2011 March Madness Field of 68 Projections: February 28
I had BYU as a No. 1 seed last week, and after the Cougars won at San Diego State on Saturday to improve to 4-0 against the RPI's top 25, everyone is jumping on the bandwagon.
Pitt returns to the top line after a brief one-week absence because its loss at Louisville was not as bad as Texas' at Colorado or Duke's at Virginia Tech. Kansas and Ohio State round out the No. 1 seeds.
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 that are safely in the field are Dancing with a Hottie.
3. In the middle are the schools that are Dancing with Their Sister.
But with less than two weeks remaining until Selection Sunday, the Dancing with Their Sister category has been removed. There just aren't enough games remaining for teams projected as 5-8 seeds to fall out of the field.
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:
(12a) Florida State versus (12d) Richmond
(12b) Virginia Tech versus (12c) Colorado
First 10 teams out: Alabama, Boston College, Maryland, Gonzaga, Colorado State, Clemson, Cleveland State, Baylor, Southern Miss, UTEP
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 (No. 2 seed), North Carolina (4)
Wallflowers: Florida State (12a), Virginia Tech (12b), Boston College (second team out), Maryland (third team out), Clemson (sixth team out)
Duke wasn't a No. 1 seed before losing at Virginia Tech and the Blue Devils certainly aren't a No. 1 after the defeat. Their 37th-ranked strength of schedule is underwhelming, but that should go up after a trip to Chapel Hill on Saturday.
FSU's loss at Maryland drops the Seminoles into a First Four game. A Jan. 12 triumph over Duke is keeping them in the field, but with just six top-100 wins, they'll have to beat either UNC or NC State this week, because we've seen 10-win ACC teams miss the tournament before.
A home loss to Miami knocks Boston College from the field. The Eagles' computer numbers are strong (RPI 46, SOS 18), but a 1-6 mark against the top 50 is not. BC plays a huge bubble game at Virginia Tech on Tuesday.
The Hokies, meanwhile, are breathing a lot easier after upsetting Duke on Saturday night. But contrary to popular belief, one top 45 win does not lock up a bid. Virginia Tech still has some work to do, and it probably needs to win both of its remaining regular-season contests versus BC and Clemson.
The Tigers sport some weak computer numbers (RPI 69, SOS 97), but with back-to-back wins and remaining games at Duke and home against Virginia Tech, Clemson can still play itself into the field.
Big East (11)
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
Dancing with a Hottie: Pittsburgh (1), Notre Dame (2), Syracuse (3), Georgetown (3), Louisville (4), St. John's (4), Villanova (5), Connecticut (5), West Virginia (8), Cincinnati (8)
Wallflowers: Marquette (10)
The Orange entered last week with the real possibility of going 0-2 and dropping into a Tuesday game at the Big East tourney. But Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense returned to early-season form, and Jim Boeheim's crew avenged a pair of home losses by knocking off Villanova and Georgetown on the road. Now the 'Cuse, which is 8-4 against the top 50 and 9-3 away from home, is in contention for a double bye.
The Hoyas, meanwhile, have lost their last two, but playing without star guard Chris Wright has something to do with it, and they still have outstanding computer numbers (RPI 8, SOS 1), eight top 100 wins, nothing even close to a bad loss and an 11-4 road/neutral record.
Cincinnati locked up a bid with a win at Georgetown on Wednesday. With four RPI top 25 victories, the Bearcats could lose out and still make the field. The same is true for West Virginia, which picked up its ninth Big East win at Rutgers on Sunday.
Marquette pretty much locked in 11 teams from the Big East when it won at UConn on Thursday. That was the Eagles' fourth RPI top 25 victory, more than any other Wallflower.
Big Ten (8)
Dancing with a Hottie: Ohio State (1), Purdue (2), Wisconsin (4)
Wallflowers: Illinois (9), Michigan State (10), Penn State (11), Michigan (11), Minnesota (12)
Al Nolen's injury has created a very difficult and interesting situation for Minnesota. With the starting guard, the Gophers scored RPI top-25 wins over North Carolina, West Virginia and Purdue—victories that are unparalleled by most bubble teams. But since Nolen broke his foot, Minnesota is 2-7.
He hasn't been completely ruled out for the rest of the season, but the senior would probably need to return before Selection Sunday to prove to the committee that he can contribute to turning the team around.
Despite a 15-12 overall record, Penn State is 8-8 in the Big Ten and has the ninth-ranked strength of schedule, three top-50 wins (Wisconsin, Michigan State, Illinois) and eight top-100 victories. Beating Ohio State on Tuesday would obviously go a long way before a likely elimination game at Minnesota on Sunday.
Michigan hops into the field with a win at Minnesota. The Wolverines have won seven of 10 with the 20th-toughest schedule, and while they are 0-7 against the RPI top 25, they have eight wins over the top 100.
Big 12 (6)
Dancing with a Hottie: Kansas (1), Texas (2), Texas A&M (6), Missouri (7), Kansas State (8)
Wallflowers: Colorado (12c), Baylor (eighth team out)
Kansas State moved into more solid ground with victories at Nebraska and at home against Missouri last week. The Wildcats have reeled off four in a row and are starting to look more like the team that was ranked third in the preseason polls.
Colorado is not only back on the radar but in the field as well this week, after knocking off Texas thanks to a furious comeback. The Buffaloes' computer numbers are still poor (RPI 76, SOS 73) and they are just 4-9 away from home, but they are in due to a 3-2 mark against the RPI top 25 and five top 50 wins.
Baylor was clobbered at Missouri on Wednesday but kept its hopes alive with a home victory over Texas A&M. Still, that was just the Bears' second top-50 win and fifth over the top 100. They have no RPI top-25 triumphs, a paltry 3-8 mark in road/neutral games and a trio of bad losses.
After sniffing the field following a win over Texas, Nebraska has dropped back into oblivion with losses to Kansas State and Iowa State.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Dancing with a Hottie: Arizona (7), UCLA (8)
Wallflowers: Washington (9)
Arizona displayed great proof as to why the polls mean nothing. The 10th-ranked Wildcats were swept in Los Angeles last week, falling by eight at USC before being embarrassed, 71-49, by UCLA. Arizona is just 2-4 against the top 50.
The Bruins, meanwhile, beat both of the Arizona schools at home and have now won eight of nine to pull into a first-place tie with the Wildcats.
Washington can't feel too comfortable with its position after suffering its first home loss of the season on Sunday night, a setback to in-state rival Washington State. The Huskies are just 2-4 against the top 50.
Dancing with a Hottie: Florida (3), Kentucky (5), Vanderbilt (5)
Wallflowers: Tennessee (9), Georgia (9), Alabama (first team out)
Kentucky lost at Arkansas on Wednesday, but defeated Florida for the Wildcats' 34th-straight home win. UK is a completely different team away from Rupp Arena (6-8), which is exactly where the NCAA Tournament is played.
Tennessee continues to suffer mystifying losses. After picking up a huge victory at Vanderbilt—the Vols' third RPI top 25 and seventh top-50 win of the season—UT lost at home to Mississippi State for its third sub-100 defeat of the year.
An 11-3 conference mark doesn't mean much when your schedule strength is weaker than Marist's. Alabama suffered its sixth loss to a team ranked below 70 in the RPI when it fell at Ole Miss on Saturday. The lowest-ranked team in the RPI to earn an at-large bid was No. 77 New Mexico in 1999, so with the Tide's RPI at 89, it better think about beating Florida or Georgia this week.
Mountain West (3)
Kent Horner/Getty Images
Dancing with a Hottie: BYU (1), San Diego State (3), UNLV (7)
Wallflowers: Colorado State (fifth team out)
San Diego State didn't rise to the occasion for the biggest game in school history, falling to BYU 80-67 at home on Saturday. The Aztecs' computer numbers are strong (RPI 4, SOS 26), but with just four top-50 wins, their résumé is lagging behind those belonging to the teams ahead of them.
Colorado State has been in my field for a few weeks now, but three straight losses, capped by a really bad showing at No. 102 Air Force, drop the Rams from the bracket. They have just two top-50 wins and four against the top 100. Colorado State has one more shot at SDSU on Saturday.
Atlantic 10 (3)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Dancing with a Hottie: Xavier (6), Temple (7)
Wallflowers: Richmond (12d)
Richmond won at Charlotte in its only game last week, and with other bubble teams falling all around them, the Spiders move into the final at-large spot thanks to their win over Purdue back on Nov. 27 and a stellar 11-4 road/neutral record.
Duquesne is off the board following three consecutive losses that have dropped the Dukes' RPI to 99.
Other Conferences (7)
Dancing with a Hottie: George Mason (6), Old Dominion (6)
Wallflowers: Butler (10), UAB (10), Utah State (11), Memphis (11), Saint Mary's (12), Gonzaga (fourth team out), Cleveland State (seventh team out), Southern Miss (ninth team out), UTEP (10th team out)
George Mason takes a 15-game winning streak into the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, which begins on Friday in Richmond. Old Dominion will be the No. 2 seed in that bracket, and neither team needs to win the whole thing in order to go dancing. But VCU probably does after losing to Drexel and James Madison last week.
Butler has earned a double-bye in the Horizon tournament and will therefore only need two wins to claim an automatic bid. Thanks to a loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, Cleveland State gets the No. 3 seed in that tourney and would need to win two extra games in order to claim the auto bid. The same is true for Valpo after a 20-point loss at home to Loyola-Chicago on Thursday.
UAB stands alone atop the Conference USA standings, but four teams are just one game behind the Blazers. Memphis is one of them, and while the Tigers have the best overall résumé in the league thanks to four top 50 wins, a 27-point loss at UTEP on Saturday leaves Memphis needing to win out and hold serve in the conference tournament. Southern Miss, meanwhile, suffered a damaging loss at UCF and now must beat UAB on Wednesday.
Saint Mary's still gets my automatic bid from the West Coast Conference, but after a loss at home against Gonzaga on Thursday, both the Gaels and Bulldogs will probably need to win that tournament to get into the field. SMC and the 'Zags each have double-byes in the WCC tourney that begins on Friday.
Missouri State completed a season sweep of Wichita State on Saturday, but those two wins are the Bears' only two victories against the top 100, and therefore they will need to reach the MVC finals to have any shot at an at-large. The Shockers need to win the automatic bid.
No. 13 seeds: Princeton, Oakland, Belmont, Missouri State
No. 14 seeds: Long Island, Vermont, College of Charleston, Bucknell
No. 15 seeds: Long Beach State, Fairfield, Kent State, Coastal Carolina
No. 16 seeds: Murray State, Florida Atlantic, McNeese State vs. Montana, Bethune-Cookman vs. Texas Southern