Projecting the Field of 65: Dec. 1
I know it's madness to begin projecting the NCAA Tournament in December, but when a task is so enjoyable, why put it off until January?
Conference play is still about a month away for most teams, but following some early season tournament action, I believe I have enough information to start slotting schools into seed lines.
As always, I am not trying to guess how teams will finish the year; I am simply seeding them based on their current résumés.
To that end, teams currently leading their conference receive automatic bids, and everyone else is judged on their at-large profile.
I like to break teams down into three categories. "Wallflowers" are bubble teams; everyone wants to get into the Big Dance, but not all have the guts to ask a girl out onto the dance floor.
Elite teams are safely in the field—"Dancing with a hottie"—and in the middle are the schools that are "Dancing with their sister."
Without further ado, let's get to my first projections of the 2009-2010 season.
Dancing with a hottie: Duke (1 seed), North Carolina (2)
Dancing with their sister: Clemson (5), Florida State (7), Georgia Tech (8)
Wallflowers: Miami (10), North Carolina State (11), Maryland (out)
Miami's win over South Carolina is the only thing keeping the 'Canes and their 271 strength of schedule in the field.
NC State's RPI is pretty good at 17, thanks to its 5-0 record. The squad's biggest wins aren't too impressive (Auburn and Austin Peay), but without a lot of strength around the bubble, the Wolfpack is currently one of my last teams in.
Maryland's three Division I wins are over teams ranked 218th or lower in the RPI, and the Terps went 0-2 in important games against Cincinnati and Wisconsin at the Maui Invitational. This is not yet a school deserving of a bid.
Dancing with a hottie: Villanova (1), Syracuse (2), West Virginia (3), Connecticut (3), Louisville (4)
Dancing with their sister: Georgetown (6)
Wallflowers: Cincinnati (9), DePaul (9), St. John's (9), Marquette (10), Pittsburgh (11), Notre Dame (out)
I realize the Big East is not going to get 11 teams into the Big Dance, but the way this conference is playing right now, it's hard to argue with the notion that the Big East has 11 of the best 34 teams in the country.
The RPI's highest-rated conference has a ridiculous 79-12 overall record (also the best in the nation) and sports winners of various early season tournaments, such as Villanova (Puerto Rico Tip-Off), Syracuse (2K Sports Classic with a victory over UNC), and RPI No. 1 WVU (76 Classic).
Cincy beat Vandy and Maryland before falling just short vs. Gonzaga in Maui. RPI No. 8 DePaul surprised everyone with good wins over Northern Iowa, St. Joe's, and Detroit, coupled with a close four-point loss to Tennessee.
Marquette has a pair of decent victories over Xavier and Michigan, and its only defeat came by one point to FSU. Pitt barely sneaks in thanks to its 19 RPI and 29 SOS, but Notre Dame is my first team out because, like always, its early season schedule is not that strong.
Dancing with a hottie: Purdue (2), Michigan State (3)
Dancing with their sister: Minnesota (5), Ohio State (7)
Wallflowers: Wisconsin (9), Northwestern (10), Michigan (12), Illinois (out)
Some had the Big Ten projected to be among the top two leagues in college basketball this season, but that has been far from the case thus far. The conference is ranked ninth in the RPI, behind the Atlantic 10, Mountain West, and Missouri Valley, and has suffered some unexpected losses already.
Michigan State fell to Florida, Minnesota dropped games to Portland and Texas A&M, Michigan lost to Marquette and Alabama, and Illinois was stunned by Utah and Bradley.
Wisconsin remains in the field thanks to victories over Arizona and Maryland, while Northwestern has been one of the bright spots in the Big Ten by beating Notre Dame.
Dancing with a hottie: Texas (1), Kansas (1), Texas A&M (4)
Dancing with their sister: Oklahoma State (5), Kansas State (6)
Wallflowers: Missouri (out), Texas Tech (out)
The top of the Big XII is very strong, but there isn't a lot of depth. Missouri's loss to Richmond at the South Padre Invitational has the Spiders in and the Tigers out. While Texas Tech is 7-0, six of those wins came at home, and none of them were against a team ranked higher than 140 in the RPI.
Dancing with a hottie: Washington (4)
Dancing with their sister: California (8)
Wallflowers: Arizona State (out), Washington State (out), USC (out), Arizona (out)
Could my inclusion of only two Pac-10 teams be a result of the dreaded East Coast bias, or is it because the BCS conference has only the ninth best winning percentage so far?
Among my Wallflowers, only Arizona (3-2) has an RPI in the top 100, and the Wildcats haven't beaten a good team yet. Arizona State has an okay victory over LSU, but the Sun Devils' SOS is 207. Washington State's is even worse at 322, and USC lost at home by eight to Loyola-Marymount.
Dancing with a hottie: Kentucky (2), Florida (3), Tennessee (4)
Dancing with their sister: Mississippi (6)
Wallflowers: Vanderbilt (10), South Carolina (out)
I'm still not sold on Kentucky as a national title contender. I understand a young team is going to struggle out of the gate, but the Wildcats have played just the 228th toughest schedule, yet they've almost dropped games to Miami (Ohio) and Stanford.
I am sold on Florida, however, which jumped into the polls after upsetting Michigan State in Atlantic City. Somehow the coaches still have the undefeated Gators ranked eight spots behind the Spartans. The AP writers aren't much better; they have Michigan State four places ahead, proving once again that the polls mean next to nothing.
Vandy's fifth-place game win over Arizona in Maui has the Commodores on the right side of the bubble, but South Carolina's 15-point loss to Miami, coupled with a lack of any real significant wins, has the Gamecocks just outside the field.
Dancing with their sister: UNLV (5), Portland (6), Gonzaga (7), Butler (7), Dayton (8), Temple (8)
Wallflowers: Siena (11), Richmond (11), Memphis (12), William & Mary (12), BYU (out), New Mexico (out), VCU (out), Northern Iowa (out)
The mid-major conferences are riddled with surprises and disappointments. UNLV has jumped into the top 25 and the No. 5 spot in the RPI with a win over Louisville. Portland took down Oregon, UCLA, and Minnesota before losing its first game to West Virginia. Temple (RPI 10, SOS 4) has positioned itself well with victories over Siena and Virginia Tech, along with close losses to Georgetown and St. John's.
Butler, meanwhile, has stumbled early with defeats to Minnesota and Clemson at the 76 Classic in Anaheim. The team that some had going to the Final Four is just 4-2 with an RPI of 68.
Siena also may have been too busy reading its press clippings. After blowing non-conference opportunities against Temple and St. John's, the Saints may have to win their league to make the NCAA Tournament.
Richmond's South Padre Island Invitational championship, which included W's over Mississippi State and Missouri, has the Spiders in. William & Mary might've lost to Harvard, but victories over Richmond and Wake Forest, combined with good computer numbers (RPI 9, SOS 11), have the Tribe looking at a possible at-large berth if it doesn't win the Colonial.
The other team competing for the automatic bid from that conference is Virginia Commonwealth, which hurt its résumé with a 16-point loss to Western Michigan.
BYU, New Mexico, and Northern Iowa, meanwhile, don't have any significant wins to warrant inclusion at this point.
12 seeds: Cal State Fullerton
13 seeds: Cornell, Missouri State, Eastern Kentucky, Louisiana Tech
14 seeds: South Alabama, Texas-San Antonio, Western Carolina, Army
15 seeds: Stony Brook, Coastal Carolina, Ohio, Northern Colorado
16 seeds: Campbell, Prairie View A&M, Quinnipiac, Centenary, South Carolina State
Follow me on Twitter at JordanHarrison .
Jordan Schwartz is Bleacher Report's New York Yankees Community Leader. His book Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and authorhouse.com.
Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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