Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 2/9/12
It's still February, but the way Georgetown rallied to beat Syracuse in overtime Wednesday night -- two hours before Austin Rivers' deep 3-pointer completed an improbable Duke comeback at North Carolina -- provided a taste of the drama and unpredictability college basketball almost always brings in March. Those results will alter next week's national rankings, but only a bunch more Syracuse losses could alter the rankings that ultimately count when the NCAA Tournament bracket is drawn. The Orange look like not only a good bet to be a No. 1 seed, but to be placed at regional sites that will keep them close to home. This year's NCAA Tournament marks 10 years since the pod system was first implemented. The old system placed 16 teams into a regional played at two sites over the tournament's first weekend -- the "South" regionals were played somewhere in the south -- and the four surviving teams advanced to one location for the second weekend and two more games to determine the final four participant. Under the pod system, the tournament is divided into 16 bracket quadrants. The idea is to allow the higher-seeded teams -- and more teams in general -- to play closer to home. Gone are simple designations like "South" regional and in are teams coming from different quadrants and first-weekend locations trying to advance to regionals named for the cities in which they're played. Sites for the first weekend of the tournament (what the NCAA now calls "Rounds Two and Three" following last year's implementation of the First Four) this year are Albuquerque, Columbus, Greensboro, Louisville, Nashville, Omaha, Pittsburgh and Portland. Sites for the regional semifinals and finals are Atlanta, Boston, Phoenix and St. Louis. Simple math -- and geography -- say Syracuse will likely play in Pittsburgh next month, then advance to the Boston Regional. Kentucky should take over the No. 1 ranking next week, has played like a No. 1 seed all year and can pencil in a path that includes Louisville and Atlanta as it tries to advance to New Orleans and the Final Four. A rule implemented in 1989 prevents schools from playing at the sites at which they serve as hosts, meaning Ohio State can't play in Columbus even though the games are being played downtown at Nationwide Arena and not on campus at the Schottenstein Center. The same rule means Vanderbilt can't play in Nashville, Pitt can't play in Pittsburgh, Creighton can't play in Omaha, New Mexico can't play in Albuquerque and Saint Louis can't be placed in the St. Louis regional. But the rule applies just to hosts, and the NCAA's desire to sell tickets and cut down on travel costs means Kentucky can play in Louisville, Duke and North Carolina can play in Greensboro and and Missouri and Illinois can play in the regional in St. Louis. Cincinnati and Xavier can play in both Louisville and Columbus; both are currently hoping to make the field without having to play in Dayton in the First Four, which pits the final four at-large teams in the bracket in mid-week play-in games. The University of Dayton is on a four-game losing streak and has probably fallen out of favor with the committee in the process. The Flyers making the First Four is the only way we'd see a true home team in the NCAA Tournament. A little more projecting of this year's field, based on current ranking and geography, is below... Ohio State should play in Pittsburgh the first weekend, joining Syracuse as Pittsburgh's other top of the quadrant team just like last year when both played in Cleveland. There's a chance Ohio State could play in Louisville or Nashville the first weekend, but Pittsburgh is less than a three-hour drive from Columbus. The Buckeyes' logical regional, as of now, is St. Louis. Both Missouri and Kansas can play in Omaha the first week. Both are also contenders to be the No. 1 seed in the Phoenix region -- as are North Carolina, Duke, Michigan State, Georgetown and even Ohio State. Missouri would gladly take being the No. 2 seed in St. Louis if it can't get the top seed in Phoenix. It's a strange year in the western part of the country as the best team in that region, right now, is either Saint Mary's or UNLV. Murray State, the nation's last unbeaten team, will present a perplexing case to the seeding committee. The Racers would love to be rewarded for their efforts, regardless of their eventual seed, by getting the chance to play in Louisville or Nashville the first weekend. There will be jockeying -- and whining, probably -- amongst Big Ten fan bases as Michigan State, Michigan and Indiana fans would all prefer a short drive to Columbus or Louisville for that first weekend over a longer trip elsewhere. It's all guesswork, both because the tournament committee keeps its work and thoughts mostly private and because there's a lot of season left. Last year's placing of Ohio State, North Carolina, Syracuse and Kentucky in the Newark Regional -- when Ohio State was the top overall seed -- means the committee is capable of anything, including throwing logic totally out the window, when Selection Sunday comes. But the rules and the pre-determined site selections allow us to at least make an educated guess.
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