Last year, I had the most accurate bracket projections in the country and was the only bracketologist out of the 89 tabulated by bracketproject.com to correctly predict 67 of 68 teams.
I lead with that not to brag (well, not only to brag), but because it will most likely be the last time I can insert that sentence into my articles.
My year on top is coming to an end. These past 12 months, I have been honored to travel the globe healing the sick and aiding the poor, but now I must hand over my tiara and bouquet of roses to someone else.
Unless Marshall becomes this year's VCU and UAB.
Before we get to the bubble teams, let's take a look at the top seeds.
Kentucky will be the overall No. 1 seed, and Syracuse will be right behind the Wildcats, despite the Orange's loss to Cincinnati in the Big East semis. And then there are five teams in contention for the final two spots.
Michigan State probably has the best resume among that group with the a top-five RPI, the strongest schedule in the country and the most RPI top-25 wins in the nation (eight). But it's hard to imagine the selection committee giving a No. 1 seed to a team with seven losses, one who might pick up its eighth today.
For the same reason, Ohio State most likely won't be on the top line, because the committee isn't going to wait until the Big Ten final ends at 5:30 p.m. ET to complete its bracket, no matter what they might tell you about contingency plans.
Missouri jumped into consideration by winning the Big 12 tournament, but the Tigers' resume really doesn't stack up against the other teams in the hunt. Their RPI is 10th, the strength of schedule is only 69th and they have that one bad loss to Oklahoma State.
So that leaves Kansas and North Carolina. I suppose there's a chance that UNC is replaced by the winner of the Big Ten title game now that the Tar Heels lost to Florida State in the ACC final, but probably not, because the committee doesn't put as much of an emphasis on the conference tournaments as do the public and media.
The Jayhawks and Tar Heels both have top-10 RPIs and strength of schedule figures, were very impressive away from home, didn't suffer any bad losses and won their regular-season conference titles outright, which is something the committee loves to see from its top seeds.
Here is the first part of my projections:
1. Kentucky, Syracuse, Kansas, North Carolina
2. Michigan State, Ohio State, Missouri, Duke
3. Baylor, Michigan, Marquette, Louisville
4. Indiana, Wisconsin, Florida State, Georgetown
5. Murray State, New Mexico, UNLV, Temple
6. Vanderbilt, Florida, Notre Dame, Wichita State
7. Gonzaga, Creighton, Saint Mary's, San Diego State
8. Memphis, Cincinnati, Iowa State, Kansas State
9. Southern Miss, Purdue, Alabama, Connecticut
10. Harvard, Long Beach State, Xavier, West Virginia
11. Saint Louis, Virginia, Colorado State
I think Colorado State has done enough at this point that we don't need to go into great detail about why the Rams will make the field. Their computer numbers are outstanding (RPI 30, SOS 7), and they beat the top three teams in the Mountain West—UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State.
Xavier's run to the A-10 final has the Musketeers safely in the field as well, despite today's loss to Saint Bonaventure. Xavier has a top-40 RPI and SOS, as well as four top-50 wins and nine victories over the top 100.
So that leaves six spots for about 17 teams, which is the most wide open the bubble has ever been on Selection Sunday. You can thank the NCAA for expanding the field to an undeserving 68 teams.
Let's break it all down.
No. 11 seed—Marshall (RPI 44, SOS 24, 2-5 vs. top 25, 4-6 vs. top 50, 6-10 vs. top 100, 3 sub-100 losses, 8-9 road/neutral)
The Thundering Herd came out of nowhere this past week to not only get into the field, but do it rather comfortably by my estimation. Marshall finished fifth in Conference USA during the regular season at 9-7, but picked up a pair of RPI top-20 wins over its last five games by beating Southern Miss twice. Those types of victories are gold to bubble teams—just ask the 2011 VCU Rams.
They entered Championship Week way off the bubble, but a win over top-seeded George Mason in the Colonial semis gave Virginia Commonwealth a major boost. It was the team's second RPI top-25 win to go along with a victory over Old Dominion and its third over a top-50 opponent, going along with a very good non-conference triumph over UCLA.
Marshall actually has better computer numbers and a better record against the top 50 than VCU did last year.
No. 12 seed—North Carolina State (RPI 48, SOS 25, 0-8 vs. top 25, 1-8 vs. top 50, 6-10 vs. top 100, 2 sub-100 losses, 9-6 road/neutral)
The Wolfpack were not in good shape a couple weeks ago, but they won four of their last five, with a pair of top-60 wins over Miami and Virginia, and pushed UNC to the limit before falling by two in the ACC semis. Their only top-50 win is over Texas, which isn't good, but the computer numbers are solid, as is the 9-6 record away from home.
No. 12 seed (First Four game)—Seton Hall (RPI 68, SOS 49, 1-4 vs. top 25, 3-7 vs. top 50, 7-9 vs. top 100, 3 sub-100 losses, 7-9 road/neutral)
Seton Hall had the complete opposite end to the season. The Pirates were safely in the field after beating Georgetown on Feb. 21, but bad losses to Rutgers and DePaul put them on thin ice. SHU looked much better in the Big East tournament, though, crushing Providence before falling by six to eventual champion Louisville. Wins over the Hoyas, UConn, VCU, St. Joe's, Dayton and West Virginia should be enough.
No. 12 seed (First Four game)—South Florida (RPI 53, SOS 28, 1-5 vs. top 25, 2-9 vs. top 50, 6-10 vs. top 100, 3 sub-100 losses, 6-11 road/neutral)
Speaking of Big East bubble teams, we come to the case of South Florida. The Bulls' 12-6 record in the Big East isn't what will get them in, because most of the year, they just beat up on the bottom of the league. However, USF picked up huge victories over Cincinnati and Louisville during the last week of February that, combined with its top-30 strength of schedule number, should get this squad in.
No. 12 seed (First Four game)—Miami (RPI 60, SOS 43, 2-5 vs. top 25, 2-8 vs. top 50, 3-11 vs. top 100, 1 sub-100 losses, 6-9 road/neutral)
Staying in Florida, we come to Miami. The Hurricanes' 3-11 mark against the top 100 is dreadful, but two of those wins were enormous. The U beat Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday and blew out Florida State at home three weeks later. Other good parts of the resume include a top-50 strength of schedule and just one sub-100 loss: a five-point setback at No. 105 Maryland.
No. 12 seed (First Four game)—Texas (RPI 50, SOS 18, 1-8 vs. top 25, 4-11 vs. top 50, 4-11 vs. top 100, 2 sub-100 losses, 5-8 road/neutral)
Texas didn't have the luxury of beefing up its resume with wins over teams ranked between 51 and 100 in the RPI. That's because the Longhorns didn't play anyone ranked between 51 and 100 in the RPI. They will get credit for playing 15, yes 15, games against the top 50 (Drexel played 15 sub-200 teams) and winning four of them (Temple, Iowa State twice and Kansas State).
First team out—Northwestern (RPI 63, SOS 21, 1-8 vs. top 25, 1-10 vs. top 50, 5-13 vs. top 100, 0 sub-100 losses, 7-8 road/neutral)
I wasn't too confident having Northwestern as my last team in and so I'm pleased Saint Bonaventure beat Xavier in the A-10 final to grab an automatic bid and shrink the bubble by one. Northwestern is the casualty. I had the Wildcats in because, despite their terrible 1-10 record against the top 50, their 81-74 win over Michigan State on Jan. 14 was the single best victory of any bubble team. They were also the only bubble team without a sub-100 loss and, their strength of schedule is very impressive. But with St. Bonaventure's win, they will play in the NIT.
Second team out—California (RPI 38, SOS 86, 0-2 vs. top 25, 0-3 vs. top 50, 9-7 vs. top 100, 2 sub-100 loss, 7-8 road/neutral)
I just don't see how you can put a team in the field that doesn't have a top-50 win. The committee did it last year with Clemson, so I wouldn't be shocked if they did it again, but that team had a much better schedule strength. Cal's best victory was over No. 62 Colorado, and its best non-conference win is over Weber State. The Bears' best non-conference road win? They don't have one.
Third team out—Mississippi State (RPI 74, SOS 76, 1-2 vs. top 25, 2-4 vs. top 50, 7-9 vs. top 100, 2 sub-100 loss, 6-8 road/neutral)
Since the creation of the RPI in 1994, the lowest-ranked team to get an at-large bid was No. 74 New Mexico in 1999. So there's a chance for Mississippi State, but not a good one. The Bulldogs had a terrible five-game losing streak in February that included three setbacks to teams outside the top 80. The 10-point loss to Georgia in the first round of the SEC tournament didn't help either.
Fourth team out—Iona (RPI 41, SOS 144, 0-0 vs. top 25, 0-2 vs. top 50, 5-3 vs. top 100, 4 sub-100 loss, 15-6 road/neutral)
The only good things about this resume are the mediocre RPI and the outstanding record away from home. But when you have four bad losses and no great wins, there's no reason you should make the field. Iona's best victory is over Nevada and it lost to Siena and Hofstra. Enough said.
Fifth team out—BYU (RPI 46, SOS 101, 1-4 vs. top 25, 1-6 vs. top 50, 5-6 vs. top 100, 2 sub-100 loss, 12-5 road/neutral)
I don't feel great about leaving BYU out, but the Cougars' resume got worse over the final week of the season, as some of their wins lost value. They do have that big victory over Gonzaga, but the wins over Nevada and Oregon are no longer that impressive.
Sixth team out—Saint Joseph's
Seventh team out—Ole Miss
Eighth team out—Oregon
Ninth team out—UCF
10th team out—Drexel (RPI 67, SOS 213, 0-0 vs. top 25, 1-1 vs. top 50, 4-3 vs. top 100, 3 sub-100 loss, 14-6 road/neutral)
There isn't a lot of support for St. Joe's, Ole Miss, Oregon or UCF right now, but I wouldn't have a huge problem if one of them somehow snuck in the field. I would, however, take issue if Drexel or Washington were selected.
You can't justify giving an at-large bid to a team with a sub-200 strength of schedule and three times as many sub-100 losses as top-50 wins. Don't tell me the Dragons should be in because they are 27-6, because that record means nothing when 23 of those wins came against teams ranked outside the top 100 in the RPI. Seton Hall and Northwestern would probably have a pretty good record too if they got to play all of their conference games against Providence and Penn State.
11th team out—Washington (RPI 71, SOS 92, 0-2 vs. top 25, 0-5 vs. top 50, 4-8 vs. top 100, 2 sub-100 loss, 6-8 road/neutral)
Don't tell me Washington should be in because they won the Pac 12 regular-season title. The Pac-12 was the 10th-best conference in the country this year, and its members went a combined 9-43 against the top 50. The Huskies' best win was over Oregon, their best non-conference victory was over UCSB and they didn't have a single non-conference win away from home. This is not a resume worthy of an at-large bid.
So, here's the bottom of the bracket:
12. NC State, Seton Hall vs. Miami, South Florida vs. Texas, Saint Bonaventure
13. Colorado, VCU, Belmont, Ohio
14. Montana, New Mexico State, South Dakota State, Davidson
15. Lehigh, Loyola-Maryland, Norfolk State, Long Island
16. UNC Asheville, Lamar, Detroit vs. Western Kentucky, Vermont vs. Mississippi Valley State
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