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2012 March Madness Field of 68 Projections: Feb. 20

Jordan SchwartzSenior Writer IFebruary 20, 2012

2012 March Madness Field of 68 Projections: Feb. 20

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    BracketBusters weekend was great for one team and bubble bursting for another.

    Murray State erased all doubt of its NCAA tournament credentials with a convincing 14-point victory over Saint Mary's, while Creighton ended Long Beach State's at-large hopes once and for all in the best game of the day.

    No matter how much you like the 49ers or respect their very challenging non-conference schedule, the bottom line is that they are 0-6 against the top 50. It's not enough to play good teams; you have to beat at least one of them.

    As always, I am not trying to guess how teams will finish the year. I am simply seeding them based on their current résumés.

    I like to break teams down into three categories:

    1. Wallflowers are bubble teams because everyone wants to go to the big dance, but not all have the guts to ask a girl out on the dance floor.

    2. Elite teams that are safely in the field are dancing with a hottie.

    3. In the middle are the schools that are dancing with their sister.

    Last year, I had the most accurate bracket projections in the country, correctly predicting 67 of 68 teams and once again finishing way ahead of ESPN's Joe Lunardi.

    I'll begin with the two first four at-large bid games:

    (12a) Xavier vs. (12d) Washington

    (12b) Saint Joseph's vs. (12c) Texas

    First seven teams out: Colorado State, NC State, Arizona, South Florida, Oregon, LSU, Colorado

    The projections are presented in slideshow format, with slides consisting of the major conferences. First up is the ACC.

ACC (5)

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    Dancing with a Hottie: Duke (1 seed), North Carolina (2)

    Dancing with their Sister: Florida State (6), Virginia (8)

    Wallflowers: Miami (11), North Carolina State (second team out)

    Virginia hasn't dropped to wallflower status yet, but the Cavs are awfully close following their 60-48 loss at Clemson on Tuesday. UVa has dropped three of five and has more sub-100 losses (three) than top-50 wins (two).

    NC State suffered what may turn out to be the most disappointing loss of the season in the entire nation, blowing a 20-point lead at Cameron Indoor Stadium last Thursday. That could have been the signature win that locked up a bid for the Wolfpack come Selection Sunday, but instead, they are just 1-7 against the top 50.

Big East (9)

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    Dancing with a Hottie: Syracuse (1), Georgetown (3), Marquette (3), Louisville (5)

    Dancing with Their Sister: Notre Dame (5), West Virginia (8)

    Wallflowers: Seton Hall (10), Connecticut (10), Cincinnati (11), South Florida (fourth team out)

    West Virginia snapped a two-game slide with a dominant 66-48 win at Pittsburgh on Thursday. The Mountaineers really aren't in any danger of missing the tournament thanks to the No. 7 strength of schedule, four top-50 wins and nine top-100 victories, but a win in either of their two games this week (at Notre Dame, vs. Marquette) would lock things up.

    It's ironic that UConn plays at Villanova on Monday night because the Huskies' season has mirrored that of the Wildcats from last year. 'Nova got off to a 16-1 start in 2010-11 while collecting some big wins before finishing the year 5-10. Many said the team didn't deserve to make the tournament, ignoring the fact that the committee looks at your entire season from November to March, not just from January to March. The Wildcats deservedly earned a 9 seed.

    This year's Connecticut squad started 12-1, but has lost nine of its last 13. Still, the Huskies' six top-50 victories are more than any other bubble team and more than a bunch of locks as well. That's not saying they can afford to lose to Villanova, Providence or Pitt down the stretch, but UConn is in better shape than people think.

    Seton Hall's three-game winning streak came to an end in Cincinnati on Saturday, and now, the Pirates will need to do a little more work to assure themselves a spot in the field. Winning two of their last three would certainly do the trick, and with games against Rutgers and DePaul coming up, getting to 9-9 in conference shouldn't be too difficult.

    I wrote in this space last week that South Florida could be 10-4 in the Big East heading into the Carrier Dome on Wednesday, and that's exactly where the Bulls stand after wins over Villanova and Pitt. Still, USF is only 1-6 against the top 50, so it will need to pick up at least one big win over its last four games against Syracuse, Cincy, Louisville and WVU.

Big Ten (7)

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    Dancing with a Hottie: Michigan State (2), Ohio State (2), Michigan (3)

    Dancing with Their Sister: Wisconsin (5), Indiana (6)

    Wallflowers: Purdue (9), Northwestern (12)

    Michigan's triumph over Ohio State on Saturday night gives the Wolverines seven top-50 wins and a spot on the third line of the S-curve.

    Indiana drops down a couple lines after a 12-point loss at Iowa on Sunday night. That's the Hoosier's second sub-100 loss, along with a setback at Nebraska on Jan. 18.

    Northwestern lost at Indiana on Wednesday, but bounced back to win a huge bubble game over Minnesota on Saturday. That was the Wildcats' fifth top-100 victory, and while that number isn't that impressive, their computer numbers are (RPI 43, SOS 9), as is the fact that they haven't lost to anyone ranked outside the top 72.

    Meanwhile, the Gophers not only drop out of the field, but out of consideration for the time being as well. Minnesota has lost three in a row to fall into a ninth-place tie in the Big Ten at 5-9 behind Iowa.

    And the same can be said for the team the Gophers are tied with, Illinois. The Illini have two huge home wins over Ohio State and Michigan State, but those are also the only two games they have won in their last 10. Both Minnesota and Illinois are going to have to win three of their last four to have a shot.

Big 12 (6)

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    Dancing with a Hottie: Missouri (1), Kansas (2), Baylor (3)

    Wallflowers: Kansas State (10), Iowa State (11), Texas (12c)

    Baylor has gone 5-5 since starting the season 16-0, but until Saturday, the Bears' only losses had come to Kansas and Missouri. That was, until they fell on their home court by one to Kansas State.

    That was an enormous victory for the Wildcats, who picked up their second RPI top-10 win and their fourth over the top 50. The 7-5 road/neutral record is another feather in their cap.

    The Longhorns suffered a bad loss at Oklahoma State on Saturday to snap a four-game winning streak, but with a bunch of other teams having even worse weeks (Illinois and Minnesota, for example), Texas finds itself as the second-to-last team in the field. Its recent victory over Kansas State is increasing in value, but the Longhorns still have some work to do. Beating Texas Tech and Oklahoma are absolute musts, and a win over either Baylor or Kansas would be huge.

SEC (5)

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    Dancing with a Hottie: Kentucky (1), Vanderbilt (4)

    Dancing with Their Sister: Florida (6)

    Wallflowers: Alabama (9), Mississippi State (11), LSU (sixth team out)

    Vandy picked up a couple of nice road wins at Ole Miss and Georgia last week to hop up into lock status at 8-4 in the SEC. Florida did the same, winning at both Alabama and Arkansas, and with each team losing consecutive games last week to fall into an eighth-place tie at 5-7, the Rebels and Razorbacks have been removed from consideration.

    Mississippi State was ranked 23rd in the Coaches Poll last week, but to prove once again that the polls mean nothing, the Bulldogs are now an 11 seed in my projections. They have lost three straight to Georgia, LSU and Auburn and are in danger of missing the field if they don't turn things around fast. The computer numbers aren't too great (RPI 59, SOS 73), and Miss. State is just 2-5 in true road games.

    With what seems like everyone else on a losing streak, LSU is back on the radar thanks to three straight wins. The Tigers still have that great non-conference victory over Marquette in their back pocket, but will need a little more to get into the field. Finishing the season on a seven-game winning streak could do the trick, and with four upcoming winnable games against Georgia, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Auburn, that could happen.

Mountain West (3)

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    Dancing with a Hottie: UNLV (4)

    Dancing with Their Sister: New Mexico (7), San Diego State (7)

    Wallflowers: Colorado State (first team out)

    UNLV drops down a notch with back-to-back losses at TCU and New Mexico, but the Rebels are in no trouble thanks to a 5-4 record against the top 50.

    San Diego State, on the other hand, is dipping into some troubling territory after three consecutive setbacks to UNLV, New Mexico and, most damaging, Air Force. The Aztecs will still make the tournament with four top-50 wins and an RPI of 33, but winning the last four wouldn't hurt.

    With everyone else in the Mountain West losing, New Mexico is climbing the S-curve thanks to a seven-game winning streak that includes a 20-point blowout of UNLV on Saturday. The Lobos are 26th in the RPI, 4-2 against the top 50 and 8-3 versus the top 100.

    Colorado State beat Wyoming on Saturday to eliminate the Cowboys from consideration, but with a loss three days earlier at Boise State, the Rams aren't much closer to making the field than they were last week.

    Colorado State still has excellent computer numbers (RPI 30, SOS 13), but a 1-4 mark against the top 50 isn't turning any heads, especially with three sub-100 losses and a 2-8 mark in true road games. The Rams have three huge opportunities coming up against UNM, SDSU and UNLV. They better take advantage.

Atlantic 10 (4)

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    Dancing with a Hottie: Temple (4)

    Dancing with their Sister: Saint Louis (8)

    Wallflowers: Xavier (12a), Saint Joseph's (12b)

    Saint Louis has won six in a row and is almost assured a spot in the field at this point. The Billikens are 6-5 against the top 100 and don't have any losses to anyone ranked outside the top 89.

    St. Joe's is back in the field with three straight wins. The 48th-ranked RPI, 6-7 record against the top 100 and 7-8 road/neutral mark compare favorably to other wallflowers. But with three sub-100 losses, the Hawks can't afford another against Richmond or St. Bonaventure as they complete their regular-season schedule. A win over Temple on Saturday would also help.

    UMass has been removed after a home loss to La Salle on Saturday.

Pac-12 (2)

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    Wallflowers: California (12), Washington (12d), Arizona (third team out), Oregon (fifth team out), Colorado (seventh team out)

    Cal has won five straight to remain tied atop the Pac-12 standings with Washington, but neither of these teams have good at-large credentials. The Bears grab the automatic bid this week, but Arizona is the only squad in this conference with a resume worthy of the field. Barely.

    The Wildcats only have one sub-100 loss and a respectable 7-6 record away from home. They also have one of the four top-50 wins in the entire conference (against 41 losses), but I have a hard time putting them in the field over Washington, who has beaten them twice.

    So the Huskies, who have won eight of nine, are the last team in, but they can't afford another loss.

Other Conferences (9)

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    Dancing with a Hottie: Wichita State (4)

    Dancing with Their Sister: Murray State (5), Creighton (6), Southern Miss (7), Gonzaga (7), Saint Mary's (8)

    Wallflowers: BYU (9), Harvard (9), Memphis (10)

    Wichita State was another team that made a statement on BracketBusters Saturday, with a 17-point win at Davidson. The Shockers have won six in a row and 14 of 15. They are also an astounding 9-1 in true road games.

    Murray State's victory over Saint Mary's was its third over a team ranked in the top 32 of the RPI.

    BYU has won five in a row to climb to 11-3 in the WCC and 46th in the RPI. A win at Gonzaga on Thursday should lock things up, but as long as the Cougars don't lose to Portland on Saturday, they should be fine.

    Despite good computer numbers (RPI 25, SOS 16) and a 9-3 mark in Conference USA, Memphis isn't assured anything after a home loss to UTEP. A 3-1 finish should do the trick.

Automatic Bids

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    No. 13 seeds: Iona, Long Beach State, Middle Tennessee, Oral Roberts

    No. 14 seeds: Akron, Belmont, Drexel, Nevada

    No. 15 seeds: Davidson, Valparaiso, Bucknell, Weber State

    No. 16 seeds: Long Island, Texas-Arlington, Mississippi Valley State vs. Vermont, Savannah State vs. UNC Asheville

     

    Jordan is one of Bleacher Report's College Basketball Featured Columnists. Follow him on Twitter @JordanHarrison.

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