Great games still just small pieces of puzzle

Editor's note: Charlie Creme will project the 2006 NCAA Tournament bracket several more times before Selection Monday. Click here for this month's field of 64 Women's Bracketology and Charlie's team-by-team analysis. This projection includes games through Feb. 12.

The women's game just completed one of the most scintillating weeks it has seen in a long time. Four top-10 teams lost, including No. 1. Tennessee, which lost at home to an SEC foe for the first time since Dec. 8, 1996. North Carolina-Maryland and Oklahoma-Baylor provided two "games of the year" in a four-day span.

It was fantastic. It was mayhem. Everything is upside down. Nothing makes any sense.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. Everything is just fine. As fun as last week was, the reality is, it changed very little.

Just more than a month ago, when bracketology hit a computer screen near you for the first time in 2006, I wrote that the No. 1 seeds were an easy call. LSU, Duke, Tennessee and North Carolina were all undefeated at the time and were no doubt the four best teams in the country.

Of course, none remain unblemished, but guess what? They are still the four best teams in the country and still the four top seeds.

Sure, North Carolina lost to the Terrapins, but the Tar Heels still rate No. 2 on the board. Sure, Tennessee just doesn't look right, but the Lady Vols are still worthy of a top seed.

The reasons for both are simple. Seasons and tournament worthiness are not determined by one game. The entire body of work, the whole profile, must be considered. That's what the committee does. That's what I do. That's the right way.

This week actually might have answered more questions than it created. Oklahoma might have squeaked by Baylor twice, but we now know that the Sooners are clearly the top team in the Big 12. LSU, with wins over Tennessee and Georgia, certainly claims superiority in the SEC. Rutgers winning in Storrs ends the debate about the best team in the Big East. We also know that Maryland is good enough to compete for a place in the Final Four.

However, that doesn't make the Terrapins a No. 1 seed. There's a distinction. While Maryland is in the group of nine (along with Duke, UNC, LSU, Tennessee, Rutgers, Connecticut, Ohio State and Oklahoma) that stand apart from the rest, the Terrapins' profile is not among the top four.

In fact, even if Maryland were to pull off a second straight upset and beat Duke on Monday, it's still unlikely the Terps would climb to a top seed. That's because an NCAA résumé is not about one night, it's about the entire season. And while I'm certainly not diminishing Maryland's season to this point, I am saying it just hasn't been as good as the four schools currently holding down the No. 1 seeds.

If the Terps top Duke on Monday, it gives them a regular-season split with Duke, but the Blue Devils still have more quality wins. Tennessee has more losses but is still tops in the RPI, has played the second-toughest schedule in the nation and has a win over Maryland. While North Carolina did lose at home to Maryland, the Tar Heels would still have a better record and more quality wins, not to mention a better RPI and strength of schedule (SOS).

It is for similar reasons that 20-3 Purdue is not on my current Elite Nine list. The Boilermakers just don't have the quality wins or SOS necessary to measure up. And if you believe, as many do, that the Big Ten is overrated, then you also have to take pause with how Purdue is evaluated because the Boilers' entire season is built on their success in the conference.

The point with all of this is just a lesson. When the season gives us a series of games like last week, let the passion run wild, enjoy every second and scream for more. But when it comes time to evaluate them and measure what they mean, look at the big picture and remember each individual game is just a piece to a much larger puzzle.

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