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Teams begin final push leading to Selection Sunday

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Selection Sunday is less than three weeks away. As the teams begin the stretch run leading toward March Madness, who is looking forward to a high seed, just making the 68-team tournament or making NIT plans?

The AP Top 25 poll announced on Monday has Villanova in the top spot for the second straight week. Kansas came in the second spot, while the ACC’s Virginia Cavaliers tied with Oklahoma for third. Xavier moved up three spots to claim the fifth position.

Miami is the only Florida team in the top 25, coming in at No. 12. The Hurricanes dropped only one position from last week despite a 96-71 thrashing at the hands of No. 7 North Carolina.

Virginia will try to retain their ranking this week, but it won’t be easy. On Monday they are in Miami, who will try to put the North Carolina embarrassment behind them. On Saturday, the Cavaliers host North Carolina.

While the Florida Gators are not ranked in the poll, they are expected to hear their name called on Selection Sunday, March 13, barring an unforeseen collapse. The selection committee uses polls, strength of schedule and computer rankings to hopefully put together the strongest field possible.

One of the computer rankings used is the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). There is some difference in the AP’s top 10 and that of the RPI, but further down it gets interesting.

A total of 44 teams get at least one vote in AP, none of which includes Florida. The RPI has Florida ranked at No. 32 due to factors not considered by the media poll. Miami is No. 8 in the RPI and for those merely wondering, Florida State comes in at 74.

Despite the Gators having a record of 2-7 against teams ranked in the top 50, their strength of schedule is among the 25 hardest. That counts for something.

The AP has three Big 10 teams in the top 10, but only Maryland cracks the RPI, coming in ninth. Louisville is No. 11 in AP, but only 20th in RPI.

A lot can, and will, happen before March 13. A team or two will be a surprise winner of their conference tournament (something Florida State must do) to earn a bid.

Now is the time when those on the fence must step up their game. Those solidly in the field must do the same if they are to earn a higher seed.

It all unfolds in the next three weeks.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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