2011 March Madness Field of 68 Projections: Dec. 1

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2011 March Madness Field of 68 Projections: Dec. 1
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Who says December is too early to begin bracketizing?

With Feast Week concluded and the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in full swing, I feel like I have enough information to start slotting teams 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.

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."

Last year, I placed 22nd out of 83 bracketologists across the country in my final projections, ahead of Joe Lunardi of ESPN, Yahoo!, Rivals.com and the two other guys from Bleacher Report.

The tournament will be expanding from 65 to 68 teams for the first time this year, and while that is completely ridiculous, at least it's not 96 teams. Because of this, I'll begin my projections this season with my two First Four at-large matchups. The two First Four automatic bid games will be listed at the bottom of this article.

(12a) Northwestern vs. (12b) VCU

Will Duke successfully defend its national championship?

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(13a) UCLA vs. (13b) Texas A&M

First three out: Temple, Cleveland State, Iowa State

 

ACC (six teams)

Dancing with a Hottie: Duke (1 seed)

Wallflowers: Virginia Tech (9), North Carolina State (10), Maryland (11), Florida State (11), North Carolina (12)

The defending national champion Blue Devils are once again the best team in the country, scoring wins over Marquette and Kansas State to claim the CBE Classic title. They host Michigan State on Wednesday night in the marquee matchup of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

But after Duke, the ACC hasn't had a lot of success thus far. Virginia Tech has lost to Kansas State and UNLV, NC State fell to Georgetown, Maryland was beaten by Pitt and Illinois and Florida State lost back-to-back home games to Florida and Ohio State.

But no team has been more overrated than North Carolina, which began the season ranked a preposterous eighth in the country. The young Tar Heels are just 4-3 and have already suffered setbacks to Minnesota, Vanderbilt and Illinois.

 

Big East (10)

Dancing with a Hottie: Pittsburgh (1), Georgetown (2), Connecticut (2), Syracuse (2), Villanova (3)

Dancing with Their Sister: West Virginia (8), Cincinnati (8), Louisville (8)

Wallflowers: Notre Dame (9), Marquette (12)

Whoever thought this would be a down year for the Big East was dead wrong. The league is ranked No. 1 in the RPI, and while I don't expect the conference to get 10 teams into the NCAA Tournament, eight or nine isn't out of the question.

UConn has been the biggest surprise thus far, playing the toughest schedule in America and going undefeated. Led by Kemba Walker's 30 points per game, the RPI No. 1 Huskies have gone from unranked to giant killers, taking down Michigan State and Kentucky to win the Maui Invitational.

Georgetown has been impressive as well, defeating a good Old Dominion team on the road before beating NC State and finally Missouri in a classic overtime game in Kansas City.

Syracuse struggled getting off to good starts in four of its first five games but still won the Legends Classic Tournament in Atlantic City with a good effort in the finals against Georgia Tech. The 7-0 Orange face their first big test Tuesday vs. Michigan State at Madison Square Garden.

Cincinnati, Louisville and Notre Dame have overachieved thus far. The 5-0 Bearcats crushed Dayton, 68-34, the 4-0 Cardinals upset Butler on Nov. 16 and the 8-0 Irish bested Georgia, Cal and Wisconsin to win the Old Spice Classic. The team with the most wins in the country travels to Louisville next week to play Kentucky.

 

Big Ten (8)

Dancing with a Hottie: Ohio State (1), Michigan State (3)

Dancing with Their Sister: Illinois (6), Minnesota (7)

Wallflowers: Indiana (9), Purdue (10), Wisconsin (11), Northwestern (12a)

Michigan State slipped from its No. 2 preseason ranking after losing to UConn in Maui but bounced back to beat Washington in the third-place game. The Spartans have a few more big non-conference contests remaining with Duke, Syracuse and Texas left on the ledger.

The Gophers, meanwhile, defeated North Carolina and West Virginia to win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off before blowing a big lead at home to Virginia. But to be fair, Minnesota was playing without point guard Al Nolen, who was out with a foot injury.

Indiana as a No. 9 seed may seem like an odd choice, and while I don't expect them to still be in the running for a bid come March, the 6-0 Hoosiers are 51st in the RPI and have a win over Evansville, who won at Butler.

Purdue is a team getting a little bit too much respect right now. The Boilermakers' best win is over Oakland, and they just lost by 11 to Richmond in Illinois. A Wednesday meeting at Virginia Tech should give us some more information.

Northwestern looks on its way to claiming its first NCAA bid after beginning the season 5-0 with a convincing win over Georgia Tech. I currently have the Wildcats as The Team Most Screwed by the New Tournament Format because they would have earned a spot in the legitimate field last year but would now have to play in one of those ridiculous play-in games. That would be a cruel fate if it actually happened.

 

Big 12 (6)

Dancing with a Hottie: Kansas (2), Baylor (3), Kansas State (4), Missouri (4)

Dancing with Their Sister: Texas (5)

Wallflowers: Texas A&M (13b), Iowa State (third team out)

The Big 12 is pretty loaded at the top of the conference, but Texas A&M is one of three teams benefiting from the NCAA's lust for money. I have the Aggies as my last school in because, even though they lost to Boston College, they redeemed themselves with a win over Temple at the Old Spice Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Iowa State, on the other hand, is on the outside looking in because, despite its 6-0 record and No. 26 RPI, the Cyclones haven't beaten anyone of significance.

 

Pac-10 (3)

Dancing with Their Sister: Washington (6)

Wallflowers: Arizona (12), UCLA (13a)

Good to see the Pac-10 hasn't made any major strides since last season's dreadful campaign. The conference is ranked 11th in the RPI, behind the Southland.

Washington has missed both of its chances to impress, losing to Kentucky and Michigan State in Maui; Arizona fell to Kansas and hasn't beaten anyone ranked higher than 197 in the RPI; and UCLA would only get in under the new expanded format after coming up short against Villanova and VCU.

 

SEC (4)

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

Dancing with Their Sister: Vanderbilt (8)

It's been a tumultuous last month off the court for Bruce Pearl and Tennessee, but since the regular season began, there haven't been many teams more impressive. The Volunteers are 6-0 despite the 12th toughest schedule in the country, defeating Villanova by 10 in hostile territory at MSG. UT, which is ranked third in the RPI, also picked up nice victories over Virginia Commonwealth and Missouri State.


Other Conferences (14)

Dancing with a Hottie: Memphis (4)

Dancing with Their Sister: UNLV (5), Old Dominion (5), BYU (5), Utah State (6), Xavier (6), Saint Mary's (7), San Diego State (7), Wichita State (7)

Wallflowers: Dayton (9), Richmond (10), Butler (10), Gonzaga (11), VCU (12), Temple (first team out), Cleveland State (second team out)

UNLV is starting to get some attention after defeating Murray State and Virginia Tech to win the 76 Classic in Anaheim. The Rebels also defeated Wisconsin on Nov. 20 to help them rise to fifth in the RPI.

BYU already has a couple big non-conference wins that will come in handy on Selection Sunday. The Cougars defeated Utah State and Saint Mary's.

The Gaels, meanwhile, play a huge game Wednesday night against San Diego State, a team that has already knocked off Gonzaga.

Cleveland State may not even have to worry about an at-large spot the way Butler has played thus far, but the Vikings are making a run at one anyway. They're 7-0 with a win over Iona, who beat Richmond, who beat Purdue.

 

Automatic Bids

13 seeds: Murray State, Stephen F. Austin, Kent State

14 seeds: Harvard, Charleston, Siena, Belmont

15 seeds: Central Connecticut, South Dakota State, VMI, Pacific

16 seeds: Vermont, Portland State, Jackson State vs. North Texas, Hampton vs. American

 

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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