A memo to all fans of teams seeded No. 7 of better in the bracket: Your teams are very, very safe. However, at-large teams in the 8-13 range will drive their respective fans nuts until Selection Sunday.
While I still think Kentucky is the country's best team and its one loss (a buzzer beater at Indiana) is better than Syracuse's (double-digit defeat at Notre Dame), the more I've studied recent selection committees the more I realize that Syracuse would get the edge for the overall No. 1 seed.
Why? Overall schedule strength.
Depending on the source, the numbers can be conflicting. However, the NCAA's most recent "Nitty Gritty" sheet has Syracuse's nonconference SOS at 29 while Kentucky's is at 101. With all else being fairly equal, that's been enough to nudge one team ahead of another.
Missouri and Ohio State are the other two No. 1 seeds, though Kansas has the best shot at usurping either team's spot. Another team to watch is Michigan State. If the Spartans win the Big Ten regular season outright, including a sweep of Ohio State, I'd be shocked if the Spartans aren't rewarded with a No. 1 seed. At this point, MSU boasts a nation-best six wins against ranked teams and seems very much set for a floor of a No. 2 seed barring some craziness.
Baylor's slide - albeit it against the Big 12's best - continues to hinder it's chances for a top-2 seed. While I still think Baylor's overall resume is very good (wins against San Diego State, at BYU, at Northwestern, Saint Mary's, West Virginia) but my guess is North Carolina and Duke will nab the final pair of No. 2 seeds.
*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: New Mexico (No. 9 to No. 6), Louisville (No. 9 to No. 5), Purdue (No. 12 to No. 8). I've been riding the New Mexico bandwagon for weeks now. (My history will show the Lobos in the 8/9 game for the past three weeks). Leading the Mountain West Conference and coming off a big win at San Diego State gets the Lobos a deserved jump.
Louisville went though a much-detailed slide a few weeks back, but the Cardinals have been rolling since. Even a 1-point loss at home to Syracuse comes across as a big plus for Rick Pitino's team. Louisville was more of an 8-seed last week but moved for seeding rules and this week makes a big jump.
Few teams have been more impressive, especially offensively, than Purdue the past week. Giving the Buckeyes all they could handle in Columbus and winning at Illinois, coupled with other wins looking better, and Purdue jumped four seed lines. (NOTE: With news Kelsey Barlow has been dismissed from the team the selection committee will look at how Purdue plays from here on out. D.J. Byrd, another starter, has been suspended for the team's game against Michigan State on Sunday. The next few weeks will determine if Purdue can stay afloat in the NCAA Tournament discussion).
Biggest Fallers: Alabama (No. 8 to No. 11), Kansas State (No. 7 to No. 10). Both these teams have okay resumes but neither is winning games right now. When push comes to shove, teams that win down the stretch will play their way into the tournament. Kansas State and Alabama need to find some wins - against anybody - to feel safe.
LAST 4 TEAMS IN: Seton Hall, Iowa State, Miami, Xavier.
LAST 10 TEAMS OUT: NC State, Northwestern, Minnesota, VCU, Stanford, Northern Iowa, Oregon, Saint Joseph's, Dayton, UCF.
NOTES: While the Horizon league looks like it will only get one bid, it is a great race to follow. Valpo holds the league lead right now as Cleveland State slipped up twice this week, but Detroit and Butler are both streaking. I might be the only one, but I'm getting excited for the Horizon Conference Tournament in early March.
Wichita State is going to be one of the most dangerous teams in the tournament, regardless of seed. Many experts (Ken Pomeroy, ESPN's new BPI, etc.) all have Wichita State as a Top 12 team. Well, most people are seeding Wichita State in the 6-8 range. Heck, voters didn't even get the Shockers into the Top 25 this week! This is a Sweet 16 team just waiting to be the next mid-major to crash the Final Four. While I actually moved the Shockers down a line this week (No. 5 to No. 6), that was more due to other teams re-building their respective resumes.