only unbeaten league marks.

So how do we draw the line?

One way to make some distinction is to analyze the actual games played against one another. Head-to-head results have become a hot topic of discussion in chats and e-mails. It is one of the criteria used by the NCAA Selection Committee and frankly, it's the easiest to judge. But as has been said in this space previously, head-to-head is not everything. It's one piece to an evaluation of the entire season. It certainly helps, however, when the other factors provide contradictions.

If the task is to determine which team is more deserving than another or to determine a distinct order from top to bottom, what better way than to see what actually happened on the floor.

Records vs. the top 8

Stanford 3-1
Rutgers 3-2
Tennessee 2-2
Connecticut 2-1
North Carolina 1-2
LSU 1-2
Maryland 1-2
Baylor 0-1

Stanford and Rutgers topping this list might be a bit of a surprise, but even this isn't clear cut. While the Cardinal have the best mark, they are also the only club with a sub-100 loss (UCLA). Both of the Scarlet Knights' losses were tinged with controversy and were by a total of three free throws, all with less than a second to go. LSU and Stanford were also the only teams to get any of these wins in a true road game.

So you see, even the pure numbers aren't black and white.

The committee has an almost impossible job in making these determinations if the status quo remains at season's end. But because that 10-person group doesn't reveal its S-curve (which is fine; it might be better that way), we'll never know how it all broke down.

Since Bracketology is a more fluid, volatile process that can change tomorrow (and probably will), this S-curve can be revealed. Here is this week's:

North Carolina

If it seems the S-curve doesn't quite match the bracketing in this week's projection, it doesn't. That's because the buzz seems to be that maximizing local interest and keeping the student-athletes as close to home as possible is that much more important. Not that the committee would rip up the integrity of the S-curve rankings for the sake of geography, but given some of the minor tweaks to the process this year, it seems as though that is the direction.

Hold these concepts close as you read each new projection in this final month's mad dash toward Selection Monday, because as November's blog illustrates, even the Bracketologist has to rethink things every once in a while.

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