2011 March Madness Field of 68 Projections: February 14
Ohio State suffered its first loss of the season at Wisconsin on Saturday, meaning there are no undefeated teams remaining in Division I. But you don't need to be unbeaten to play for the national championship.
With less than a month until Selection Sunday, which 68 teams figure to be dancing?
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.
You can also check out my projections on FoxSports.com.
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) Cincinnati vs. (12d) Richmond
(12b) Florida State vs. (12c) VCU
First eight teams out: Gonzaga, Cleveland State, Wichita State, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Clemson, Alabama.
The projections will be presented in slideshow format from now on, with each major conference receiving its own slide. First up is the ACC.
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Dancing with a Hottie: Duke (2 seed), North Carolina (3)
Wallflowers: Boston College (11), Florida State (12b), Virginia Tech (fifth team out), Maryland (sixth team out), Clemson (seventh team out)
The ACC will have a lot of nervous teams on Selection Sunday because after Duke and UNC, no one is assured a spot in the Dance.
Boston College's computer numbers (RPI 43, SOS 21) are strong enough for an at-large bid and its seven top-100 wins are more than most other bubble teams, but the Eagles still have a lot of work to do. They have a week to prepare for a big showdown in Chapel Hill and a victory there would go a long way toward locking up a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Florida State won both of its games last week, but the Seminoles' Big Dance hopes took a major hit when leading scorer and rebounder Chris Singleton broke his right foot against Virginia. The junior could be out for the rest of the season, so the Committee will have to judge FSU by how it plays without him. The 'Noles may be 8-3 in the ACC, but in a down year for the league, it would help if their non-conference strength of schedule was ranked higher than 225th.
Maryland really could have helped itself with a win at BC on Saturday. Instead, the Terps fell to 0-8 versus the top 50 and will need to win five or their next six to even have a shot at making the field.
Clemson's victory over Boston College put the Tigers back on the radar, but a win over North Carolina on Saturday may have put them in the brackets. Instead, Clemson lost by two at home and its computer numbers (RPI 73, SOS 88) leave a lot to be desired.
Big East (11)
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Dancing with a Hottie: Pittsburgh (1), Notre Dame (2), Georgetown (3), Connecticut (3), Louisville (4), Villanova (5), Syracuse (5)
Dancing with Their Sister: West Virginia (6), St. John's (7)
Wallflowers: Marquette (9), Cincinnati (12a)
Villanova and Syracuse seem to be on a parallel roller coaster ride this season. The Wildcats lost both of their games last week, the first thanks to a miraculous last-minute comeback by Mike Rice's improving Rutgers team that was capped by a game-winning four-point play with 0.8 seconds left, and the second by three points to Pitt at the Pavilion with ESPN's GameDay crew on hand.
The Orange, meanwhile, fell at home to Georgetown after Rick Jackson was neutralized by four early fouls, and then SU lost at Louisville despite nearly overcoming a 20-point second-half deficit. Next up for the 'Cuse is an important game against West Virginia on Big Monday at the Carrier Dome.
St. John's all but locked up a spot in March Madness this past week by beating UConn and Cincinnati. The Red Storm now have a ridiculous five RPI top-25 wins.
A nine seed may seem a bit high for a Marquette team with 10 losses, but when you compare the Eagles to other Wallflowers, they are the only one with three RPI top-25 victories (West Virginia, Notre Dame, Syracuse). In fact, no other bubble team has more than three top-50 wins. Nevertheless, with a relatively easy schedule over the next three weeks, Marquette would be wise to finish 5-1.
Cincinnati, on the other hand, is just 2-6 against the top 50 and because the Bearcats had the 287th non-conference strength of schedule, they have a lot of work to do. Things won't be easy for UC, which still has Louisville, UConn and Georgetown (twice) left on its slate.
Big Ten (6)
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Dancing with a Hottie: Ohio State (1), Wisconsin (4), Purdue (4)
Dancing with Their Sister: Illinois (7)
Wallflowers: Minnesota (9), Michigan State (10)
Wisconsin moves up after knocking off the top-ranked Buckeyes to extend the Badgers' home winning streak to 17. Wisconsin is 6-4 against the top 50.
Minnesota finally snapped its four-game losing streak on Sunday by knocking off Iowa, but the Gophers are just 3-6 versus the top 50.
Michigan State played its best game in a month when it blew out Penn State by 18 points on Thursday. The Spartans have a taller task on Tuesday, though, when they travel to play an angry Ohio State team. Despite its rough past four weeks, MSU's strength of schedule (ninth), top-50 wins (third) and top-100 wins (seven) give Tom Izzo's bunch a better resume than most Wallflowers.
Big 12 (5)
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Dancing with a Hottie: Texas (1), Kansas (1), Texas A&M (4)
Dancing with Their Sister: Missouri (5)
Wallflowers: Kansas State (10), Oklahoma State (fourth team out)
Texas A&M ended a three-game slide by winning a pair of three-point road games over two teams in the bottom half of the conference (Colorado, Texas Tech). The Aggies are 4-3 against the top 50, 7-3 in road/neutral games, and don't have a loss to a team ranked below 86 in the RPI.
Kansas State took one more step toward the bracket's exit when it lost at Colorado. The Wildcats are 0-6 against the top 50, so they could really use a win over in-state rival Kansas when they welcome the Jayhawks on Monday night.
Oklahoma State falls from the field following an 11-point setback at Nebraska. The Cowboys are tied for seventh in the Big XII at 4-6.
No matter what Baylor supporters may say, the Bears are not even near the field right now. When comparing every bubble team, they rank near the bottom in every piece of criterion considered by the Selection Committee. Baylor's computer numbers (RPI 63, SOS 64) are poor, it has no RPI top-25 wins, is 1-4 versus the top 50, 4-6 against the top 100, 3-7 away from home and has two sub-100 losses.
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Dancing with Their Sister: Arizona (7), UCLA (8)
Wallflowers: Washington (9)
Arizona may lead the Pac-10, but its marks against the RPI's top 25 (0-2) and top 50 (1-3) don't compare well to the teams seeded above the Wildcats.
Washington held serve by winning a couple of home games last week against Cal and Stanford.
Washington State is off the board after losing at home by 13 to Stanford.
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Dancing with a Hottie: Florida (3)
Dancing with Their Sister: Vanderbilt (5), Kentucky (6), Tennessee (7)
Wallflowers: Georgia (9), Alabama (eighth team out)
Florida is quietly on one of the best runs in the country. The Gators have won four in a row with three of those victories coming over RPI top-25 teams. Overall, they are a shocking 8-1 against the top 50.
Vandy is also on a role, scoring a pair of 81-77 home wins over Alabama and Kentucky.
A seven seed may seem high for a Tennessee team with 10 losses, but the Vols have great computer numbers (RPI 25, SOS 3), are 6-4 against the top 50 and have victories over Villanova, Pitt and Vanderbilt.
Alabama may have gotten robbed by a bad call at the end of the Vanderbilt game, but without that win, there's no way the Tide makes it into the field this week. They have just three wins over the top 100, very poor computer numbers (RPI 87, SOS 121) and a non-conference strength of schedule of 254.
Mountain West (4)
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Dancing with a Hottie: BYU (2), San Diego State (2)
Dancing with Their Sister: UNLV (8)
Wallflowers: Colorado State (11)
UNLV missed a chance to lock up a bid when it fell by six points at home to San Diego State on Saturday.
Colorado State, meanwhile, continued to hold its ground by beating New Mexico.
Atlantic 10 (3)
Dancing with Their Sister: Xavier (6), Temple (6)
Wallflowers: Richmond (12d)
Xavier had a big week, first scoring a big out-of-conference win on the road at Georgia and then securing sole possession of first place in the A-10 with a victory at Duquesne. The Musketeers are 9-4 against the top 100.
The Dukes, meanwhile, needed that game to jump onto the tournament radar. Despite an 8-2 league mark, Duquesne is just 1-4 versus the top 50 and holds an RPI of 81 thanks to a 123 strength of schedule.
Richmond moves up to the final spot in the field thanks to a four-game winning streak. The Spiders are 10-3 in road/neutral games and still have that big win over Purdue that came back in November. They could do themselves a huge favor, though, with a victory at Temple on Thursday.
Dayton is out of the picture with back-to-back losses to Rhode Island and Temple. The Flyers are just 5-6 in conference and 1-3 against the top 50.
Other Conferences (9)
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Dancing with Their Sister: Saint Mary's (8), George Mason (8)
Wallflowers: Old Dominion (10), Memphis (10), UAB (11), Butler (11), Utah State (12), Valparaiso (12), VCU (12c), Gonzaga (first team out), Cleveland State (second team out), Wichita State (third team out)
George Mason just continues to win. The Patriots have reeled off 11 in a row to bring their RPI up to 23. They are 7-4 against the top 100 including a win over Old Dominion.
The Monarchs, meanwhile, won at VCU last week, leaving the Rams precariously close to falling out of the bracket. They hang in for the time being thanks to two top-50 wins and a 9-6 road/neutral record. VCU has defeated UCLA and ODU.
Thanks to a weak bubble and a three-game winning streak over top-85 teams, Memphis moves up to a 10 seed this week. But UAB gets the automatic bid from Conference USA. These two schools meet for a big showdown in Tennessee on Wednesday.
Butler is trending upwards as well thanks to a four-game run. The Bulldogs should win their final three games to finish the season 22-9, putting them in good shape to grab an at-large bid even if they fail to win the Horizon tournament. Remember, Butler has four top-50 victories.
Utah State had its 17-game winning streak halted at lowly Idaho on Wednesday, which raises the annual question of the Aggies' at-large eligibility. They play one of the biggest Bracketbuster games at Saint Mary's on Saturday, but if they lose that, I don't see how Utah State would deserve an at-large spot.
The Aggies have just one top-100 win and that came over No. 100 Long Beach State, so they could finish without a top-100 victory when all is said and done.
Cleveland State lost its grip on first place in the Horizon and a spot in the field with a loss at Detroit. The Vikings play a big Bracketbuster contest at Old Dominion on Sunday.
Like Utah State, Wichita State has a bloated record thanks to playing nearly all of its games against sub-100 competition. The Shockers have just two top-100 victories and fell out of the field following a loss at home to No. 198 Southern Illinois. Wichita State plays probably the biggest Bracketbuster game Friday against VCU and later finishes its regular-season slate at Missouri State.
No. 13 seeds: Princeton, Coastal Carolina, Belmont, Missouri State
No. 14 seeds: College of Charleston, Vermont, Oakland, Kent State
No. 15 seeds: Long Beach State, Long Island, Bucknell, Montana
No. 16 seeds: Murray State, Fairfield, Hampton vs. Florida Atlantic, Texas State vs. Texas Southern