2012 March Madness Field of 68 Projections: March 5

Jordan Schwartz@jordanharrisonSenior Writer IMarch 5, 2012

2012 March Madness Field of 68 Projections: March 5

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    This is it: championship week.

    With Selection Sunday just days away, teams will have their last chance to impress the committee in their conference tournaments.

    We've already seen upsets in some of the smaller conferences, with favorites Middle Tennessee and Iona going down before capturing an automatic bid. While these teams sport gaudy records, there's not much meat on their résumés. Therefore, they have very little chance, if any, of securing an at-large bid, so there will be no bid-stealing in those leagues.

    There was nearly a bid stolen in the Ohio Valley until Murray State was able to overcome another stiff test by Tennessee State. Illinois State almost played spoiler before Creighton edged out the Redbirds in the Missouri Valley final.

    So bubble teams can rest easy for now. There are still plenty of spots up for grabs. Unfortunately.

    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.

    But in this final week, I have removed the "Dancing with their Sister" level, because at this point, you're either in or fighting for your life.

    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 first two at-large bid games:

    (12a) Texas vs. (12d) Saint Louis

    (12b) Dayton vs. (12c) California

    First 10 teams out: South Florida, Oregon, Tennessee, Mississippi State, NC State, Xavier, VCU, Iona, UCF, Middle Tennessee

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

ACC (5)

1 of 10

    Dancing with a Hottie: Duke (2), North Carolina (2), Florida State (7)

    Wallflowers: Virginia (9), Miami (12), North Carolina State (fifth team out)

    Despite getting embarrassed at home by their archrivals from eight miles away Saturday night, Duke still has a better overall résumé than Ohio State and North Carolina. Nevertheless, the selection committee has shown in recent years that it prefers to reward regular season and conference tournament champions with top seeds.

    Therefore, the Blue Devils, whose six RPI top-25 wins are second only to Michigan State's seven, fall to a No. 2 seed.

    The Tar Heels can climb to a No. 1 seed if they win the ACC tournament and get some help from Ohio State and Kansas, but as of now, their 3-4 mark against the RPI top 25 and 6-4 record against the top 50 don't measure up with those teams ahead of them.

    I know there's almost no chance Virginia (22-8, 9-7) will miss the tournament, but I'm having such a hard time locking up the Cavs due to their incredibly mediocre profile. They went 0-5 against the top three teams in the ACC and are just 2-5 versus the top 50. In the end, a 7-6 mark against the top 100 and a 9-5 record away from home will probably get the Wahoos in, but I'd really like to see them avoid an upset versus NC State or Boston College in the ACC quarters Friday before I'm fully convinced.

    It's never good to get swept by a fellow bubble team, but that's exactly what happened to Miami when it fell at NC State on Wednesday. Nevertheless, I have the Hurricanes in and the Wolfpack out because Miami has two RPI top-25 victories (at Duke, FSU), while North Carolina State is a ghastly 0-8 against the top 50.

    Beating Georgia Tech on Thursday night is an absolute must for the 'Canes, while a win over the Seminoles the following day should put them in. As for the Wolfpack, they have to beat BC and Virginia, and that might not even be enough.

    Take down UNC in the semis and they're in.

Big East (9)

2 of 10

    Dancing with a Hottie: Syracuse (1), Marquette (3), Georgetown (3), Louisville (5), Notre Dame (6)

    Wallflowers: West Virginia (9), Connecticut (10), Cincinnati (10), Seton Hall (11), South Florida (first team out)

    West Virginia won a huge bubble game at South Florida on Saturday and is almost definitely in the field with four victories over the top 50 and nine against the top 100.

    Even a loss to UConn in the second round of the Big East tournament Wednesday wouldn't be enough to knock the Mountaineers out, but if DePaul somehow gets past the Huskies and then takes down WVU, that could spell disaster for the 'Eers. So for that one remote possibility only, I am keep them on the Wallflowers line.

    Cincinnati moves up to a No. 10 seed after beating Marquette and Villanova last week. If not for their low 68 RPI that comes in large part because of their dreadful non-conference strength of schedule, the Bearcats would already be putting on their dancing shoes with a 5-4 mark against the top 50. If they lose to Georgetown in the quarters, that's fine, but a loss to St. John's or Pitt might be enough to drop their RPI under 75, which is not a place you want to be on Selection Sunday.

    UConn suffered its second sub-150 loss of the season Tuesday at Providence, but the Huskies looked a lot better with head coach Jim Calhoun back on the sidelines Saturday in a win over Pittsburgh. Connecticut finished the regular season below .500 in league play (8-10), but with five top-50 victories, it's still in good shape. Just don't lose to DePaul on Tuesday.

    After beating Georgetown on Feb. 21, the only way Seton Hall could miss the tournament would be by losing three straight to Rutgers, DePaul and the Pirates' first opponent in the Big East tournament. So far, they're 2-for-2 in a bad way. With three sub-100 losses and a subpar RPI of 60, The Hall absolutely must beat Providence on Tuesday. A win over Louisville on Wednesday wouldn't hurt either.

    USF's win at Louisville on Wednesday was enormous, but one win doesn't make a season, and considering that was the Bulls' only top-50 victory in 10 tries, they couldn't afford a home loss to West Virginia on Saturday.

    Lose to Rutgers or Villanova on Wednesday and they are done, but winning that game won't assure them a bid. South Florida will probably also need to beat Notre Dame in the quarters.

Big Ten (7)

3 of 10

    Dancing with a Hottie: Ohio State (1), Michigan State (2), Michigan (3), Wisconsin (4), Indiana (4), Purdue (8)

    Wallflowers: Northwestern (11)

    Handing Michigan State its first home loss of the season is a good way to jump from ninth to fourth on the S-curve. Ohio State did just that Sunday to grab a share of the Big Ten regular-season title and climb to a No. 1 seed.

    In search of its first NCAA tournament bid, Northwestern lost to Ohio State in brutal fashion Wednesday but bounced back to get a win it had to have at Iowa on Saturday. That game against the Hawkeyes is exactly why the Wildcats are still on the good side of the bubble for now.

    Of the 26 teams that I consider Wallflowers, Northwestern is the only one without a sub-100 loss on its résumé. A 7-7 mark away from home and OK computer numbers (RPI 48, SOS 14) are also keeping this team in the field, despite a hideous 1-10 record against the top 50.

    Northwestern plays in the NIT if it loses to Minnesota on Thursday but dances with a win over Michigan on Friday. Go 1-1 and it will be so fun to watch on Sunday.

Big 12 (6)

4 of 10

    Dancing with a Hottie: Kansas (1), Missouri (2), Baylor (3), Iowa State (7), Kansas State (8)

    Wallflowers: Texas (12a)

    Kansas' 10 top-50 wins are the most in the country. That and a Big 12 regular-season title will get you a No. 1 seed.

    I'm done second-guessing Iowa State. The Cyclones will be dancing after beating Baylor on Saturday for their fourth top-50 triumph and their fourth in the last five games.

    You can lock up Kansas State as well. The Wildcats took care of business against Texas A&M and Oklahoma State last week and will take their five top-50 wins into the Big Dance.

    Texas didn't get its golden ticket win in Lawrence on Saturday, but the Longhorns are still in for now thanks to a strong schedule (ranked 22nd), big victories over ISU and KSU and a very big win over Temple back on Dec. 17.

    Beating Iowa State again on Thursday in the Big 12 quarters should keep Texas in for good.

SEC (4)

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    Dancing with a Hottie: Kentucky (1), Vanderbilt (5), Florida (7)

    Wallflowers: Alabama (9), Tennessee (third team out), Mississippi State (fourth team out)

    Florida has lost three in a row and is just 3-5 against the top 50, so don't expect the Gators to get much higher than a No. 7 seed if they don't turn things around this week.

    Alabama was headed for lockdom until it lost at Ole Miss on Saturday. The Crimson Tide are still in very good shape with solid computer numbers (RPI 32, SOS 17) and nine top-100 wins, but let's try to avoid a loss to South Carolina in the first round of the SEC tournament.

    Tennessee?!? Yes, Tennessee is just outside the field after beating Vanderbilt on Saturday for the Vols' eighth win in nine games—a stretch that also included a win at Florida. Would you believe the Volunteers are the No. 2 seed (!!) in this week's SEC tournament?

    But with four sub-100 losses dragging down their RPI to a shaky 75, they'll have to reach the league final for a shot at an at-large.

    Mississippi State is actually in worse shape than Tennessee. Despite wins over South Carolina and Arkansas last week, the Bulldogs finished just 8-8 in the conference, and with bad computer numbers (RPI 64, SOS 67), two sub-100 losses and a losing record away from home, they might have to beat Georgia and Vandy in order to go dancing.

Mountain West (4)

6 of 10

    Dancing with a Hottie: UNLV (4), San Diego State (6), New Mexico (7)

    Wallflowers: Colorado State (10)

    New Mexico and San Diego State lock up spots by sharing the Mountain West regular-season title.

    Colorado State is in excellent shape after beating UNLV on Wednesday for the Rams' second RPI top-25 win—third over the top 50 and eighth against the top 100. They also have superb computer numbers (RPI 22, SOS 7) and only one bad loss (at Boise State on Feb. 15).

    If they can avoid a loss to TCU in the first round of the conference tournament on Thursday, they should be good to go.

Atlantic 10 (4)

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    Dancing with a Hottie: Temple (4)

    Wallflowers: Saint Joseph's (11), Dayton (12b), Saint Louis (12d), Xavier (sixth team out)

    Saint Joseph's followed its great win over Temple with a bad loss at St. Bonaventure, but the Hawks are still in OK position, mostly thanks to that victory over the Owls and a second RPI top-25 triumph over Creighton back on Dec. 10. Still, St. Joe's can do nothing but hurt its chances in the first two rounds of the A-10 tournament, when it takes on Charlotte and the Bonnies again. A semifinal berth could be enough, but another win over Temple would definitely do the trick.

    Dayton's loss at Richmond on Wednesday was its fourth sub-100 setback. Nevertheless, the Flyers barely remain in the field because of their winning records against the top 50 (3-2) and top 100 (8-7). That victory at Temple on Jan. 7 is also huge. But with an RPI hovering around the "cut line" at 72, they can't afford a loss to GW on Tuesday and may also need to beat Xavier on Friday in what could be an elimination game.

    Everyone is pretty quick to lock Saint Louis up as the second team from the A-10, but their résumé really doesn't measure up against other bubbles. The 96 strength of schedule is weak, and the sheer lack of a top-50 win combined with two sub-100 losses is a bad combination. What the Billikens have going for them, though, is a good RPI (29), a 7-4 mark versus the top 100 and a 9-5 record away from home. Avoid a loss to La Salle or Richmond on Friday, and they should be OK.

    Xavier falls out of the field following a loss at Saint Louis on Tuesday. Losing records against the RPI top 25, 50 and 100, as well as in road/neutral games, make the Musketeers unworthy of an at-large bid at this time. An appearance in the A-10 final is a must.

Pac-12 (2)

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    Wallflowers: Washington (12), California (12c), Oregon (second team out)

    Congratulations to Washington for winning the Pac-12 regular-season title, but that may not be enough to get the Huskies in the field after a loss at UCLA on Saturday. UW is just 1-6 against the top 50 and 4-8 versus the top 100, so like pretty much everyone else in this conference, the Huskies may have to win the automatic bid in order to get in.

    Cal is in the best at-large position of anyone in the league, but even the Bears' chances seem uncertain following consecutive losses at Colorado and Stanford. The good news is they have a top-40 RPI and a winning record against the top 100 (7-6), but a sub-90 strength of schedule and two bad losses to Oregon State and Washington State leave this team with a small margin for error. Don't go losing to Stanford or Arizona State in the Pac-12 quarters.

    Oregon is also right on the bubble, but just outside. An 0-5 record against the top 50 will do that. The only way to pick up one of those in this conference tournament is by beating Cal, so that's exactly what the Ducks will have to do in the semis.

    Arizona and Colorado have been removed from consideration after losses to Arizona State and Oregon State, respectively. Nothing short of an automatic bid will get them in now.

Other Conferences (9)

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    Dancing with a Hottie: Wichita State (5), Murray State* (5), Creighton* (6), Gonzaga (6), Memphis (8), Southern Miss (8), Saint Mary's (9)

    Wallflowers: Harvard (10), BYU (11), VCU (seventh team out), Iona (eighth team out), UCF (ninth team out), Middle Tennessee (10th team out)

    Saint Mary's and Gonzaga will once again play for the West Coast title tonight, but both are safely in the field.

    BYU has put itself in good position with a third-place finish in the league and a semifinal appearance in the conference tournament, but now, all the Cougars can do is wait. A top-50 RPI, a very impressive 12-5 mark away from home and a win over Gonzaga on Feb. 2 look good right now, but they better hope that Nevada (47) and Oregon (50) stay in the top 50 so they continue to count as second and third top-50 wins.

    According to my calculations, VCU needs to beat Drexel in the Colonial final tonight in order to go dancing. Thirteen of the Rams' 27 wins have come against teams ranked outside the RPI top 200, and 22 have come versus teams ranked outside the top 100, so don't bother defending their at-large candidacy by saying they're 27-6. It means nothing.

    Virginia Commonwealth's best win—and only top-50 victory—came at home against South Florida in November, and its overall strength of schedule is an unsightly 174. This team is not worthy of an at-large bid.

    Iona comes under the microscope following its 10-point loss to Fairfield in the MAAC semis. Like VCU, the Gaels have a bloated 25-7 record thanks to 20 victories against sub-100 competition. Their best win is Nevada, and that's not good enough.

    UCF does have an RPI top-20 win over Memphis and another good win over UConn, but that's about it. With losses to Louisiana-Lafayette, Tulsa and Rice, nothing short of a run to the Conference USA finals will give this team any shot.

    Middle Tennessee is another small-major team with an overblown record that lost early in its conference tournament. The top-seeded Blue Raiders lost to 13-19 Arkansas State in the Sun Belt quarters and must now wait a week to learn their fate. It won't be good.

    Twenty-one of MTSU's 24 Division I wins came against sub-100 competition, and its best win is over Ole Miss. Enjoy the NIT.

Automatic Bids

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    No. 13 seeds: Denver, Long Beach State, Nevada, Oral Roberts

    No. 14 seeds: Akron, Belmont*, Drexel, Davidson

    No. 15 seeds: Loyola-Maryland, Valparaiso, Bucknell, Montana

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


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