Bracketology: Duke tops first projection of 2013

Grant Halverson

Michigan, Arizona, and Kansas join the Blue Devils as top seeds at the midpoint of the season.

With the college football season now over, it's time for many, though probably not most, of you to start paying attention to a highly entertaining and competitive college basketball season that's already almost half over.

I know there are a few of you out there who think that only March matters, so you'll start paying attention when spring is in the air and the season is almost gone. That's a shame, as conference season is truly where bids are won and lost - and where teams' selection and seeding fortunes rise and fall on an almost nightly basis - and when fans' subsidiary rooting interests rapidly, as they hope for a boost from a quality opponent or for defeat to visit a key rival.

Today's post, which is longer than usual, will serve mostly to recap how the bid picture stands in each of the conferences that should earn multiple NCAA Tournament places, though a couple of these leagues are flailing badly in early January. Those capsules follow the projection and the rundown.

I'll write more about the race for seeding next week, but for now Duke, Michigan, Kansas and Arizona Wildcats, the top four teams in the RPI (according to BB State's simulation when I was putting this together on Monday evening) hold down the top line at the moment. The top four from the preseason are all further down the bracket. Indiana and Louisville, the top two teams from November sit on the No. 2 line; Ohio State is down on line five, while Kentucky is an eight.

Note that the middle of the bracket is especially jumbled at this stage of the game. There is plenty of room for teams to maneuver up, down, in, and out of the field.

(1) EAST
Washington (Thu/Sat)
(2) MIDWEST
Indianapolis (Fri/Sun)
Philadelphia (Fri/Sun) Auburn Hills (Thu/Sat)
1 Duke (ACC) 1 Michigan (Big Ten)
16 Norfolk State or USC Upstate 16 Southern or UNC Asheville
8 UCLA 8 Georgetown
9 Baylor 9 Colorado
San Jose (Thu/Sat) San Jose (Thu/Sat)
5 Ohio State 5 San Diego State
12 Stephen F. Austin (Southland) 12 Charlotte (A-10)
4 Butler 4 N.C. State
13 Tulsa (C-USA) 13 Davidson (Southern)
Lexington (Thu/Sat) Philadelphia (Fri/Sun)
6 Cincinnati 6 Michigan State
11 Belmont or Colorado State 11 Oklahoma
3 Florida 3 Syracuse (Big East)
14 Harvard (Ivy) 14 Loyola, Md. (MAAC)
Kansas City (Fri/Sun) Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat)
7 Oklahoma State 7 Temple
10 Maryland 10 Oregon
2 Minnesota 2 Gonzaga (WCC)
15 Weber State (Big Sky) 15 Western Illinois (Summit)
(4) SOUTH
Arlington (Fri/Sun)
(3) WEST
Los Angeles (Thu/Sat)
Kansas City (Fri/Sun) Salt Lake City (Thu/Sat)
1 Kansas 1 Arizona (Pac-12)
16 Bryant (NEC) 16 Hawaii (Big West)
8 Boise State 8 Kentucky
9 Marquette 9 North Carolina
Austin (Fri/Sun) Austin (Fri/Sun)
5 Miami 5 Wichita State
12 Bucknell (Patriot) 12 Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt)
4 Creighton (MVC) 4 New Mexico
13 Eastern Kentucky (OVC) 13 Utah State (WAC)
Dayton (Fri/Sun) Auburn Hills (Thu/Sat)
6 Notre Dame 6 Kansas State (Big 12)
11 Indiana State or Iowa State 11 Wyoming (MWC)
3 Missouri (SEC) 3 Illinois
14 Northeastern (CAA) 14 Akron (MAC)
Dayton (Fri/Sun) Lexington (Thu/Sat)
7 UNLV 7 VCU
10 Saint Louis 10 Virginia
2 Indiana 2 Louisville
15 Vermont (America East) 15 Detroit (Horizon)
FIRST FOUR (Dayton)
Tuesday: To Auburn Hills
Tuesday: To Lexington
16 Southern (SWAC) 11 Belmont
16 UNC Asheville (Big South) 11 Colorado State
Wednesday: To Philadelphia Wednesday: To Dayton
16 Norfolk State (MEAC) 11 Indiana State
16 USC Upstate (Atlantic Sun) 11 Iowa State

BIDS BY CONFERENCE LAST FOUR BYES ARRIVALS DEPARTURES
ACC: 6 Oregon Akron Alabama
Big 12: 6 Virginia Belmont Arkansas
Big East: 6 Maryland Boise State BYU
Big Ten: 6 Oklahoma Bryant California
MWC: 6
LAST FOUR IN Bucknell Charleston Southern
A-10: 5
Colorado State Colorado Drexel
Pac-12: 4 Iowa State Colorado State Florida State
MVC: 3 Indiana State Eastern Kentucky Iona
SEC: 2 Belmont Florida State Lehigh
OVC: 2 LAST FOUR OUT Harvard Long Beach State
1-Bid Conferences: 21 Memphis Hawaii Memphis

Mississippi Illinois Mercer

Wisconsin Indiana State Montana

Tennessee Iowa State Murray State

NEXT FOUR OUT Loyola, Md. Northern Iowa

Pittsburgh Maryland Ohio

Iowa New Mexico Oral Roberts

BYU Norfolk State Pittsburgh

St. Mary's UNC Asheville Prairie View
PROCEDURAL MOVES Northeastern Princeton
Georgetown 7 down to 8 Oklahoma State Robert Morris
Oklahoma State 8 up to 7 Oregon St. Joseph's
North Carolina 8 down to 9 USC Upstate St. Mary's
Boise State 9 up to 8 Southern Savannah State
Saint Louis 9 down to 10 Stephen F. Austin South Dakota State
Colorado 10 up to 9 Tulsa Stanford


Vermont Stony Brook


Virginia Tennessee


Weber State Texas


Western Illinois USF


Wichita State West VIrginia


Wyoming Wisconsin

Also considered (in order): Florida State, Arizona State, Lehigh, Southern Miss., USF, St. Joseph's, Texas, Dayton, La Salle, George Mason, UMass, Murray State, California, Stanford, Northwestern, Alabama, Arkansas, Villanova, LSU, Santa Clara, Northern Iowa, Washington, St. John's, Rutgers, Illinois State, Georgia Tech, Seton Hall, Oregon State, Texas A&M, Xavier, West Virginia

The Midseason Bid Picture

Conferences are presented in alphabetical order.

Atlantic 10

Preseason bids: 5/Today: 5
The conference's two newcomers, Butler and VCU, and one of a pair on the way out, Temple, are in prime position for bids after the first two months of the season. Saint Louis, playing with the memory of Rick Majerus firmly in their minds and hearts, also find themselves in this projection, based in part on their resounding win over New Mexico on New Year's Eve.

St. Joseph's, preseason favorites of many, has not lived up to the hype, while two other teams who received varying levels of preseason buzz, Charlotte and UMass, have combined to go 21-5. However, the five losses (to Florida State and Miami for the 49ers and against the Hurricanes, N.C. State and Tennessee for the Minutemen) have come in the teams' biggest games. The 49ers, who like Temple are headed to more a football-focused league next season, only find themselves in this projection as the auto bid holder. Richmond' and La Salle‘s records are similarly inflated, though the Explorers' win over Villanova might just come in handy before all is said and done. Meanwhile, Xavier really seem to be in the midst of an actual down year, while their Southwestern Ohio rivals, Dayton, may soon find itself in Roget's as synonym for "inconsistent."

ACC

Preseason bids: 5/Today: 6
Back in November, N.C. State was the chic pick for the ACC crown and a spot on one of the top two seed lines. Duke sat just behind the Wolfpack, but felt an awful lot like an afterthought. Now, not only are the Blue Devils the heavy favorites for the league title, but they look like a decent bet to be the top overall seed on Selection Sunday. With North Carolina struggling, however, N.C. State is still the squad most likely to topple Duke.

All of the remaining nine teams entered conference play with a winning record (yes, even recent doormats Wake Forest and Boston College), but Miami and Virginia are in the best bid position in early January. The road looked to be more difficult for the Hurricanes, as they will be without big man Reggie Johnson until at least mid-February with a thumb injury, but they impressed in thrashing Georgia Tech in Atlanta to open ACC play. As for the Cavaliers, they have an 0-3 record against the Colonial Athletic Association, and a 11-0 mark against everyone else, highlighted by wins over North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin that might be enough to push them into the field.

Maryland, the sixth ACC team in this projection, and Georgia Tech have racked up gaudy records against pillow-soft schedules, so they have a bit to prove in conference play to ensure a place. Virginia Tech, who would have been in the field a month ago, Clemson and the aforementioned BC and Wake have even more to do between now and St. Patrick's Day. So does the most disappointing team in the league thus far, Florida State. The defending conference champions have already lost to South Alabama, Mercer and Auburn. Making matters worse for the Seminoles is the fact that Leonard Hamilton's trademark defense appears to have taken a season off

Big 12

Preseason bids: 6/Today: 6
The sun rising in the East. Death. Taxes. Kansas firmly entrenched in the favorite's seat in the Big 12.

The calendar may change day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year, but these items are automatic at this point. Bill Self's team is increasingly looking like it can improve on its stellar 2012 finish and rightly finds itself on the top line of this first real bracket of the season. The Jayhawks are joined by five conference rivals with Baylor, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State in the strongest position in early January. None of these three are quite ready to break into the protected seed group, as the Bears have been rather inconsistent, while the Wildcats and Cowboys will have a chance if they can win an impressive number of Big 12 games.

Oklahoma and Iowa State are close to the cut line, but on the right side at the moment, while Texas is on the outside looking in. The Longhorns have the best win of the three (over North Carolina at home) and also the worst loss (their atrocious effort against Chaminade in the Maui Invitational quarterfinals), though the Sooners' home defeat at the hands of Stephen F. Austin will look increasingly worse to the computers as the Lumberjacks move into Southland play. Conversely, the Cyclones losses came at the hands of quality teams (Cincinnati and UNLV in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving weekend and at Iowa), while their best win is over BYU in Ames.

Like the ACC, each Big 12 team has a winning record at the moment, but Texas Tech and new members TCU and West Virginia simply don't have enough quality wins to merit consideration at the moment. This is a particularly disappointing development for the Mountaineers, who were expected to be an NCAA threat in their first season out the Big East.

Big East

Preseason bids: 8/Today: 6
It doesn't look like the final season of this super-sized version of the conference will match the record-breaking, 11-bid 2010-11 campaign, especially since Connecticut is barred from the tournament thanks to the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate metric. However, don't let the lower quantity of bids fool you, the quality of the Big East is still rather high, particularly at the top where Louisville and Syracuse find themselves among the protected seeds and Cincinnati, Georgetown, and Notre Dame have a shot to crash that group eventually.

Pittsburgh and Marquette‘s records and reputations might lead you to think that they would be better positioned than they are. Pitt finds itself in roughly the same position as Maryland (plenty of wins, but losses in their biggest non-conference contests), though they are on the wrong side of the bubble following Saturday's loss at Rutgers and an 0-2 Big East start. Marquette, meanwhile, is off to a 2-0 conference start, and decent position in the field, after struggling to replace Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom early, with a loss to Green Bay before Christmas the Golden Eagles' low water mark.

The Big East is yet another league where each team entered conference play with a winning record, meaning everyone, except for UConn, has a theoretical chance. Seton Hall and Villanova have combined for 21 wins against Division I opposition; however, the Pirates best wins came against Stony Brook and Wake Forest, while the Wildcats have a home loss to Columbia on their rather pedestrian profile. Both will need to take advantage of the league gauntlet to earn a bid, as will the other five eligible teams, led by USF and St. John's, who won at Cincinnati on Saturday.

Big Ten

Preseason bids: 6/Today: 6
Back in November, I placed four Big Ten teams on the top three seed lines of my preseason projection. Two months later, the total is the same, though the positions have been tweaked and two names are different. Indiana and Michigan have established themselves as co-favorites at the start of conference play, while Minnesota and Illinois, two of the biggest early season surprises, sit just behind them. Preseason top seed Ohio State, who were trounced by Illinois on Saturday afternoon, and Michigan State, who was a No. 3 seed back in November, both have a strong shot moving up, thanks to the depth of the conference. However, with the exception of the Spartans' early win over Kansas, the pair's losses are a bit better than their wins.

Like most of the other power conferences, each Big Ten member is currently owns a record of .500 or above, but don't expect that to last. Wisconsin, struggling and without a top 50 win, and Iowa, who sits just outside of this projection thanks to the lack of a marquee win of its own, may very well still break through this season. Northwestern‘s hopes of finally making the NCAAs may have been prematurely extinguished when Drew Crawford suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last month, though stranger things have happened. Nebraska and Penn State may well end up among the worst BCS conference teams, despite their respectable early records, thanks to an overall lack of talent. Meanwhile, despite the victory over Illinois, Purdue, the team with the worst overall record in the Big Ten, will be hard pressed to win consistently over the next two months, particularly away from West Lafayette.

Conference USA

Preseason bids: 1/Today: 1
You might be surprised to know that Conference USA has sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament in each of the past three seasons. Granted, in two of those seasons the Selection Committee left many of us questioning their collective sanity, as the membership tabbed UTEP and UAB as at-larges in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Plus, Houston only qualified by winning the 2010 Conference USA Tournament. Still, multiple bids are multiple bids.

On January 8th, 2013, the odds of C-USA getting more than one team into the field for this season looks to be well south of 50 percent, and those chances will likely drop once league play begins and the 12 teams commence their annual ritualistic abuse of one another. Once again, I fell for Memphis, giving them a protected seed in November. Today, they're one of the last teams out, thanks to a lack of quality wins. Marshall, a trendy bid pick both at the end of last season and at the beginning of this one, is nowhere to be found with a 7-8 record. UCF is 10-4 ... and banned from the postseason. Meanwhile, Houston, Southern Mississippi, SMU and Tulane have combined to win 39 games against Division I opposition, and the best of the bunch belongs to the Green Wave, who won at struggling Alabama on December 30th.

The most plausible scenario for multiple C-USA bids is as follows - and you've likely heard it before: Memphis to run away with the regular season crown and another team claims the conference tournament crown in Tulsa (perhaps UTEP or Danny Manning's host Tulsa, the team that happens to hold the auto bid at the moment).

Missouri Valley

Preseason bids: 2/Today: 3
Last season, the Missouri Valley earned two bids for the first time since 2007. In 2013, the conference has an outside chance at matching its shocking 2006 total of four, though three looks like a more plausible number. Creighton and Wichita State lead the way, thanks to a combined 28-2 record. The Bluejays highlight is a Las Vegas Invitational championship, courtesy of wins over Wisconsin and Arizona State. As for the Shockers, they defeated VCU in Richmond in the early days of the season.

Indiana State slides in to this week's First Four thanks to a strong run of recent play -- a 2-1 start to the Valley campaign and a 2-1 trip to the Diamond Head Classic with overtime wins over fellow contenders Miami and Mississippi. Illinois State, who fell to Creighton in an epic 2012 Missouri Valley final, might need to better its performance in March to make the field, thanks to an 0-3 league start and missed opportunities earlier this season against Northwestern and Louisville. Bradley is currently 10-5 and 2-1 in the league, but they have yet to pick up anything that resembles a quality win.

In the preseason, I tabbed Northern Iowa as the Valley's second representative, behind Creighton and ahead of Wichita State. The Panthers currently sit at 8-7, meaning they'll also have to win Arch Madness to qualify, much like the Redbirds, Braves and the four remaining teams I've not discussed.

Mountain West

Preseason bids: 2/Today: 6
While the Missouri Valley has been a pleasant surprise nationally, its conference challenge partner has been even more impressive in November and December. Each of the top six teams in the nine-team Mountain West has no more than two losses and Wyoming is one of the nation's four remaining undefeated teams. Fresno State is the only league team with a record below .500, and the Bulldogs are 6-7.

So, preseason selections UNLV and San Diego State have plenty of company in this projection, as New Mexico, Boise State, Wyoming and Colorado State are all included, for now. Of the newcomers, New Mexico has the most solid case for inclusion, thanks to a Paradise Jam title and win at Cincinnati, but the other three are more than capable of grabbing enough league wins to stick around, especially at home. The Broncos, for instance, have a resounding win at Creighton, a feat that is incredibly difficult to achieve.

Of course, the Mountain West has a reputation as a balanced league, especially with its numerous travel challenges. Note that Air Force and surging Nevada have great home court advantages too, so they'll be fully capable of playing the role of spoiler in what should be a dramatic conference race.

Pac-12

Preseason bids: 4/Today: 4
Good news, Larry Scott! The Pac-12 is in better bid shape than last year. Of course, when you spend Selection Sunday as a power conference wondering if you're going to earn more than your auto bid, you've set a rather low bar. Still, the improvement is drastic, as Arizona, one of the conference's gaggle of bubble teams in 2011-12 is a legitimate contender for No. 1 seed. Colorado, the surprise 2012 Pac-12 Tournament champ, has put together a decent at-large case, thanks to a Charleston Classic crown and win over Colorado State, though they'd be a few seed lines higher had the officials not taken away Sabatino Chen's buzzer-beater in Tucson on Thursday night, a loss that was followed by a letdown at Arizona State Sunday. Oregon has gone 12-2 with a win at UNLV. Even UCLA, a team that looked like it was again going to go off the rails a few weeks ago, has won seven in a row, with victories over Texas and Missouri the highlights.

That's four bids, with preseason picks California and Stanford left out. Sure, the Golden Bears won the Directv Classic, but their best win, over Georgia Tech in that tournament's semifinals, isn't exactly something to hang your hat on. Three losses in a row to Wisconsin, UNLV (by one in Berkeley), and Creighton, along with a home defeat at the hands of Harvard may doom Cal to the NIT no matter what they do during Pac-12 play. As for the Cardinal, its two best wins -- over Northwestern and Northern Iowa -- are losing luster on an almost daily basis. Making matters worse, the two combined to go 1-2 against the L.A. schools this weekend.

USC is the only conference member with a losing record, thanks to a couple of key injuries and a brutal schedule, but the remaining over .500 teams -- Arizona State, Oregon State, Utah, Washington, and Washington State -- all have serious work to do between now and Selection Sunday. Yes, the Sun Devils and Beavers are a combined 23-6, but ASU's best win before Sunday's win over Colorado -- by far -- came against Arkansas in Las Vegas, while OSU was doing a great job of putting a history of early season underachievement behind it, until a home collapse against previously horrible Towson on December 29th.

Four bids looks fairly certain, but a team is going to have to get hot during the grueling Pac-12 slate, or win the auto bid in Las Vegas, to increase the total.

SEC

Preseason bids: 6/Today: 3
Four of the five teams from the BCS conferences that have overall records below .500 reside in the expanded 14-team SEC. Making matters worse, many of the teams with winning records haven't exactly covered themselves in glory so far this season.

Let's review from "best" to worst. Tennessee has a win over Wichita State, but scored a total of 74 points in consecutive losses at Georgetown and Virginia. Plus, the loss of Jeronne Maymon due to a knee injury is a serious blow to the Volunteers' hope. Mississippi has won 11 games but blew a golden opportunity to grab quality wins by losing to Indiana State in the Diamond Head Classic quarterfinals. Arkansas has gone 1-4 against its Power Six conference counterparts. LSU lost by four at Marquette, which is fine, after falling by 19 at Boise State, which is problematic, even if the Broncos are better than expected. Southern defeated 10-win Texas A&M in College Station, while Alabama followed up its 2K Sports Classic triumph with respectable losses to Cincinnati, VCU, and Dayton - and consecutive home defeats at the hands of Mercer and Tulane. South Carolina has won 10 games, but none against a quality opponent. Plus, the Gamecocks lost to Elon by 12, at home.

The conference's collective struggles could spell doom not only for Mississippi, Tennessee, and the others' selection hopes, but also to the top three teams' -- Florida, Kentucky and Missouri -- chances at grabbing a high seed, unless of course, one manages to go on an absolute tear through the league. And I'm talking about a 17-1 or 16-2 level run, not likely, but certainly possible given the struggles of teams outside the top three. Of course, if the Gators hadn't lost consecutive Saturday games away from Gainesville to Arizona and Kansas State, Billy Donovan's team might have a bit more margin for error. The same goes Missouri, who lost at UCLA nearly week after a thrilling win over Illinois. Meanwhile, a young Kentucky team has struggled against quality competition so far and finds itself in the middle of the bracket.

With the quality at the top of the conference, if the SEC happens to slip down to 2009's total haul of three bids, at least the seeds should be a bit more respectable than the eight, nine, and 13 that resulted in that poor campaign.

WCC

Preseason bids: 3/Today: 1
Should Gonzaga reach the West Coast Tournament final this season, bubble teams from coast-to-coast will likely find themselves rooting hard for the Bulldogs to claim the auto bid. That's because the two teams projected to challenge Mark Few's squad (a legitimate threat for a protected seed, by the way) -- St. Mary's and BYU -- didn't exactly set the world on fire during non-conference play. The Gaels best non-conference wins: Harvard, Drexel Dragons, and Utah State. For the Cougars: Utah, Weber State, and Virginia Tech (after the Hokies had fallen from their early highs).

All hope is not lost for the WCC. Santa Clara went 9-3 against Division I opposition during November and December, winning at Saint Louis on November 14th. If Kerry Keating's Broncos can grab some wins against the three established favorites, they could sneak in without cutting down the nets in Las Vegas.

Elsewhere

While next season will see a mind-boggling amount of conference realignment, this season's hearty crop of moves might result in a drop in the number of multi-bid leagues, though competitive factors are involved as well. Had VCU remained in the Colonial Athletic Association, a team other than the Rams would likely need to claim the tournament crown to give the struggling league a second bid. Butler, another new Atlantic 10 member, would be the obvious early favorite in the Horizon, but Illinois-Chicago was building a decent at-large case of its own, until the Flames lost three in a row in late December.

Right now, it looks like the traditional one-bid league with the best chance of upping its total in 2012-13 is the Ohio Valley. While Murray State has carried the OVC flag into the NCAA Tournament with honor in two of the past three seasons, newcomer, former Atlantic Sun standard-bearer Belmont has a profile that's more worthy of consideration in 2013. The Bruins own wins at Stanford and over Sun Belt favorite Middle Tennessee and Summit contender South Dakota State (days before the Jackrabbits won at New Mexico). That means Belmont's early body of work is arguably more impressive than the profile that earned Iona a shock First Four spot last season. Rick Byrd's squad would certainly get the nod over the Racers (best wins over Auburn and St. John's in Charleston) at this stage of the game.

Now if Bucknell and Lehigh had won at Missouri and VCU, respectively, on Saturday, we might now have to consider the prospect of a two-bid Patriot League, an admittedly slim one granted, but a prospect nonetheless.

Tuesday will be the day for weekly bracket updates this season, at least until Championship Week, so check back here in seven days' time. Be sure to follow me on Twitter for my insights in the meantime.

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