The biggest game of the college basketball season to date takes place Monday night when 18-0 Syracuse travels to Pittsburgh to take on the 17-1 Panthers. The top five schools sit tied atop the Big East standings at 5-0, so the winner of this meeting will hold the title of Best Team in the Best Conference.
The Orange will be forced to play without leading scorer Kris Joseph (14.6 ppg), who banged his head on the court on a drive to the hoop last Saturday.
SU currently sits as a No. 1 seed and Pitt is a No. 2, but that could flip flop after tonight. So, what other 66 teams make up my field?
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. 11a) Butler vs. (No. 11d) Miami
(No. 11b) Washington State vs. (No. 11c) Florida State
First eight teams out: Boston College, Cleveland State, Richmond, Dayton, Rhode Island, Virginia Tech, Memphis, Ole Miss
ACC (4 teams)
Dancing with a Hottie: Duke (2 seed)
Dancing with Their Sister: North Carolina (8)
Wallflowers: Florida State (11c), Miami (11d), Boston College (first team out), Virginia Tech (sixth team out)
Duke fell from the ranks of the unbeaten on Wednesday, when it lost at Florida State. The Blue Devils also struggled at times in their previous game against Maryland and their subsequent win over Virginia. Because of all this, the defending national champions drop to a No. 2 seed behind undefeated San Diego State, which has a better RPI and strength of schedule, as well as more top 50 victories and twice as many road/neutral wins.
Miami beat BC by one point on Saturday to claim the tournament's final at-large spot by the slimmest of margins over the Eagles, but the ACC pecking order will come into clearer focus this week when FSU plays the 'Canes and Boston College.
Virginia Tech slides out of the field with a loss at North Carolina. The computer numbers (RPI 73, SOS 73) aren't looking good right now for the Hokies.
NC State's losses at BC and Florida State this past week remove the Wolfpack from any consideration. They have just two wins over the top 200.
Dancing with a Hottie: Syracuse (1), Pittsburgh (2), Villanova (2), Connecticut (3), Notre Dame (4), West Virginia (4)
Dancing with Their Sister: Louisville (7), Georgetown (7), St. John's (7)
Wallflowers: Cincinnati (9), Marquette (11)
Notre Dame slips a spot after losing at Marquette and St. John's by a combined 40 points. As usual, the Irish are a completely different team on the road (0-3) versus at home (11-0).
West Virginia has been streaking up the S-curve of late. After winning at Georgetown on Jan. 8, the Mountaineers followed it up with a huge non-conference win over Purdue on Sunday. WVU is ninth in the RPI and has the fifth-best strength of schedule in the country.
Louisville avoided a really bad week when, after losing at Villanova on Wednesday, the Cardinals rallied from 18 down to beat Marquette at home on Saturday.
Georgetown drops another seed line after being embarrassed at home by Pitt on Wednesday. The Hoyas are tied for 11th in the Big East at 2-4.
Big Ten (6)
Dancing with a Hottie: Ohio State (1), Purdue (3), Minnesota (4), Michigan State (4)
Dancing with Their Sister: Illinois (5), Wisconsin (6)
Wisconsin had an up-and-down week, losing at Michigan State before beating Illinois at home. But it was an even worse week for the Illini who not only fell to the Badgers, but also lost at Penn State.
The Spartans, meanwhile, may be showing signs of finally coming around, having won four of five, but their next two contests will be a real test as Michigan State travels to Illinois and Purdue.
Minnesota took a big step forward by besting Purdue, which has lost two straight. The Gophers, who beat West Virginia and UNC earlier this season, now have three RPI top-25 wins.
Big 12 (7)
Dancing with a Hottie: Kansas (1), Texas A&M (3)
Dancing with Their Sister: Missouri (6), Texas (6)
Wallflowers: Kansas State (10), Oklahoma State (12), Colorado (12)
In this space last week, I told you to circle the Missouri/Texas A&M game on your calendars last Saturday, and the showdown sure lived up to its billing. The Aggies won, 91-89 in overtime, to run their record to 15-1.
Kansas State lost at home to Colorado by eight points on Wednesday for its second consecutive defeat. The Wildcats bounced back with a 34-point beat down of Texas Tech, but KSU slipped from 29th to 51st in the RPI this past week.
Back-to-back setbacks at Texas A&M and Colorado leave Oklahoma State barely hanging onto a bid, but the Cowboys' loss is the Buffaloes' gain. Colorado has won six straight over D-1 opponents, including three in a row against teams currently in the field, to stampede into the tournament out of nowhere as its RPI gained 49 spots this past week.
OSU and Colorado are seeded below the First Four game participants due to rules that encourage teams in the same conference to be separated as much as possible in the bracket.
Anyone who still has Baylor anywhere near the field doesn't know what he's doing. The Bears lost by 15 at Iowa State on Saturday to drop to 101st in the RPI, and they still don't have a single win over the top 100.
Dancing with Their Sister: Washington (5), Arizona (7)
Wallflowers: Washington State (11b)
Washington was yet another top team to suffer a loss this past week, when it fell by two at Stanford on Thursday. The Huskies responded well, however, as they crushed California by 23 on the road three days later.
Washington State didn't have as much success in Berkeley, where the Cougars lost by seven in overtime to fall into one of the First Four games.
Dancing with a Hottie: Kentucky (3)
Dancing with Their Sister: Florida (5), Vanderbilt (6)
Wallflowers: Georgia (9), Tennessee (9), Ole Miss (eighth team out)
Florida's five-game win streak came to an unexpected end with a home loss to South Carolina. The Gators have great computer numbers (RPI 16, SOS 7), but this is the second time they've fallen in Gainesville to a team ranked outside of the top 90.
Georgia's nine-game win streak was halted at Vanderbilt, but the Bulldogs bounced back with a victory at Ole Miss. The 'Dores, meanwhile, fell at Tennessee, which was a game the Vols really needed after falling to Florida on Tuesday.
The Rebels, however, haven't done anything positive lately, losing three in a row to Florida, Mississippi State and Georgia to fall to 84th in the RPI and out of my field.
Other Conferences (12)
Dancing with a Hottie: San Diego State (1), BYU (2)
Dancing with Their Sister: UNLV (5), Old Dominion (8), Temple (8), Saint Mary's (8)
Wallflowers: UCF (9), Xavier (10), Utah State (10), Gonzaga (10), Southern Miss (11), Butler (11a), Cleveland State (second team out), Richmond (third team out), Dayton (fourth team out), Rhode Island (fifth team out), Memphis (seventh team out)
Old Dominion drops a spot after losing at Drexel, but the Monarchs still have good computer numbers (RPI 32, SOS 49) and top 50 wins over Xavier and George Mason.
Temple suffered a damaging loss at No. 118 Duquesne on Saturday. The Owls travel to Xavier this Saturday for a big A-10 showdown. The Musketeers have strung three straight top 100 wins together (@URI, UMass, Dayton).
UCF goes for its first win in two weeks when it hosts East Carolina on Wednesday. The Knights lost by 17 at Southern Miss on Saturday for their second straight setback, after starting the season 13-0.
Butler just can't stay out of trouble. The Bulldogs lost at Wright State on Sunday, giving Valparaiso the outright lead in the Horizon and the automatic bid for the time being.
Richmond, Memphis and Dayton all fell from the field this week with losses to Rhode Island, SMU and Xavier, respectively. UAB is off the board with a setback at Tulsa.
No. 12 seeds: Missouri State, Harvard
No. 13 seeds: Oakland, James Madison, Valparaiso, Coastal Carolina
No. 14 seeds: Long Beach State, Iona, Bucknell, Belmont
No. 15 seeds: McNeese State, Austin Peay, Ball State, Florida Atlantic
No. 16 seeds: Northern Colorado, Long Island, Maine vs. Chattanooga, Texas Southern vs. Bethune-Cookman
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 email@example.com
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