Projecting the Field of 65: December 31

Jordan SchwartzSenior Writer IDecember 31, 2008

Now things are really starting to heat up. 

Conference play is underway, making tournament projections a little bit easier as league pecking orders start to appear.  Purdue, Connecticut and Oklahoma (in a non-conference game) have each already suffered losses this week, so how will all this affect the bracket picture as we head into 2009?

As always, I like to break teams down into three categories.  "Wallflowers" are bubble teams.  Everyone wants to get into the big dance, but not all have the guts to ask a girl out onto the dance floor.  Elite teams are safely in the field "Dancing with a hottie" and in the middle are the schools are "Dancing with a butterface."

Dancing with a hottie:
North Carolina (1 seed), Duke (1), Wake Forest (2), Clemson (4)
Dancing with a butterface: Maryland (6)
Wallflowers: Florida St (8), Miami (10), Boston College (out)

Duke's back to the top line after absolutely destroying Xavier in New Jersey.  Wake's 12-0 record, combined with the fact that everyone else around them keeps losing, makes them a No. 2 seed. But the Deacons' best win is over Baylor, so I wonder how good they really are. 

We'll find out on Jan. 11 when they welcome UNC to town, or maybe even sooner when they travel to BYU on Jan. 3.  Boston College still hasn't done anything to counteract that terrible loss at Saint Louis. But the Eagles will have plenty of opportunities in the ACC.

Big East
Dancing with a hottie:
Pittsburgh (1), Georgetown (2), UConn (2), Notre Dame (3), Syracuse (4), Villanova (4)
Dancing with a butterface: Louisville (7), West Virginia (8)
Wallflowers: Cincinnati (12), Marquette (out)

The heavyweight matchup of the year so far was Georgetown's surprising domination at UConn.  The Hoyas vault all the way up to the top two seed, just barely behind Oklahoma. While the Huskies drop a few spots to sixth overall. 

Syracuse has bounced back nicely from its shocking home loss to Cleveland State.  The Orange have now won four in a row, including impressive victories over Memphis (without Eric Devendorf) and Seton Hall (with him back).

West Virginia scored a major victory at previously undefeated Ohio State to greatly improve their standing.  My Cincinnati selection might seem odd, but all three of their losses are to teams in the field (FSU, Xavier, Memphis) and they do have wins over fellow bubblers UAB and UNLV. 

Marquette, however, lost to Dayton, who lost to Creighton, who lost to Arkansas-LR and Nebraska.  The Bluejays, Flyers and Golden Eagles are my first three teams out, so Marquette will have a great chance to jump back into the field when they host the Bearcats on Jan. 4.

Big 10
Dancing with a hottie:
Michigan State (2), Purdue (3)
Dancing with a butterface: Minnesota (5), Ohio State (5), Michigan (7), Illinois (7)
Northwestern (8), Wisconsin (out), Iowa (out)

Michigan State's win at Texas vaults the team back up to the second line.  Purdue had an up-and-down couple of weeks, beating Davidson and then losing to Illinois, which really helped out the Illini. 

Minnesota remains undefeated and validated their record with a win over Louisville in Glendale, Arizona.  Ohio State's loss to WVU dropped the Buckeyes a couple notches.  Wisconsin hasn't beaten anyone in the top 63 of the RPI and Iowa has zero wins against the top 94.

Dancing with a hottie:
Oklahoma (1), Texas (3)
Dancing with a butterface: Baylor (4)
Wallflowers: Missouri (10), Texas A&M (12), Oklahoma State (out), Kansas (out)

OU's upset loss at Arkansas leaves the Sooners holding onto the final top seed by a thread. 

Missouri's loss to Illinois looks better now. And the Tigers have five easy games coming up so they should be 15-2 before traveling to Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State remains just out of the field, mostly thanks to its loss at Washington on Dec. 4. 

Texas A&M gets one of my final spots due to December victories over Arizona and LSU. 

Kansas lost to the Wildcats, meanwhile, just 10 days after the Jayhawks' horrible loss to UMass.  KU has a chance to redeem themselves on Jan. 3 against Tennessee.

Pac 10

Dancing with a hottie: UCLA (3)
Dancing with a butterface: Arizona State (5), Stanford (7)
Wallflowers: California (10), USC (12), Arizona (out)

Stanford beat Northwestern and Texas Tech to validate their undefeated record.  The Cardinals' Jan. 2 meeting with ASU should be fun.  I continue to give USC the benefit of the doubt on its 90 RPI because the Trojans came within a point of beating Oklahoma. 

The Trojans' recent win over Georgia Tech helps, but they're going to have to do more to get those computer numbers up.  Arizona is among my second four teams out as its win over Gonzaga gets less impressive.  That loss to fellow Wallflower UAB hurts as well.

Dancing with a butterface:
Tennessee (5)
Wallflowers: Kentucky (9), Arkansas (11), Florida (11), LSU (out), Ole Miss (out)

Arkansas played its way into the field by beating Oklahoma. But other than that, the SEC has been less than impressive thus far and could get as few as TWO teams into the tournament!

Mid Majors
Dancing with a butterface: Gonzaga (6), Butler (6), Xavier (6), Davidson (8), Memphis (9)
Wallflowers: Evansville (9), BYU (9), Saint Mary's (10), Illinois State (11), UNLV (11), Creighton (out), Dayton (out), UAB (out), SDSU (out), Utah (out), Rhode Island (out)

Not a good couple of weeks for the mid majors as Gonzaga lost a heart-breaker to UConn and then a stunner to Portland State at home.  Xavier's loss was Butler's gain as the two non-BCS powers squared off.  And Memphis lost at home to Syracuse, despite the Orange being without Devendorf.

Illinois State's SOS is still south of 300 but the Redbirds squeak in with an undefeated record that includes recent mediocre wins over Illinois-Chicago and Missouri State.  UNLV gets in with a win over Arizona and losses to only Cal and Cincy.

Automatic Bids: Siena, Albany, Western Kentucky, George Mason, Lamar, Buffalo, Portland State, Utah State, VMI, Cal State Northridge, North Dakota State, Lehigh, Jacksonville State, East Tennessee State, Harvard, Quinnipiac, Hampton, Alabama A&M

Jordan Schwartz is Bleacher Report's New York Yankees Community Leader. His book "Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man" is available at,, and

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