Location vs. balance: here we go again

Dayton, we have a problem.

Well, it's not exactly a problem, but it's a circumstance that, if it occurs, will make more than a few people a bit … cranky.

This week's bracket has it and the one the committee reveals in three weeks on Selection Monday could have it, too: Connecticut and Notre Dame as the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in the same regional.

Remember, this scenario -- two teams from the same conference as the 1- and 2-seeds in the same regional -- did occur in 2008, when UConn and Rutgers were the top two seeds in Greensboro. It was the (disgruntled) talk of Selection Monday.

The committee announced its current philosophy of how it places teams in the bracket during the winter of 2008: Pluck them in order from the S-curve and place that next team in the region closest to its campus. The UConn-Rutgers situation stemmed from that philosophy, as would this season's UConn-Notre Dame scenario.

The committee never reveals its S-curve, so we never precisely know how things break down in that room in Indianapolis, but I will share the one from this week's bracket.

1. Connecticut
2. Stanford
3. Nebraska
4. Tennessee
5. Notre Dame
6. Duke
7. Ohio State
8. Xavier

An argument could be made to flip-flop Notre Dame and Duke. But otherwise, that top six has been pretty well set. Whichever way you evaluate the Irish and Blue Devils, the outcome -- with the placement based on geography -- is the same: Notre Dame ends up in Dayton with Connecticut -- and the bracket, at least with the top two seeds in each regional, doesn't look as balanced as it could be. Not to mention teams that could potentially meet three times prior to the tournament might meet again (although the committee doesn't "play the tournament out," so potential Elite Eight matchups aren't a consideration regardless of the teams involved).

Ironically, the UConn-Rutgers situation two seasons ago was not unprecedented (No. 1 Vanderbilt and No. 2 Tennessee were each in the Midwest Regional in 2002 and met in the Elite Eight). But it did not make many people happy. C. Vivian Stringer was among them, and any media member asking a question on Selection Monday would constitute many of the others.

This was a bad idea two years ago, eight years ago and it would be again this season, especially if these S-curve rankings hold true and the first- or, at worst, second-highest rated No. 2 seed gets placed with the top No. 1 seed.

In the principles and procedures of establishing the bracket, it does clearly state that balance does not necessarily mean equal. But the best No. 1 and the best No. 2 in the same regional isn't balanced or equal.

Now, this could be much ado about nothing. With three weeks of basketball still to play, this scenario might not play out at all. Let this just be the warning shot that it could. South Benders be ready.

Does anyone really want in this thing?

The bubble resides on the other end of the bracket, and at the moment, it doesn't appear any team really wants to remain on it.

Of the group that included the last eight teams that got into last week's bracket and the next eight that didn't make it, only six of those 16 teams didn't lose this week.

NC State is the only team that truly played its way into the field.

Let's take a look at what is happening in a season where actually finding 33 truly worthy at-large teams might be a chore:

Boston College (OUT): In the field last week, the Eagles proceeded to lose at NC State and Virginia Tech. This was after getting a slot despite dropping a home game to Wake Forest on Valentine's Day. Three-game losing streaks at this time of the season are killers. Remarkably, BC is still just two spots out of the field.

Marquette (WAY OUT): Losing five of six means that the Golden Eagles probably never belonged in the conversation, anyway.

Miami (OUT): Once a good bet to get a bid, the Hurricanes have become the definition of playing yourself out. A four-game losing streak and a 3-9 ACC record and, POOF!, there goes the NCAA tournament.

Michigan (OUT): The Wolverines got in for the first time all season but then dropped games against Penn State and Wisconsin. It's a quick exit for Michigan, which now has its work cut out for it.

Mississippi (OUT): It might just be that Ole Miss was overrated to begin with. The RPI is lousy and the losing streak is now at four.

New Mexico (WAY OUT): The Lobos were set up for a strong finish but then kicked off the final leg of the season with a loss at Wyoming (cue the losing music from the "Price Is Right").

Penn State (OUT): The Lady Lions actually didn't lose, but with an RPI in the 60s and only two top-50 wins (none outside the Big Ten), they have to do more than just beat Michigan in overtime to move up.

Texas Tech (OUT): The Red Raiders at least managed to go 1-1 on the week, but their inclusion was paper-thin as it was. However, given how the competition is playing, Texas Tech remains in the mix despite being four games below .500 in the Big 12.

Rutgers and Kansas (IN): These two both stayed in the field, but not by necessarily earning it. Kansas lost at Texas Tech and the injuries might be too much to overcome for the Jayhawks. The Scarlet Knights appeared to be playing better even with a tough loss on the road to West Virginia. But then they went home and lost by 31 to Syracuse. In most seasons, despite the lofty RPI and SOS, Rutgers would be out.

James Madison and Middle Tennessee (IN): Call them opportunists. Perhaps it's the right place at the right time. Without help, these mid-majors wouldn't be in, but all the destruction spelled out above has given each that chance. JMU has a couple of big wins and three horrendous losses. The Blue Raiders did beat Kentucky, but the Sun Belt has so little to offer -- they haven't played a top-100 team in a month and a half -- that normally, they also would be on the outside looking in.

Games to watch

A few key contests likely to impact the bracket in the coming week:


St. John's at Rutgers: This is exactly the kind of win the Scarlet Knights could use to lock up a place in the field. How far has the Red Storm program come that it is now an NCAA tournament measuring stick?
Nebraska at Oklahoma: This might be the last chance -- and is certainly the best chance -- the Cornhuskers have to lose a game during the regular season.

Maryland at Boston College: The Eagles can't afford many more regular-season losses. This is one they need. Maryland isn't completely safe, either. This one would really help nail down a bid.
Miami at Florida State: Miami is hanging by a thread, a very thin thread. The Seminoles would move closer to a No. 4 seed with a loss.

Kentucky at Tennessee: The Wildcats' chances of catching Tennessee for first place in the SEC would still be a long shot even with a win, but it would make a No. 3 seed a possibility. The Lady Vols could still be a No. 1 seed with a loss here, but a win helps give them some room for error in the SEC tournament.

North Carolina at Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets still don't have a signature win. This still might not be it, considering it's a down year in Chapel Hill, but it would be close.

Georgetown at Connecticut: Simply the biggest game in the history of Georgetown women's basketball.
Green Bay at Butler: This is a meeting between two of the three teams battling for the top spot in the Horizon. With the highest remaining seed getting to host the tournament semis and finals, this game becomes huge.

Mississippi State at LSU: Seeding in both the SEC tournament and NCAA tournament are at stake. Both are trying to avoid that 7-10 seed range in the NCAA tourney.
Duke at North Carolina: It's still a huge rivalry. And is there a better game to help the Tar Heels regain momentum heading into the ACC tournament?

Charlie Creme can be reached at cwcreme@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter.