Selection Sunday 2011: Projecting the 2011 March Madness Field of 68
It doesn't seem fair that the greatest day of the year is only 23 hours long, but for those bubble teams waiting to find out if they will be invited to play in the NCAA tournament, springing ahead isn't such a bad thing.
So let's get to it.
Before we get to the bubble teams, let's tackle another issue that sprung up this past week: Who should claim the last two No. 1 seeds?
Kansas and Ohio State are locks for the top two overall tournament seeds, but four teams – Duke, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh – are battling out for the remaining two spots.
Of those four schools, the Irish have the most RPI top-25 wins (seven) and top-50 victories (11). While Notre Dame finished second to Pitt in the Big East, the Irish won at Pittsburgh in their only head-to-head meeting and finished with a better RPI, strength of schedule and top-100 record, so ND deserves the overall No. 3 seed.
The final spot goes to Duke. The Blue Devils have a better RPI than Pittsburgh and while they are currently two spots behind the Panthers in strength of schedule, that figures to change after the ACC final against North Carolina. Duke certainly lacks the high-end victories held by the Big East regular-season champs, but Coach K's team has a better winning percentage against the top 50 and top 100, as well as more wins away from home.
Which of my first five out most deserves to be in?
Even if North Carolina won the ACC tournament to go along with its regular-season crown, I can't see the Tar Heels deserving a top seed. A win over Duke today would only be their third victory over the top 50, a mark exceeded by several bubble teams. UNC is also the only team among this group with a sub-100 loss – a 20-point defeat at No. 167 Georgia Tech.
I've seen San Diego State pop up on some bracketologists' top lines, but with only one RPI top-25 win coming over a Brandon Davies-less BYU squad, I don't see that happening.
Here is the first part of my projections (You can also check out my projections at FoxSports.com):
1 - Kansas, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Duke
2 - Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Connecticut, Florida
3 - Louisville, San Diego State, Syracuse, BYU
4 - Kentucky, Purdue, Texas, Wisconsin
5 - Old Dominion, St. John's, Kansas State, West Virginia
6 - Cincinnati, Washington, Georgetown, Xavier
7 - UNLV, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Arizona
8 - Missouri, Marquette, Temple, UCLA
9 - Villanova, George Mason, Tennessee, Penn State
10 - Richmond, Michigan State, Illinois, Michigan
We can safely say that Penn State, Richmond, Michigan State, Illinois and Michigan have played their way into the field this past week, so there is no need to go into great detail about their resumes. The Spiders would remain in my field even if they lost to Dayton in the Atlantic 10 final today, meaning that one bubble team below would lose their spot.
There are 11 teams fighting for the final six available spots. None of these teams are really deserving of an at-large bid, which makes this year's expansion to 68 teams so frustrating and the thought of going to 96 teams insane. There are going to be plenty of bracketologists who are used to missing just one team that are going to miss maybe three or four. In hopes of keeping myself out of that group, I have done my best to examine each team's resume and rely on past decisions by the Selection Committee as a guide to predict how those 10 people will make their choices this season. Let's break the bubble down.
11 seed - USC (RPI 69, SOS 39, 2-3 vs. top 25, 5-5 vs. top 50, 8-8 vs. top 100, 6 sub-100 losses, 7-10 road/neutral)
The Trojans have one of the most polarizing resumes in recent years. On one hand, they lost an unheard-of-by-bubble-standards six games to teams ranked outside of the top 100, including three to sub-200 competition – @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.
But on the other hand, USC won five games over top-50 teams – Texas, Arizona, @Washington, @Tennessee, UCLA – which is also relatively unheard of by bubble standards, and they won two of those contests over the final two weeks of the season.
The RPI is high, but the strength of schedule is solid. Then there's also the suspension of head coach Kevin O'Neill for Southern Cal's Pac-10 semifinal loss to Arizona because he had an altercation with a Wildcats fan. The Committee could frown on that behavior, but it could also give the Trojans a pass for that loss because they were without their head coach.
In the end, the Committee loves big wins and USC certainly has plenty of those, including a pair of very good non-conference victories. If Cal can make the tournament last year with a 1-6 record against the top-50 and three bad losses, then USC should make it this year.
11 seed - UAB (RPI 31, SOS 77, 0-1 vs. top 25, 1-4 vs. top 50, 10-7 vs. top 100, 1 sub-100 loss, 9-6 road/neutral)
RPI, road/neutral record and a lack of bad losses are all reasons to put UAB in the field. A lack of big wins is a reason to keep the Blazers out. They have victories over VCU and UTEP, but that's about it. Two losses to Memphis (one in overtime) and a two-point setback to Georgia will cause UAB to lose sleep if it doesn't hear its name called tonight.
But the Blazers beat the teams they were supposed to beat, leading to that impressive 10-win total over the top 100, and winning the regular season title in the eighth-ranked league has to count for something. It did for UTEP last year, when the Committee invited the Conference USA regular-season champs to the Big Dance, even though the Miners didn't win the automatic bid. UAB's resume this year is even a little better than UTEP's was in 2010.
11 seed (First Four game) - Colorado (RPI 65, SOS 49, 4-3 vs. top 25, 5-7 vs. top 50, 8-10 vs. top 100, 3 sub-100 losses, 6-11 road/neutral)
If the Buffaloes make the tournament, they will have Kansas State to thank. Three wins over the Wildcats are going to go a long way because, combined with a victory over Texas, they helped Colorado rack up four RPI top-25 wins – incredible for a bubble team.
But the Buffaloes are far from a lock. A poor RPI, three bad losses and a miserable record away from home put this team on thin ice. Still, the Committee loves big wins.
11 seed (First Four game) - VCU (RPI 49, SOS 87, 2-3 vs. top 25, 3-6 vs. top 50, 8-8 vs. top 100, 3 sub-100 losses, 12-8 road/neutral)
The only reason I'm nervous about this pick is because of how little attention the media has given the Rams this past week. But if you look at their resume, they deserve to be in ahead of a bunch of teams.
VCU entered Championship Week way off the bubble, but a win over top-seeded George Mason in the Colonial semis gave Virginia Commonwealth a major boost. It was the team's second RPI top-25 win to go along with a victory over Old Dominion, and its third over a top-50 opponent, going along with a very good non-conference triumph over UCLA. Those three wins are better than anything you will see from the ACC teams listed below.
The Rams should also get credit for a stellar 12-8 record away from home.
12 seed (First Four game) - Florida State (RPI 54, SOS 82, 1-4 vs. top 25, 1-5 vs. top 50, 6-9 vs. top 100, 1 sub-100 losses, 9-7 road/neutral)
This seed will probably seem low for a team that is considered a lock by many, but if you just look at the Seminoles' resume, you could argue that they don't even belong in the field.
While FSU has just one bad loss and a good record away from home, the computer numbers are unimpressive and the 'Noles have no big wins outside of Duke. A victory over Boston College doesn't do much and a 1-3 mark against Clemson and Virginia Tech certainly doesn't help.
So why do I have Florida State in? Chris Singleton. The Seminoles have gone just 3-3 since losing their leading scorer and rebounder, but he is supposed to return for the NCAA tournament. Who knows if that is true, but the Committee will probably give FSU the benefit of the doubt, so I will too.
This is once again similar to Cal from last year. That team definitely did not have the wins to warrant an at-large bid, but the Committee took into account that Theo Robertson missed three big games early in the year due to a foot injury and granted the Bears a bid.
Besides, it's hard to imagine an ACC team with 11-league wins being left out, no matter how weak the conference was this year.
12 seed (First Four game) - Georgia (RPI 48, SOS 40, 1-5 vs. top 25, 3-9 vs. top 50, 5-11 vs. top 100, 0 sub-100 losses, 9-7 road/neutral)
The Bulldogs are my last team in and the school that would be knocked out if Dayton won the A-10 tournament.
Two losses this past week to fellow bubble Alabama did not help their cause, but their overall profile is a lot better than the Tide's. Georgia's computer numbers are among the best in bubble land and it is the only bubble team without a true bad loss. That 9-7 record away from home helps, too.
Georgia has wins over Kentucky, UAB, Colorado and at Tennessee and would've been a lock had head coach Mark Fox not called time out with less than a second remaining in regulation against Alabama.
First team out - Saint Mary's (RPI 46, SOS 101, 1-3 vs. top 25, 1-4 vs. top 50, 3-6 vs. top 100, 2 sub-100 loss, 10-6 road/neutral)
The Gaels are right where they are seemingly every year: squarely on the bubble. And the only thing keeping them in the conversation is a five-point home win over St. John's back on Nov. 15, back when the Red Storm was losing to teams like St. Bonaventure and Fordham.
Three top-100 wins is not good enough.
Second team out - Virginia Tech (RPI 61, SOS 74, 1-4 vs. top 25, 2-5 vs. top 50, 8-8 vs. top 100, 3 sub-100 loss, 10-8 road/neutral)
The Hokies were a fingernail away from being completely out of the bubble picture, so I don't really regret keeping them out of the Dance. Besides, that win over Florida State came without Singleton on the floor for the Seminoles.
Va Tech did beat Duke and Penn State, but it has more sub-100 losses (Virginia twice, @Georgia Tech) than top-50 wins.
The Hokies have been left out with 10 ACC wins, so a 9-7 regular-season mark shouldn't make them too comfortable. Once again, they failed to really challenge themselves out of conference, putting together just a 153 strength of schedule outside the ACC.
Third team out - Clemson (RPI 56, SOS 58, 0-5 vs. top 25, 0-6 vs. top 50, 9-8 vs. top 100, 3 sub-100 loss, 6-9 road/neutral)
Clemson really doesn't have a case with that 0-6 mark vs. the top 50. Wins over Florida State, Boston College and Va Tech don't mean much when your best non-conference victory is over College of Charleston.
The Tigers lost to North Carolina State, South Carolina and Virginia and did not play very well on the road. They're probably going to regret blowing that lead against North Carolina in the ACC semis.
Speaking of which, many point to that game as evidenced that Clemson passes the "eye test," which is a lazy criterion analysts use to measure bubble teams when they don't care to take the time to examine a school's entire resume and how it stacks up against other bubble teams. Remember, Mississippi State looked awfully good in losing to Kentucky in the SEC final last year and still missed the tournament. And the Bulldogs even had two top-50 wins.
Fourth team out - Alabama (RPI 80, SOS 114, 1-3 vs. top 25, 4-4 vs. top 50, 5-7 vs. top 100, 4 sub-100 loss, 5-11 road/neutral)
That strength of schedule should tell you all you need to know about Alabama. After squeaking by Georgia, the Tide showed its true colors in getting blown out by 27 points against Kentucky in the SEC semis.
The four top-50 wins are good, but that's the only impressive part of Alabama's resume, which also includes losses to Seton Hall, Arkansas, Providence and Iowa.
No team has earned an at-large with an RPI as low as 80, and the Tide has its 285 non-conference strength of schedule to thank for that.
Fifth team out - Boston College (RPI 58, SOS 38, 0-4 vs. top 25, 1-5 vs. top 50, 7-11 vs. top 100, 1 sub-100 loss, 8-8 road/neutral)
Have I mentioned how weak the ACC was this year? BC's only top-60 win came by two points over Texas A&M back on Nov. 25. And the Eagles' didn't help themselves getting slaughtered by 23 points in their final game against Clemson.
Next teams out: Harvard, Missouri State, UTEP, Washington State
So here's the bottom of the bracket:
11 - USC, UAB, VCU vs. Colorado, Utah State
12 - Memphis, Butler, Gonzaga, Georgia vs. Florida State
13 - Princeton, Oakland, Wofford, Belmont
14 - Bucknell, Indiana State, St. Peter's, Long Island
15 - Morehead State, Akron, UC Santa Barbara, Northern Colorado
16 - Boston University, UNC Asheville, Hampton vs. Alabama State, Arkansas-Little Rock vs. Texas-San Antonio
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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