Friday, February 10, 2012

Bracketography: Ohio State & Missouri grab No. 1 seeds

Let's call the past week "Statement Week" in terms of this week's Bracketography projections.

Kentucky continues to keep its stranglehold on the overall No. 1 seed with Syracuse as it's closest competition. The other two spots on the top line could go to a handful of teams: Duke, Kansas, Baylor, Missouri, Ohio State. Remember, this is a snapshot of the current landscape.What typically happens during conference championships the weekend of Selection Sunday is that teams that win their conference tournaments tend to, justified or not, slide past a more deserving team to the No. 1 line. The only teams in that quintet that didn't lose this week were Ohio State and Missouri so those teams, "justified or not," will take the final two No. 1 seeds.

Duke, Kansas, Baylor and North Carolina, in that order, fill out my No. 2 line. In all honesty, those eight teams, barring some type of crazy surge by Michigan State, Florida or Marquette seem safely on one of the top two lines. And projected Elite Eight matchups would be: Kentucky-North Carolina, Syracuse-Baylor, Ohio State-Kansas, Missouri-Duke, meaning the teams would be able to settle the debate on the court if needed.

*As per most bracket projections, this would be my projected field if the season ended today. Undoubtedly, teams in current "First Four" games will need to play their respective ways into the tournament because stolen auto-bids will shrink the at-large pool by approximately 4-6 teams on Selection Sunday.

Biggest Risers: Notre Dame (No. 13 "First Four" to No. 8), Florida (No. 5 to No. 3) and St. Louis (No. 10 to No. 8). It was time to take a long look at Notre Dame's resume and while the Irish shouldn't be completely let off the hook for early-season losses to Georgia and Maryland, this five-game winning streak against four shoe-in tournament teams and Seton Hall -- three games on the road -- is the hottest stretch of any team in the country. Notre Dame is 8-3 in the Big East and, with a five-game stretch of DePaul, Rutgers, at Villanova, West Virginia, at St. John's on the horizon, it isn't impossible for Notre Dame to be 13-3 or 12-4 in conference play heading into a showdown with Georgetown.

Florida was a true No. 4 seed last week that got bumped to a No. 5. Despite getting "murdered" by Kentucky, as Florida's Bradley Beal put it, the Gators overall resume is still better than that of Marquette and Michigan - it's main competition for a No. 3 seed.

St. Louis quietly uses solid defense and opportunistic offense to sit 1/2 game behind conference leader Temple. The Billikens should be dancing in March and time will tell if they can hold on to a favorable seed or fall in the more-than-likely 10-11 range.

Biggest Fallers: Seton Hall (No. 9 to No. 13 "First Four") and Xavier (No. 9 to No. 12). The Hall didn't want to be in the Field of 68 apparently, losing six straight games. The Pirates righted the ship by winning at Rutgers on Wednesday. In the end, Seton Hall edged Iowa State and North Carolina State for the final spot with better losses and better key wins. (Yes, NC State beat Texas, one of the other "First Four" teams in this week's field, but Texas' overall numbers are better trumping the only-so-telling head-to-head result).

Xavier continues to struggle post-brawl. The A-10 isn't great this season, so losing to any teams outside of Temple and St. Louis at this point is something to really avoid. A tough stretch of at Temple, Dayton, at UMass awaits and will really be telling whether Xavier is trending toward a safe spot in the field or a top seed in the NIT.

LAST 4 TEAMS IN: Arizona, Texas, VCU, Seton Hall

LAST 10 TEAMS OUT: LAST 10 TEAMS OUT: Iowa State, NC State, Colorado State, Northwestern, George Mason, Minnesota, Stanford, Northern Iowa, Pittsburgh, Wyoming.

NOTES: Keep an eye on the Atlantic Sun conference race. Mercer, which hosts the conference tournament this year, is currently tied with Belmont atop the standings. Belmont could, if it reaches the finals of the A-Sun tournament, secure an at-large bid but it wouldn't be a given.

The Horizon league has a new leader in Valparaiso. I like Cleveland State's resume enough to keep the Vikings in the field for now. Cleveland State's win at Vanderbilt to open the season is huge and the road win against other conference leader like Kent State looks pretty good as well. I'm rewarding the Vikings - whether the committee will later or not - for playing a lot of road games against similar teams (Rhode Island, Toledo, Detroit) and winning them. This obviously means the Vikings took an at-large spot away from Iowa State who would have been the last team in the field.

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