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Charlotte at Saint Louis, 7 p.m. Saturday

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Gauging the 49ers’ NCAA tournament chances

By David Scott

dscott@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte will be back on most prognosticators’ NCAA tournament bubbles this weekend when the 49ers head back out for an Atlantic 10 road game Saturday against Saint Louis.

That’s what Wednesday’s 71-67 victory at No. 11 Butler did for the 49ers (18-6, 6-4), who are two games out of first place in the league: It’s helped Charlotte’s chances for a spot in the NCAA tournament – where they haven’t played since 2005 – become more realistic.

This isn’t something 49ers coach Alan Major is talking to his young team about.

“We want to deliver things in small chunks here,” Major said. “The kids might be talking around it a little bit, but we want to keep them with what’s happening now.”

Still, here are few things that point in Charlotte’s favor for an at-large tournament berth – and some others that won’t help when the selection committee takes a look at the 49ers’ resume a month from now:

•  The 49ers appear headed for a 20-win regular season. Six regular-season games remain. After Saturday’s game with the Billikens (18-5, 7-2) and a home game Feb. 25 against Temple, the 49ers finish with games against teams all with league records of .500 or below: Dayton, St. Bonaventure, Duquesne and St. Joseph’s.

•  Tied into that will be the 49ers’ league record, which needs to above .500 for them to be taken seriously on Selection Sunday.

•  Charlotte has three victories against top-50 RPI teams (according to CBSsportsline.com): Butler (17), La Salle (33) and Massachusetts (49). Charlotte also beat top-100 teams Xavier (87) and Davidson (97). The 49ers have four losses outside the top 50: Temple (59), Florida State (63), Richmond (84) and George Washington (122).

•  Which brings us to Charlotte’s RPI, which is at 53 now and has hovered in that vicinity for the past several weeks. The committee, it’s been reported, likes an RPI of 50 or higher. The 49ers can move in that direction against Saint Louis and Temple. But the RPI won’t get much help in those last four games.

•  Which then brings us to what will probably be the 49ers’ biggest hurdle to the tournament. Charlotte played a weak nonconference schedule (ranked 221st). As much as any factor, the committee doesn’t like weak nonconference schedules. The 49ers went 12-2 in the nonconference, losing to Miami and Florida State. The best “eyeballs” victory was at Davidson.

•  So here’s a realistic, if challenging, scenario for the 49ers: Finish the regular season at least 22-8, 10-6 in the league. Win at least one game in the Atlantic 10 tournament. Factor in all of the above and see what happens.

•  Or, of course, win the Atlantic 10 tournament.

Around the A-10

•  The first real surprise of the league season came Thursday when Duquesne won its first conference game, beating Temple in Philadelphia 84-83.

•  Charlotte’s Major said the 49ers’ victory at Davidson prepared them for Butler. “The atmosphere was similar and Butler plays a similar kind of game to Davidson,” Major said. “They’re both NCAA tested. We drew off that.”

•  VCU continues to lead the nation in steals and had 24 more Thursday in a victory against Massachusetts.

Charlotte at Saint Louis, 7 p.m. Saturday

Streaking Billikens bring defensive mentality

The Billikens (18-5, 7-2 Atlantic 10) have won six straight and sit in second place in the conference, a half game behind Virginia Commonwealth. The game will match two of the league's top defensive teams: Saint Louis leads the league in scoring defense (57.7) and the 49ers are tops in field-goal percentage defense (39.5). Charlotte (18-6, 6-4) will need to keep track of the Billikens' Mike McCall Jr., who leads the league in 3-point percentage(44.2). The 49ers will be without guard DeMario Mayfield, who is serving an indefinite suspension.

- David Scott

Scott: 704-358-5889
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