Projecting the March Madness Field of 65: Mar. 1

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Projecting the March Madness Field of 65: Mar. 1

You feel that? It's March, the greatest month of them all. But the madness began a little early this year when this past weekend, the top three teams in the land all went down.

On Saturday, Oklahoma State upset top-ranked Kansas and Tennessee beat No. 2 Kentucky. Then on Sunday, Purdue—playing without star Robbie Hummel, who has been lost for the rest of the season with an injury—was bested by Michigan State.

That means Syracuse, which crushed Villanova by 18 points on Saturday, moves into my overall No. 1 seed in my latest NCAA Tournament projections. But where does everyone else lie?

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

I like to break teams down into three categories:

"Wallflowers" are bubble teams because 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."

 

ACC

Dancing with a Hottie: Duke (1 seed)

Dancing with Their Sister: Maryland (6), Wake Forest (7), Clemson (8)

Wallflowers: Georgia Tech (9), Virginia Tech (10), Florida State (10)

With Purdue losing to Michigan State, Duke grabs the final No. 1 seed. The Blue Devils have won eight straight, are 8-3 against the top 50 and 14-3 versus the top 100.

Wake Forest's downward spiral continued this past week as the Demon Deacons were stunned at home by last-place North Carolina. The Deacs have now lost three in a row but should be safe come Selection Sunday thanks to their 5-3 mark against top-50 competition. Still, Wake would do itself a favor by winning one of its last two at Florida State or home against Clemson.

Like Wake Forest, Virginia Tech is on a three-game slide. Unlike the Deacons, however, the Hokies do not have a solid non-conference resume to balance things out. With Va Tech's double-overtime home loss to Maryland, the Hokies have dropped to 8-6 in conference and 52 in the RPI.

They do have wins over Clemson and Wake, but not a whole lot else, so they definitely need to beat NC State at home on Wednesday and may also want to win at Georgia Tech on Saturday to be safe.

 

Big East

Dancing with a Hottie: Syracuse (1), Villanova (3), West Virginia (3), Georgetown (4), Pittsburgh (4)

Wallflowers: Marquette (11), Louisville (11), Notre Dame (12), Connecticut (third out), Cincinnati (fifth out)

Notre Dame wasn't even among my top 10 out last week, but the Irish - without conference Player of the Year candidate Luke Harangody—upset both Pittsburgh and Georgetown to improve to 8-8 in the league and 3-4 versus the top 50.

ND is by no means out of the woods, yet. The men from South Bend probably need to win their last two against UConn and Marquette before taking at least one game in the Big East Tournament.

That Notre Dame/Connecticut game on Wednesday is huge because the Huskies are fighting for an at-large bid as well. Jim Calhoun's bunch beat West Virginia on Monday to temporarily jump into the field, but then fell back out when they lost by two points at home to Louisville.

UConn is below .500 (7-9) in conference—a place you never want to be as a bubble team—and 3-8 against the top 50. When you have that many opportunities to pick up big wins, you need to do better than that, especially when you have losses to No. 149 Michigan and No. 113 Providence on your resume.

Cincinnati may be fifth out right now, but the Bearcats have two huge chances to impress the committee when they square off with Villanova and Georgetown this week.

 

Big Ten

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

Dancing with Their Sister: Wisconsin (5)

Wallflowers: Illinois (9), Minnesota (seventh out)

Illinois' two-point home loss to Minnesota has the Illini in a very dangerous spot. Their 73 RPI is not good, but a 10-6 Big Ten record, 6-4 mark in true road games, and wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin, Clemson, and Vanderbilt have Illinois in the field for now. But the Illlini have two more difficult contests upcoming against Ohio State and Wisconsin, so they better win one of those or they can be in a lot of trouble.

The Gophers, meanwhile, kept their hopes alive by winning at Illinois after a gut-wrenching loss to Purdue. Minnesota has two very winnable games this week against Michigan and Iowa, so the Gophers could get to 10-8 in league play. They'd probably still need at least one win in the conference tournament in order to go dancing.

 

Big XII

Dancing with a Hottie: Kansas (1), Kansas State (2), Baylor (4)

Dancing with Their Sister: Texas A&M (5), Texas (6), Missouri (7), Oklahoma State (8)

The Big XII is the most clear-cut conference at this point. Seven teams are almost definitely dancing, while the bottom five in the league have no shot at an at-large.

Oklahoma State was the latest team to jump to the "Dancing with Their Sister" level when the Cowboys stunned No. 1 Kansas on Saturday. OSU has won four of five and is now 25th in the RPI with the 27th toughest schedule in the nation.

Baylor locked up a spot by beating Texas A&M and the Bears have now won five of six to rise to 11th in the RPI. Baylor is 5-4 versus the top 50 and 9-4 against the top 100, but does have two bad losses to Alabama and Colorado.

 

Pac-10

Dancing with Their Sister: California (8)

There's only one team in the picture right now, but with California's more consistent play over the past month, the Pac-10 could advance two schools into the Big Dance if someone other than the Bears were able to win the conference tournament.

Cal dominated Arizona State, 62-46, on Saturday to end the Sun Devils' remote chances for an at-large. But would the Bears be worthy if they were to stumble next week? They have great computer numbers (RPI 21, SOS 10), but with no wins over the top 50, Cal might want to make sure it earns that automatic bid.

 

SEC

Dancing with a Hottie: Kentucky (1), Vanderbilt (3), Tennessee (4)

Wallflowers: Mississippi State (11), Florida (12), Mississippi (sixth out)

Mississippi State is doing what all bubble teams should do at this time of the year: winning. The Bulldogs' third consecutive victory came at South Carolina on Saturday, but with just one win over the top 50 and a strength of schedule of 114, MSU needs to win its last two games at Auburn and at home against Tennessee.

Florida could not afford to lose at Georgia with Vandy and Kentucky left on the schedule, but that's exactly what the Gators did on Saturday, falling by two points. They have mediocre computer numbers (RPI 46, SOS 45) and that home loss to No. 214 South Alabama will stick out like a sore thumb in the committee room.

The Gators do have nice wins over Florida State, Michigan State and Tennessee, but they may need one more big victory to seal the deal.

Ole Miss kept itself afloat by defeating Auburn and Alabama this past week and the Rebels should be able to pick up two more easy wins over LSU and Arkansas to finish the season at 9-7 in the SEC. But with just a 2-6 mark against the top 50, Mississippi will have to do some damage in the conference tournament.

 

Atlantic 10

Dancing with Their Sister: Xavier (5), Temple (6), Richmond (7)

Wallflowers: Dayton (10), Rhode Island (10), Charlotte (fourth out), Saint Louis (eighth out)

The A-10 appeared to be heading toward six bids a couple weeks ago, but cannibalism has taken its toll and it looks like this conference will be battling the Big East for those last few spots on Selection Sunday.

Dayton scored only 41 points in a loss at Temple this past week, but the Flyers are in the best position among Atlantic-10 Wallflowers thanks to non-conference wins over Georgia Tech and Old Dominion. In the league, they've split with first-place Xavier, beat Charlotte, but lost to Rhode Island and Saint Louis. A win at Richmond on Thursday would go a long way toward securing a bid.

URI's RPI remains okay at 37, but that's about the only thing going right for the Rams right now. They just suffered their fourth loss in five games when they came up short at No. 172 Saint Bonaventure and need to close the regular season with victories over Charlotte and UMass to remain in the field. The Rams' win over Oklahoma State is looking better and better, but their only other top-50 victory is over Dayton.

Charlotte fell from the field when it lost at George Washington on Saturday. That was the 49ers' fourth loss in five games and they don't have the computer numbers (RPI 61, SOS 99) that Rhode Island has. The two teams square off in a possible elimination game on Wednesday.

I'm keeping Saint Louis in the conversation because the only blight on its past eight games was a two-point loss to Xavier. The Billikens still have two chances to impress the committee with showdowns scheduled against Temple and Dayton.

 

Mountain West

Dancing with a Hottie: New Mexico (2)

Dancing with Their Sisters: BYU (6)

Wallflowers: UNLV (11), San Diego State (12)

BYU still hasn't defeated a top-35 team. The Cougars—playing without the league's leading scorer, Jimmy Fredette, for nearly all of the second half due to a stomach ailment—lost by two points at home to New Mexico on Saturday. The Lobos are now 4-0 versus the RPI top 25.

Brigham Young did knock off San Diego State earlier in the week, putting the Aztecs squarely on the bubble. SDSU won't have a chance to improve its standing in its final two contests against Colorado State and Air Force, so it'll have to beat at least one of the conference's top three teams in the league tournament.

 

Other Conferences

Dancing with Their Sister: Butler (5), Gonzaga (7), Old Dominion (8)

Wallflowers: UTEP (9), Northern Iowa (9), Utah State (12), UAB (first out), Saint Mary's (second out)

Northern Iowa better not strap on its dancing shoes just yet. The Panthers suffered a terrible loss at No. 243 Evansville on Tuesday and are just 2-0 against the top 50. In the end, their recent Bracketbuster victory over Old Dominion will probably put them in the dance, but UNI better reach at least the Missouri Valley final.

UAB continues to remain just outside the field. The Blazers have won four in a row over sub-par competition, but will be tested this week when they host Memphis and travel to UTEP. The Blazers need both games because they're just 1-2 versus the top 50.

Saint Mary's is in a similar boat, except its only chance to pick up a big win will come in the West Coast championship game against Gonzaga. Win that and the Gaels will earn an automatic bid.

 

Automatic Bids

13 seeds: Siena, Cornell, Kent State, Murray State

14 seeds: Oakland, Weber State, Sam Houston State, Wofford

15 seeds: North Texas, Coastal Carolina, Morgan State, UCSB

16 seeds: Belmontt, Stony Brook, Quinnipiac, Lehigh, Jackson State

 

See how my projections (BR-JS) and Brad Wachtel's (F&B) compare to others in the Bracket Project .

Follow me on Twitter at JordanHarrison .

Jordan Schwartz is one of Bleacher Report's New York Yankees and College Basketball Featured Columnists. His book  Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and authorhouse.com.

Jordan can be reached at jordanschwartz2003@yahoo.com

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