2011 March Madness Field of 68 Projections: March 7
It's the most wonderful time of the year: Championship Week.
Scores of teams still have a shot at a National Championship, however slim it might be. But only a small percentage of those schools can afford to lose a game in their conference tournaments.
Conservatively, there are currently 54 spots locked up by automatic bids and teams that are certain to receive at-large berths, meaning there are 14 spots available to the 21 bubble teams in play.
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 one week 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. 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) Richmond vs. (12d) Gonzaga
(12b) Memphis vs. (12c) Boston College
First seven teams out: Alabama, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Colorado, Colorado State, Nebraska, Baylor
The projections are presented in slideshow format, with each major conference receiving its own slide. First up is the ACC.
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Dancing with a Hottie: North Carolina (No. 2 seed), Duke (2)
Wallflowers: Florida State (10), Boston College (12c), Clemson (second team out), Virginia Tech (third team out)
North Carolina's 81-67 win over Duke on Saturday night not only clinched the ACC title for the Tar Heels; it also represented their biggest victory of the season, eclipsing a two-point triumph over Kentucky back on Dec. 4. With seven straight wins, UNC has climbed to sixth in the RPI with the 10th-best strength of schedule.
Florida State could've locked up a spot with a win over North Carolina on Wednesday, but the Seminoles were done in by a Harrison Barnes three-pointer in the final seconds. A win on Sunday over NC State was FSU's 11th in conference play, which makes it almost impossible for the 'Noles to miss the tournament. But with just two top-50 victories and the injury to star Chris Singleton, they would be wise to avoid an upset in the ACC quarterfinals at the hands of Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech.
BC moved from the second team out to the next-to-last team in, thanks to wins over fellow bubble-team Virginia Tech and bottom-dweller Wake Forest last week. The Eagles computer numbers are strong (RPI 45, SOS 28) and they have seven top-100 wins, but the fact that they have defeated just one top-50 team (Texas A&M back on Nov. 25) is rendering their 10-6 conference mark almost useless. Boston College absolutely has to beat Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC tournament before playing a virtual play-in game with Clemson.
Speaking of the Tigers, they won a huge game over Virginia Tech on Saturday to clinch a bye in the league tournament and put themselves ahead of the Hokies in the at-large pecking order, but they still stand behind BC despite a head-to-head home win in their only meeting. Clemson's computer numbers (RPI 57, SOS 74) are not as good and three bad losses to South Carolina, Virginia and NC State don't look good on the resume. None of this really matters because whoever wins the potential quarterfinal meeting on Friday will probably be in. Whoever loses will most likely be out.
I warned you not to get too excited about Virginia Tech's bubble chances even after it upset Duke on Feb. 26. That was the Hokies' first top-45 win, and it takes a lot more than that to lock up a bid. So after they went out and lost to fellow Wallflowers BC and Clemson last week, VT fell to third in the ACC bubble-team pecking order. Virginia Tech's computer numbers are not strong (RPI 64, SOS 87), so they will need to beat Georgia Tech and Florida State to have a shot at an at-large berth.
Maryland's remote at-large chances disappeared entirely with losses to Miami and Virginia. With an RPI hovering around 100, the Terps will need to win the ACC tournament in order to go dancing.
Big East (11)
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Dancing with a Hottie: Pittsburgh (1), Notre Dame (1), Syracuse (3), Louisville (3), St. John's (4), West Virginia (4), Cincinnati (5), Georgetown (5), Connecticut (6), Villanova (8)
Wallflowers: Marquette (9)
With BYU and Duke each losing this past week, there's no question that Notre Dame is a No. 1 seed, especially after the Irish won at UConn despite Ben Hansbrough fouling out with eight minutes left. ND has seven RPI top-25 wins as opposed to Duke's two, and the Irish have 10 top-50 victories as opposed to the Blue Devils' seven.
West Virginia made quite a leap up the S-curve thanks to big wins over UConn and Louisville last week. The Mountaineers are the No. 6 seed in the Big East tournament and their resume is quite impressive. Their computer numbers (RPI 15, SOS 2) are outstanding, as are their five RPI top-25 and eight top-50 victories. WVU hasn't suffered a loss to a team outside the top 75.
Similarly, Cincinnati has bolted its way up the list as of late, winning five of six, including victories over Marquette and UConn last week. The Bearcats, which were a bubble team just a few weeks ago, now have five RPI top-25 wins and no losses to anyone ranked outside of the top 31.
The loss of Chris Wright continues to haunt Georgetown, which has dropped three straight since he got hurt against Cincy. The Hoyas are still capable of beating anyone in the country when they're at full strength, but they're going to have to build some momentum in New York this week.
UConn is another team on the downturn. The Huskies have lost four of five after falling to West Virginia and Notre Dame last week. However, no one is in more of a slide than Villanova, which has dropped four in a row.
With losses to Cincinnati and Seton Hall last week, Marquette isn't a lock just yet, but it's awfully close. With four RPI top-25 wins and no losses to anyone ranked below 100, the Eagles are just a first-round win over Providence away from punching their ticket.
Big Ten (7)
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Dancing with a Hottie: Ohio State (1), Purdue (2), Wisconsin (4)
Wallflowers: Illinois (9), Michigan (10), Michigan State (10), Penn State (11)
Michigan put itself in better position with wins over Minnesota and Michigan State last week. The Wolverines, which have three top-50 wins and nine over the top 100, earned a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament and will play a virtual play-in game against Illinois. The loser won't necessarily be eliminated from at-large competition, but they'll have a few days to sweat it out.
The Spartans, meanwhile, continue to live dangerously. Getting swept by their in-state rival definitely puts Michigan State behind Michigan in the pecking order, but OK computer numbers (RPI 48, SOS 9), three top-50 victories and nine wins over the top 100 have MSU on the right side of the bubble for the time being. Just try not to lose to Iowa on Thursday.
I continue to stick by Penn State. Despite a 16-13 record, the Nittany Lions finished at .500 in a very difficult conference, they are seeded sixth in the Big Ten tournament and they have the seventh-ranked strength of schedule in the country. They hold wins over Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan State, not to mention nine overall top-100 victories. They have to beat Indiana on Thursday to set up a huge opportunity against the Badgers. Remember, Alabama made the tournament in 2006 at 17-12 with very similar computer numbers, and that was before the field expanded.
Big 12 (5)
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Dancing with a Hottie: Kansas (1), Texas (4), Kansas State (6), Texas A&M (6), Missouri (8)
Wallflowers: Colorado (fourth team out), Nebraska (sixth team out), Baylor (seventh team out)
What happened to Texas? The Longhorns have lost three of five to drop from a potential No. 1 seed all the way down to a No. 4.
Like Cincinnati in the Big East, Kansas State has gone from bubble to surefire lock in just a few weeks. The Wildcats have won six in a row, including a victory at Texas last Monday, and they are looking like a team capable of a serious run in the NCAA tournament.
Missouri is just 2-7 on the road and its long home win streak came to an end on Saturday thanks to Kansas.
Colorado drops out of the field after losing at Iowa State. The Buffaloes have five top-50 wins, but they have weak computer numbers (RPI 76, SOS 73), three sub-100 losses and an embarrassingly low non-conference strength of schedule of 321. Colorado needs to avenge that loss to the Cyclones in the first round of the Big 12 tournament on Wednesday before going for its third victory over KSU. A semifinal berth should do the trick.
Nebraska got itself back in the conversation by beating Missouri on Tuesday, but a loss at Colorado dropped them below .500 for the season in conference play. That's a difficult thing to overcome and so the Huskers may need to reach the Big 12 final to grab an at-large.
The same is true for Baylor, which lost to Oklahoma State and Texas last week to finish at 7-9 in league play. With an RPI of 84 and more sub-100 losses (3) than top-50 wins (2), the Bears will need to beat Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M. Good luck.
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Dancing with a Hottie: Arizona (7), UCLA (8)
Wallflowers: Washington (10), USC (11)
Where did USC come from? The Trojans have come out of nowhere thanks to five wins in their last six games. Over that stretch, they have defeated Arizona (home) and Washington (away) to increase their top-50 win total to an impressive five. Remember, Southern Cal also holds victories over Texas, UCLA and Tennessee.
The bad part of the resume is six losses to sub-100 competition, including three against sub-200 teams TCU, Oregon State and Bradley. However, second-leading scorer Jio Fontan was absent for three of those bad losses. Then again, he also didn't play in the win over Texas.
What does this all mean? If USC beats Cal on Thursday they're probably in, but a win over top-seeded Arizona wouldn't hurt. Meanwhile, Washington must beat Washington State or face a very nerve-racking three days.
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Dancing with a Hottie: Florida (3), Kentucky (5), Vanderbilt (8)
Wallflowers: Tennessee (9), Georgia (9), Alabama (first team out)
Vanderbilt has not played well of late, dropping three of their last four. Nothing about the Commodores resume stands out in comparison to the teams seeded ahead of them. They are just 2-4 against the RPI top 25 and 5-7 versus the top 50.
Tennessee continues to stir debate. The Vols got to eight wins in league play by beating South Carolina yet couldn't beat the road-weary Wildcats on their home court. There's virtually no way a team with eight top-50 wins gets left out of the tournament, but UT might want to beat Arkansas on Thursday just to be sure.
Georgia's loss at Alabama was its worst setback of the season. Still, the Bulldogs computer numbers are strong (RPI 39, SOS 36), they have wins over Kentucky, UAB and Tennessee, they are 8-6 away from home and they don't have a sub-80 loss. Georgia has to beat Auburn to set up what could be a play-in game with the Tide.
Alabama remains just outside my field. The Tide did not look like a tournament team in a 27-point loss at Florida, and while they kept their hopes alive by beating Georgia, no team has earned an at-large with an RPI as low as Alabama's 79.
Mountain West (3)
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Dancing with a Hottie: BYU (2), San Diego State (3), UNLV (7)
Wallflowers: Colorado State (fifth team out)
One of the most disappointing storylines of the season was Brandon Davies' suspension from the BYU basketball team for breaking the school's honor code by allegedly having premarital sex with his girlfriend. Davies was the leading rebounder and third-leading scorer on a team destined for a top seed, but the selection committee will be forced to evaluate the Cougars on their play without him. Since his dismissal, BYU has gone 1-1 with a blowout loss at home to New Mexico.
Colorado State did not look good in its last chance to impress before the postseason. The Rams lost by 18 at San Diego State and will now need to beat New Mexico and BYU in the Mountain West tournament to have a shot at an at-large.
Atlantic 10 (3)
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Dancing with a Hottie: Xavier (5), Temple (6)
Wallflowers: Richmond (12a)
Richmond continues to do what bubble teams should do—win. The Spiders reeled off eight of nine to finish 13-3 in the ninth-toughest conference in the country. That Nov. 27 win over Purdue is still carrying a ton of weight and a victory over VCU back on Dec. 11 is picking up steam thanks to the Rams' recent exploits. The Spiders are 10-3 on the road and should be good with just one win in the A-10 tournament.
Other Conferences (8)
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Dancing with a Hottie: George Mason (7), Old Dominion (7)
Wallflowers: UAB (11), Butler (11), Saint Mary's (12), Utah State (12), Memphis (12b), Gonzaga (12d)
VCU will look to steal a bid Monday in the Colonial championship game against Old Dominion. ODU and George Mason, who Virginia Commonwealth beat in the semis, are both locks for the tournament, so the Rams are trying to take a bid from a bubble team. However, if VCU plays tough and loses the final, it'll have to be considered as an at-large candidate as well because of three top-40 wins.
Butler plays at Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the Horizon League title game Tuesday, but the question is are the Bulldogs at-large worthy if they lose that contest? They have four top-50 wins, but three of those came over Cleveland State, so they're basically just hanging their hat on a victory over Florida State. Just to be safe, I'd win the automatic bid.
A similar situation takes place in the West Coast Conference final. Saint Mary's and Gonzaga play for the title, and while I have them both in right now, the question remains: Will the loser get an at-large? They each have one signature win with the Gaels beating St. John's and the 'Zags taking down Xavier, but will that be enough? The WCC better root for a six-overtime game.
Conference USA's best chance to get two teams into the field would be for UAB or Memphis to win the league's tournament. The Tigers have the best at-large resume thanks to solid computer numbers (RPI 38, SOS 55) and two wins over the Blazers, but after a loss at East Carolina on Wednesday Memphis is going to need to do some damage this week.
No. 13 seeds: Harvard, Oakland, BELMONT, INDIANA STATE
No. 14 seeds: MOREHEAD STATE, Kent State, College of Charleston, Bucknell
No. 15 seeds: Long Beach State, Boston University, Long Island, Iona
No. 16 seeds: UNC-ASHEVILLE, Northern Colorado, McNeese State versus Texas Southern, Bethune-Cookman versus Middle Tennessee State