2011 March Madness Field of 68 Projections: December 24

Jordan Schwartz@jordanharrisonSenior Writer IDecember 24, 2010

Christmas is here, which means conference play is right around the corner.

As teams complete their out-of-league slate, there are only eight undefeated squads remaining in the country.

Where do these schools fall in my brackets, and which other 60 teams make the cut?

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) Gonzaga vs. (No. 12b) Butler

(No. 13a) Xavier vs. (No. 13b) Florida State

First eight out: St. John's, Northwestern, Portland, Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State, Georgia


ACC (6 teams)

Dancing with a Hottie: Duke (1 seed)

Dancing with Their Sister: North Carolina (7)

Wallflowers: North Carolina State (11), Boston College (11), Miami (12), Florida State (13b), Virginia Tech (sixth team out)

North Carolina State slips a spot after losing at home by 10 to Arizona last Sunday. The Wolfpack doesn't have any bad losses, but it will need to pick up a signature win soon in order to stay in the field. NC State's next three opponents are a combined 2-22 against Division I teams, so the Wolfpack won't be impressing anyone anytime soon.

Miami was very busy this past week, playing four games in six days at the Orange Bowl and Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classics. The 'Canes drop a seed with their six-point loss to UCF.

Florida State really doesn't deserve to make the NCAA Tournament right now, but the newly expanded format forces me to place 68 teams in the bracket. The 'Noles still don't have a top-100 win after falling by three to Butler in Honolulu on Thursday night, but they also don't have a bad loss.

Virginia Tech is climbing its way back toward the field with three straight wins since that devastating home loss to Virginia on Dec. 5.

Maryland isn't helping its cause by playing two of its last three games against sub-300 competition. The Terps, whose RPI is down to 122 thanks to a 121 strength of schedule, faces another cupcake in No. 335 Colgate on Jan. 4. Maryland hasn't beaten a team ranked in the RPI's top 300 since Dec. 1, and so it is currently off my board.


Big East (9)

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

Dancing with Their Sister: Notre Dame (7), West Virginia (8), Louisville (8), Cincinnati (8)

Wallflowers: St. John's (first team out)

West Virginia handed Cleveland State its first loss of the season in convincing fashion, an 11-point defeat last Saturday. The Mountaineers are fifth in the RPI with the fourth toughest strength of schedule.

Cincinnati's SOS is one of the worst in the country, so it won't get a great deal of respect for its undefeated start, but the Bearcats do have a win over Dayton.

Losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham dropped St. John's from consideration, but the Red Storm are lurking once again after picking up a pair of top-65 wins at Madison Square Garden this past week. First, the Johnnies took down Davidson, and then they handed Northwestern its first loss.


Big Ten (6)

Dancing with a Hottie: Ohio State (2), Purdue (3), Minnesota (4)

Dancing with Their Sister: Michigan State (5), Illinois (5)

Wallflowers: Wisconsin (10), Northwestern (second team out)

What's wrong with Michigan State? The Spartans dropped their fourth game of the season on Wednesday, falling at home to Texas by 12 points. It was their first non-conference defeat at the Izzone in a decade. All four losses have come against teams ranked in the RPI's top 25, so don't write off MSU just yet, but Tom Izzo's bunch could use a 5-0 start to Big Ten play.

Northwestern's 8-0 mark was put to the test when it finally played a top-100 opponent on Tuesday. The Wildcats fell by 16 points at St. John's, dropping NU from the field.


Big 12 (6)

Dancing with a Hottie: Kansas (1), Missouri (3), Texas (4)

Dancing with Their Sister: Texas A&M (5), Kansas State (6), Baylor (8)

Wallflowers: Oklahoma State (seventh team out)

Missouri's 11-point win at home against Illinois on Wednesday was its sixth straight victory. Three games against sub-300 competition are dragging down the Tigers' computer numbers, but they're just an overtime loss to Georgetown away from an unblemished record.

Texas scored a pair of impressive road non-conference victories this past week, winning at North Carolina and Michigan State. The Longhorns have won four straight and are 25th in the RPI.

Kansas State drops several seed lines following back-to-back losses to Florida and UNLV this week. The Wildcats played the game against the Rebels without Curtis Kelly and leading scorer Jacob Pullen, who were suspended for accepting impermissible benefits.

Baylor also had a bad week. The previously undefeated Bears suffered their first loss to Gonzaga at The Showcase in Dallas and then nearly overcame an 18-point deficit before succumbing to Washington State in Hawaii.

Baylor, who began the week ranked 15th in both polls, is an astounding 132nd in the RPI and does not have a top-95 win. The Bears really need to beat Florida State on Christmas in order to get things going in the right direction.

Oklahoma State makes its debut in the projections this week. The 11-1 Cowboys have won seven straight since losing to Virginia Tech and hold three top-100 victories, but none over a top-50 opponent.


Pac-10 (3)

Dancing with Their Sister: Washington (6)

Wallflowers: Washington State (9), Arizona (10)

Washington State made the biggest leap of any team this past week by beating Mississippi State and Baylor at the Hawaiian Diamond Head Classic. The Cougars, who play Butler in the finals Saturday, jumped up from 91st to 49th in the RPI. They also hold wins over Portland and Gonzaga, and their only loss is by five points to Kansas State.

Arizona's win at NC State has it going in the right direction. The Wildcats are 36th in the RPI, and their only two losses are to RPI top-4 teams (Kansas and BYU).

Cal's computer numbers are great because it has played the nation's toughest schedule, but the Bears are no longer in the discussion for now having lost three of four and five games total on the season.


SEC (4)

Dancing with a Hottie: Kentucky (3)

Dancing with Their Sister: Vanderbilt (6), Tennessee (6)

Wallflowers: Florida (9), Ole Miss (fourth team out), Georgia (eighth team out)

Bruce Pearl hasn't begun his suspension yet, right? So why is Tennessee playing so poorly? The Vols beat Villanova and Pittsburgh but then lost to Oakland, Charlotte and USC before barely squeaking by No. 128 Belmont at home. UT better turn things around quickly, or else it'll be a complete mess once its head coach is gone for a month.

Florida's home loss to Jacksonville drops the Gators to Wallflower territory. It must have been a letdown game after Florida beat K-State by 13 two days earlier.

Ole Miss isn't getting itself any closer to the field by losing to Colorado State in Cancun on Thursday. Neither is Georgia by playing five consecutive games against sub-200 foes.


Other Conferences (17)

Dancing with a Hottie: San Diego State (2), BYU (4), UCF (4)

Dancing with Their Sister: Temple (5), Memphis (7), UNLV (7)

Wallflowers: Old Dominion (9), Richmond (9), Saint Mary's (10), Utah State (10), Wichita State (11), Cleveland State (11), Drexel (12), Dayton (12), Gonzaga (12a), Butler (12b), Xavier (13a), Portland (third team out), Southern Miss (fifth team out)

BYU's loss to UCLA in Anaheim was damaging, but the Cougars are still ranked fourth in the RPI and have two top-50 wins.

UCF picked up another nice win over Miami to remain undefeated. The Knights figure to be 13-0 before a big Conference USA showdown at Southern Miss on Jan. 15. The Golden Eagles are another team to start taking notice of. They're 7-1 with a 29 RPI and a win over Cal.

UNLV took advantage of Kansas State's undermanned lineup to score a big non-conference road win on Tuesday. The 11-2 Rebels have three top-50 wins and are ranked 11th in the RPI.

Richmond suffered a setback in the Bahamas last Saturday when it lost to a struggling Georgia Tech team. The 9-3 Spiders have slipped to 73rd in the RPI.

Gonzaga is back in the field after beating Baylor and Xavier to climb from 80th to 64th in the RPI.

After starting 3-4 against D-I competition, Butler has begun to turn things around. The Bulldogs have won four straight including a nice win over Florida State. A victory over Washington State on Christmas would go a long way to getting Butler back on solid ground.

You can't ignore Portland's computer numbers (RPI 26, SOS 49), but while the Pilots' three losses have come against top-60 teams, they've lost each of those by at least 16 points, and their best win is over UCSB.

VCU's loss at UAB removes it from consideration.


Automatic Bids

No. 13 seeds: Kent State, Princeton, Vermont

No. 14 seeds: UCSB, Coastal Carolina, Northern Arizona, North Texas

No. 15 seeds: Hampton, Quinnipiac, Lipscomb, Iona

No. 16 seeds: Furman, American, Austin Peay vs. IPFW, Jackson State vs. Northwestern State


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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