2011 March Madness Field of 68 Projections: February 21
The top four teams in the country - and all four of my No. 1 seeds - lost last week, but only one school lost its spot on the top line.
Pittsburgh fell by one point at St. John's on Saturday and while the Panthers' six RPI top-25 wins remain tied for the best total in the nation, the rest of their resume doesn't compare favorably to Kansas, Ohio State, Texas (despite a head-to-head win) or newcomer BYU.
The Cougars benefited greatly from big wins this past week by teams they defeated earlier in the season (Utah State and Arizona) and so BYU is now 3-0 against the RPI top 25. The Cougars' RPI (3), strength of schedule (22), record versus the top 50 (7-1), record versus the top 100 (11-2) and road/neutral record (14-2) are all better than what appears on Pitt's resume.
So now that we know the top seeds, what other 64 teams fill out the bracket?
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) Boston College vs. (12d) Southern Miss
(12b) Colorado State vs. (12c) Marquette
First 13 teams out: Nebraska, Richmond, VCU, Michigan, Valparaiso, Alabama, Wichita State, Virginia Tech, Baylor, Clemson, Gonzaga, UTEP, Duquesne
The projections are presented in slideshow format, with each major conference receiving its own slide. First up is the ACC.
Dancing with a Hottie: Duke (2 seed), North Carolina (4)
Wallflowers: Florida State (11), Boston College (12a), Virginia Tech (eighth team out), Clemson (10th team out)
With the four teams ranked ahead of Duke in the polls suffering losses this past week, fans of the Blue Devils may expect them to hop up to the top line, but Duke's resume does not measure up to the schools ahead of them. The Blue Devils' RPI (6), strength of schedule (39) and records against the RPI top 25 (1-1) and top 50 (6-2) are not good enough for a No. 1 seed.
Boston College missed a great chance to improve its hopes of securing an at-large berth when it fell, 48-46, in a defensive battle at the Dean Dome. The Eagles remain in the field, however, thanks to strong computer numbers (RPI 45, SOS 19) and seven wins over the top 100.
I don't see how anyone can still have Virginia Tech in their field after the Hokies lost at Virginia on Saturday. That was VT's third setback to a sub-100 team, its computer numbers are bad (RPI 65, SOS 97) and the Hokies are just 1-5 against the top 50.
Clemson suffered a devastating loss at North Carolina State on Thursday, but kept its slim chances alive by winning at Miami on Sunday.
Big East (11)
Dancing with a Hottie: Pittsburgh (2), Georgetown (2), Notre Dame (3), Connecticut (3), Syracuse (4), St. John's (4), Louisville (5), Villanova (5)
Dancing with Their Sister: West Virginia (6)
Wallflowers: Cincinnati (8), Marquette (12c)
The top seven teams are set pretty firm, but the final 2 seed is up for grabs at this point. I gave it to Georgetown over UConn, even though the Huskies just beat the Hoyas to snap their eight-game winning streak, because G'town is slightly better than Connecticut in every important piece of criteria considered by the Selection Committee.
Purdue received some consideration after it defeated Ohio State on Sunday, but Georgetown has the better RPI, strength of schedule, record versus the RPI top 25 and road/neutral mark.
Notre Dame's seven-game win streak came to an end at West Virginia, which no one should be calling a bubble team anymore. The Mountaineers have six top-50 wins.
I know I say it every week, but it really is remarkable how similar Syracuse and Villanova have been playing over the past month. Since late January, they have both alternated winless and undefeated weeks, and they both struggled against Big East bottom dwellers Saturday, with the 'Cuse surviving Rutgers and 'Nova escaping DePaul in overtime victories. Of course, the Orange and Wildcats meet Monday night.
Lock 'em up! St. John's has defeated four top-70 teams in a row, including a dramatic one-point win over Pitt at the Garden on Saturday. The Red Storm is now tied with the Panthers and Irish for the most RPI top-25 wins in the country with six.
Louisville lost at Cincinnati, but beat UConn last week. That was an enormous victory for the Bearcats, who move all the way up to an 8 seed thanks to their third RPI top-25 win. Both Syracuse and Cincinnati are benefiting from the Johnnies' great play of late because they are the only two Big East teams to beat St. John's on the road this year.
Marquette lost at home to the Red Storm on Tuesday and is barely holding onto a bid. The Eagles' 68 RPI is not good, but its three best wins—West Virginia, Notre Dame and Syracuse—are better than any other Wallflower.
Big Ten (7)
Dancing with a Hottie: Ohio State (1), Purdue (3), Wisconsin (5)
Wallflowers: Minnesota (9), Michigan State (10), Illinois (11), Penn State (11), Michigan (fourth team out)
E'Twaun Moore's career-high 38 points led Purdue past Ohio State on Sunday and pulled the Boilermakers within one game of first place in the Big Ten. It was a huge week for Purdue, which also beat Wisconsin.
Minnesota needs to turn things around in a hurry. The Gophers have dropped four of five and their last loss came at Penn State, which was a big win for the Nittany Lions.
PSU is just 14-12, but with the bubble as weak as it is, I have no problem penciling the Lions in as an 11 seed. When you consider the 22 teams battling it out for the final eight spots, Penn State has one of the top two strength of schedules, it is one of only nine schools with an RPI top-25 victory (Wisconsin) and its four top-50 and seven top-100 wins are among the best totals in that group.
Michigan State scored an important win over Illinois with ESPN's GameDay in the house on Saturday night. That was the Spartans fourth top-50 triumph, but it dropped the Illini to an 11 seed. Illinois has lost seven of 11.
Michigan is making a late charge toward a bid. The Wolverines have won four of five to improve to 7-8 in conference, they have seven top-100 victories and their schedule is ranked 23rd.
Big 12 (5)
Dancing with a Hottie: Texas (1), Kansas (1)
Dancing with Their Sister: Texas A&M (6), Missouri (7)
Wallflowers: Kansas State (8), Nebraska (first team out), Baylor (ninth team out)
Kansas State was the bubble team that improved its chances the most last week by beating top-ranked Kansas. Jacob Pullen had 38 points as the Wildcats blew out the Jayhawks for their first top-50 win. That, combined with strong computer numbers (RPI 30, SOS 10) and no bad losses has K State breathing easier.
Nebraska wasn't even on my radar last week, but when you hand Texas its first conference loss, it forces a reevaluation of your profile. That was the Huskers' second top-50 victory (they also beat Texas A&M) and they have a solid 6-6 mark in the Big 12 and against the top 100. But they have a lot more work to do thanks to a non-conference schedule ranked 308th in the land.
Maybe a home loss to Texas Tech will convince people that Baylor doesn't deserve to be in the tournament right now. A 1-4 record against the top 50, poor computer numbers (RPI 79, SOS 71) and three sub-100 losses are a few more reasons.
Oklahoma State is off the board thanks to three straight losses that leave the Cowboys at 4-8 in the Big XII. Nothing short of a win at Fog Allen Fieldhouse on Monday night will get them an at-large bid.
Dancing with Their Sister: Arizona (6)
Wallflowers: UCLA (9), Washington (9)
Washington played well in a one-point loss at Arizona, but the Huskies came up short, falling to a measly 2-4 against the top 50. UW made a curious choice scheduling a game at No. 290 Seattle University on Tuesday. Even a win will probably drop Washington in the RPI thanks to the hard hit its strength of schedule will take.
UCLA's six-game win streak came to an end in overtime at Cal on Sunday night. The Bruins have two more opportunities for big wins against Arizona on Saturday and at Washington on March 3. Winning one of those should lock things up if they don't trip up in their other two games against ASU and Washington State.
Dancing with a Hottie: Florida (3), Kentucky (4)
Dancing with Their Sister: Vanderbilt (5)
Wallflowers: Tennessee (8), Georgia (9), Alabama (sixth team out)
Georgia picked up a big win at Tennessee on Saturday to notch its third top-50 victory. The Bulldogs' computer numbers are strong (RPI 37, SOS 31) and with not a single loss to a sub-50 team, much less a sub-100, they can feel pretty good about their chances.
The Vols, meanwhile, are back on the bubble with the loss. In the end, UT will most likely make the field due to five top-50 wins and the second strongest schedule in the country, but a win at Vandy on Tuesday would be nice.
Alabama remains on the outside, looking in. Wins over LSU and Arkansas aren't going to do anything for the Tide's resume. The Tide are still saddled by a 128 strength of schedule and just three top-100 wins. 'Bama will need to beat Florida or Georgia in the first week of March to have any shot at an at-large.
Mountain West (4)
Dancing with a Hottie: BYU (1), San Diego State (2)
Dancing with Their Sister: UNLV (7)
Wallflowers: Colorado State (12b)
San Diego State will attempt to wrestle away BYU's 1 seed when two of the top three teams in the RPI meet for the second time this season on Saturday in Southern California. The Cougars better not look past Colorado State on Wednesday, though.
The Rams could really use another big win after falling at home to UNLV last week. They're still in my field for now thanks to solid computer numbers (RPI 47, SOS 42), wins over the Rebels and Southern Miss and a 9-4 mark away from home.
Atlantic 10 (2)
Dancing with Their Sister: Xavier (6), Temple (7)
Wallflowers: Richmond (second team out), Duquesne (13th team out)
Richmond got blown out by 20 at Temple on Thursday, knocking the Spiders out of the field. They have poor computer numbers (RPI 64, SOS 134) and just one win over the top 50. With no chances for another big win remaining on the schedule, Richmond may have to do some damage in the A-10 tournament.
Duquesne and Richmond meet in what will probably be an elimination game on March 5. The Dukes' one-point setback at Dayton on Saturday will pretty much do it for their at-large hopes. They've dropped three of four and have just two wins over the top 100.
Other Conferences (9)
Dancing with Their Sister: George Mason (7), Old Dominion (8)
Wallflowers: Utah State (10), Memphis (10), Saint Mary's (10), UAB (11), Butler (12), Cleveland State (12), Southern Miss (12d), VCU (third team out), Valparaiso (fifth team out), Wichita State (seventh team out), Gonzaga (11th team out)
Utah State was the biggest winner of BracketBuster weekend. The Aggies upset Saint Mary's by 10 on the road in the event's headliner to secure their first top-100 win. With their previous 23 victories coming over bad teams, the Aggies needed to prove they could beat a good team in a hostile environment.
As expected, the biggest loser of the weekend was the Missouri Valley Conference. Missouri State and Wichita State were both exposed by Valparaiso and VCU, respectively, and it's looking very much like the MVC will be a one-bid league. Even Northern Iowa lost its BracketBuster to George Mason, which holds the nation's longest win streak at 13 games.
Old Dominion also picked up a nice victory during the event when it downed Cleveland State for its third top-50 win.
Southern Miss is my last team in. The Golden Eagles only have one top-50 win at UAB, but their RPI (44), six top-100 victories and 7-5 road/neutral record are all better than a lot of bubble teams. Don't blame me, blame the NCAA for expanding the field to include more mediocre squads.
No. 13 seeds: Harvard, College of Charleston, Belmont, Missouri State
No. 14 seeds: Coastal Carolina, Vermont, Oakland, Bucknell
No. 15 seeds: Long Island, Fairfield, Morehead State, Miami (Ohio)
No. 16 seeds: Long Beach State, Florida Atlantic, McNeese State vs Montana, Bethune-Cookman vs Texas Southern
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