RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — If you’re a fan of “March Madness” — also known as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament — and are already working on your bracket for the 65-team event, SAS software has helped make predicting the field a little easier.

Researchers at the University of North Florida and Mercer University have come up with their own “Dance Card” rankings for men’s (and women’s) teams, using SAS software.

Jay Coleman of the University of North Florida, Allen Lynch of Mercer and SAS have a pretty good record, too. The researchers say they have never missed picking more than three members of the tournament field between 1994 and last year. In 2001, they picked 33 of the 34 available “at large” selections. Overall, their record in predicting the at-large teams is 93.6 percent.

Based on their rankings, unbeaten Illinois is No. 1 with a ranking of 8.8572.

But right behind are the Tar Heels from the University of North Carolina at 8.5622 in second place and the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest in fourth at 8.0153. (Kansas is third.)

Duke ranks 10th at 8.6194.

UNC Charlotte is 10th at 5.0313.

Georgia Tech ranks 46th.

The Dance Card rankings are in many cases than the acknowledged standard for power-rankings in men’s basketball known as RPI. The RPI has Kansas first, Illinois second, UNC seventh, Wake Forest fourth, Duke eighth, Charlotte 26th, and Georgia Tech 44th.

The ratings include games played through Sunday.

Dance Card is based on a wide variety of statistical information, such as the RPI rankings, wins and losses plus conference records) and also includes criteria used by the NCAA men’s selection committee over several years.

Helping them shape the information is software from SAS as well as support from SAS personnel, the researchers said.

SAS is not new to sports, of course. SAS software is also used by Major League Baseball.

“The authors would like to give a hearty and special thanks to all the good people at SAS,” they said.

For details and rankings, see: www.unf.edu/~jcoleman/dance/htm