2011 NCAA March Madness Field of 68 Projections: December 16
Seven more teams fell from the ranks of the unbeaten over the past week, leaving just 12 unblemished records remaining in the country. Those dozen schools are in my brackets—because this isn't college football—but what other 56 squads made my field of 68?
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 get into the Big Dance, but not all have the guts to ask a girl out onto the dance floor.
2. Elite teams are safely in the field—"Dancing with a Hottie."
3. 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.
(No. 12a) Georgia vs. (No. 12d) Dayton
(No. 12b) Xavier vs. (No. 12c) Maryland
First five out: Ole Miss, Southern Miss, California, Butler, VCU
ACC (seven teams)
Dancing with a Hottie: Duke (No. 1 seed)
Dancing with Their Sister: North Carolina (No. 6)
Wallflowers: Florida State (No. 9), North Carolina State (No. 10), Boston College (No. 10), Miami (No. 11), Maryland (No. 12c)
BC's top 100 wins over Providence and Maryland this past week have vaulted them all the way up to ninth in the RPI. The Eagles are 8-2 despite playing the eighth most difficult schedule in the country.
The Terps, meanwhile, are still hanging on by a thread after their four-point setback against Boston College at home in the conference opener. Maryland has four losses, but all of them have come against RPI top 22 teams, which is more than can be said about most Wallflowers.
Big East (nine)
Dancing with a Hottie: Connecticut (No. 1), Syracuse (No. 2), Pittsburgh (No. 3), Georgetown (No. 4), Villanova (No. 4)
Dancing with Their Sister: West Virginia (No. 7), Notre Dame (No. 7)
Wallflowers: Louisville (No. 9), Cincinnati (No. 12)
The Panthers' first loss of the season—a seven-point defeat at the hands of Tennessee in Pittsburgh—dropped them from the top line. Pitt has two cupcakes before opening up its Big East slate with a huge matchup at home against UConn on Dec. 27.
Notre Dame fell by 14 points to Kentucky in the Big East/SEC Invitational at Louisville, but the Irish bounced back with a nice win over Gonzaga.
Louisville also suffered its first loss this past week. After picking up a good win over UNLV, the Cardinals were held to just 46 points at home by Drexel.
Marquette's home loss to Wisconsin, combined with the rapidly declining value of the Eagles win over Gonzaga on Nov. 23, drops them from the field.
Big Ten (seven)
Dancing with a Hottie: Ohio State (No. 1), Michigan State (No. 3)
Dancing with Their Sister: Minnesota (No. 5), Illinois (No. 5), Purdue (No. 7)
Wallflowers: Northwestern (No. 9), Wisconsin (No. 11)
The Gophers are off to a blazing 10-1 start that includes wins over North Carolina and West Virginia. They've won four in a row and are ranked 24th in the RPI.
Illinois' victory over Oakland last week is looking a whole lot better after the Grizzlies stunned Tennessee. The Illini have won seven straight and are 18th in the RPI.
Wisconsin's seed took a hit not because of anything it did, but due to losses by teams it has played. The Badgers loss to UNLV looks worse with the Rebels' recent loss to UC Santa Barbara, and Wisconsin's win at Marquette isn't carrying as much weight these days with the Eagles ranked 177th in the RPI.
Big 12 (six)
Dancing with a Hottie: Kansas (No. 1), Baylor (No. 2), Kansas State (No. 2), Missouri (No. 4)
Dancing with Their Sister: Texas (No. 5), Texas A&M (No. 6)
Baylor keeps winning, but the Bears really haven't been tested yet. They play Gonzaga in Texas on Saturday, but the Bulldogs aren't what Baylor thought they'd be when it scheduled that game, so the Bears should be 14-0 when they face their first big challenge of the season in Kansas on Jan. 17.
Texas A&M's one-point win over Washington at home in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Classic last Saturday put the Aggies on more solid ground as far as their early tournament hopes go. They're up to 51st in the RPI and have another top 50 win over Temple.
Dancing with Their Sister: Washington (No. 7)
Wallflowers: Arizona (No. 11), California (third team out)
Arizona was crushed by 22 points at BYU last Saturday and still doesn't have a top 100 win. The Wildcats will get another shot Sunday at NC State.
Cal has been knocked out of my field after being swept at home this past week by San Diego State and Southern Miss. Those, like prior setbacks to Notre Dame and Boston College, aren't bad losses so the Bears are still on the radar, but at 5-4, they could use a big win. California travels to Kansas on Wednesday.
Dancing with a Hottie: Tennessee (No. 3)
Dancing with Their Sister: Vanderbilt (No. 5), Kentucky (No. 6), Florida (No. 8)
Wallflowers: Georgia (No. 12a), Ole Miss (first team out)
After picking up a huge victory in Pittsburgh, the Vols suffered a letdown at home against upstart Oakland.
Vanderbilt lost at Missouri in a hard-fought game last Wednesday. The 'Dores rank 16th in both the RPI and strength of schedule.
Georgia, come on down! The Bulldogs enter the field despite not having played a game since Dec. 7. That's because they're 6-2 with no bad losses, rank 35th in the RPI and because the field has expanded to include even more mediocre teams.
Ole Miss is sneaking up, but the Rebels are not quite there yet. They're 6-2 with losses to Dayton and Miami, but hold a win over fellow bubble Southern Miss.
Other Conferences (14)
Dancing with a Hottie: San Diego State (No. 2), BYU (No. 3), UCF (No. 4)
Dancing with Their Sister: Temple (No. 6), Memphis (No. 8), Old Dominion (No. 8), Richmond (No. 8)
Wallflowers: Saint Mary's (No. 9), UNLV (No. 10), Utah State (No. 10), Wichita State (No. 11), Cleveland State (No. 12), Xavier (No. 12b), Dayton (No. 12d), Southern Miss (second team out), Butler (fourth team out), VCU (fifth team out)
San Diego State took down another big non-conference foe last Wednesday, when it crushed California by 20 on the road. The undefeated Aztecs have also defeated Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and Wichita State.
BYU is also without a loss and picked up two more top 60 wins this past week at Vermont and at home against Arizona. The Cougars, who are fifth in the RPI, have also defeated Utah State and Saint Mary's.
Who says Central Florida doesn't deserve a No. 4 seed right now? The undefeated Knights have a win over Florida and have an average margin of victory of 22 points. They'll be tested this Saturday against Miami.
Temple's three-point win over Georgetown vaulted the Owls to a No. 6 seed. They're 7-2 and hold another top 35 victory over Georgia.
ODU picked up an important win over Dayton on Saturday and are now ranked 12th in both RPI and strength of schedule.
Richmond knocked off VCU in a very bubbly contest last Saturday. The 8-2 Spiders are 32nd in the RPI and play Georgia Tech next in the Bahamas. Sounds nice.
UNLV had a really bad week, dropping all the way down from a No. 4 to a No. 10 seed. First, the Rebels lost at Louisville. Then, they were embarrassed at home by UC Santa Barbara.
Xavier's win over Butler gets the Musketeers back in the field. Barely.
Dayton is my last team in only because of its win at fellow Wallflower Ole Miss back on Nov. 20.
No. 13 seeds: Drexel, Kent State, Oakland, Vermont
No. 14 seeds: Florida Atlantic, Coastal Carolina, Hampton, Harvard
No. 15 seeds: Iona, Quinnipiac, UCSB, Jacksonville
No. 16 seeds: American, Morehead State, Portland State vs. UTSA, Jackson State vs. Furman
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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