When undefeated teams keep a zero in the loss column for another week, that helps make the task of constructing a bracket projection a little bit easier. All four top seeds from last week's bracket -- Duke, Syracuse, Ohio State and Kansas -- remained perfect over the past seven days, so they stay on the top line of this edition, albeit in a slightly different order.
All four teams were challenged in various ways this week, leading to the shuffle. The Ohio State Buckeyes jump up to the top spot overall, even though their two Big Ten wins over the past week were a bit unconvincing. The Duke Blue Devils are second after they followed up an easy out-of-conference win over UAB with a struggle against a Maryland team that's still out of the field on Sunday night. The Syracuse Orange rise to the third spot after they struggled at Seton Hall in their only game of the week, while the Kansas Jayhawks slip down to the fourth spot after an overtime win at Michigan--yet another contest where the Jayhawks struggled with a major conference team they should have easily disposed of.
As for the fifth unbeaten, the San Diego State Aztecs stay on the three line for another week, primarily because they just don't seem to be firing on all cylinders at the moment. The Aztecs continue to rack up victories, particularly on the road, as they opened Mountain West play with two straight wins away from home--over TCU and Utah--while needing big second halves to put both teams away. Steve Fisher's team has an opportunity to make a statement at home against UNLV Wednesday. A nice win over a league contender would do wonders for their profile at the moment, but in the meantime, SDSU is in decent shape to at least get placed in Tucson for the first weekend, and if they advance, a spot in the West Regional up I-5 from campus in Anaheim.
Now before I get into the breakdown portion of our program, I'd like to warn you that there are several unexpected names in this field--moreso than usual--thanks to the early stages of conference play. Every conference has played at least one game now (the Ivy League has even a solitary contest under its belt) with a select few up in the five or six range. Those exceptions are represented by teams who were pegged as serious contenders in the preseason, in most cases anyway (Austin Peay leading the Ohio Valley stands as an outlier).
However, if you go by the standings when selecting a team to hold a conference's auto bid (as I do), unbalanced schedules can lead to odd names showing up in early projections.
For example, thanks to UCF losing its first game of the season at Houston, and the fact UAB and Memphis have played, and won, just one league game apiece, the 2-0 Tulane Green Wave holds Conference USA's auto bid for the week. Yes, Tulane, who hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since 1995, when Perry Clark was their coach.(As a side note, Memphis is out of the field this week after their dreadful performance at Tennessee last Wednesday.)
The Boise State Broncos own the WAC lead for a week, since they've won one more game than Utah State, who's also unbeaten in the conference. The Aggies remain in the field as the final at-large, but the league will likely revert to one bid status next week. That's because Utah State visits the Broncos on Thursday.
One conference that had two bids last week, the Horizon League, is down to one this time around. That's thanks to Butler's resounding win over Cleveland State Friday. The Vikings had a chance to stick around as an at-large, which ended when they dropped their second conference game in a row, a 64-58 loss at Valparaiso, on Sunday. The Crusaders and Bulldogs are part of a four-team lead pack in the Horizon, which also includes Detroit and Wright State. All four sit at 4-1 in the conference, and there's no telling who will own the league's auto bid next week. That's because Butler and Valpo venture East to take on the Titans and Raiders.
Last Four IN (First Round): Old Dominion, Richmond, Virginia Tech, Utah State
Next Four IN: (Second Round): Tennessee, Arizona, Marquette, Washington State
Additionally, this week I was able to feed one Opening Round winner into each region. Last week, three were destined for the West Region bracket.
First Four OUT: USC, Clemson, Nebraska, Memphis
Next Four OUT: Cleveland State, Wichita State, Dayton, Florida State
Breakdown of those Outside Looking In
This week, I found myself jumping more teams up and down a line to balance the bracket than in the previous two editions, primarily because of Big East and Big 12 teams clumping on the S-curve. For example, you'll find Louisville and West Virginia a bit underseeded this time around, while Baylor and Oklahoma State are a bit overseeded.
Additionally, Marquette moves into the bracket after their huge home win over Notre Dame on Monday night, giving the Big East an unprecedented 11 entrants.
Seeds in Parentheses
Big East: 11
Syracuse (1), Pittsburgh (2), Villanova (2), Connecticut (2), Notre Dame (4), Georgetown (4), West Virginia (8), Louisville (8), St. John's (9), Cincinnati (10), Marquette (11)
Big 12: 7
Kansas (1), Texas (4), Missouri (4), Texas A&M (5), Baylor (7), Oklahoma State (7), Kansas State (8)
Big Ten: 6
Ohio State (1), Purdue (2), Illinois (3), Wisconsin (5), Michigan State (6), Minnesota (9)
Kentucky (3), Florida (6), Vanderbilt (6), Georgia (8), Tennessee (11)
Duke (1), North Carolina (7), Boston College (10), Virginia Tech (12, 1st Rd.)
Mountain West: 3
San Diego State (3), BYU (3), UNLV (6)
Washington (5), Arizona (10), Washington State (12)
Atlantic 10: 2
Temple (5), Richmond (12, 1st Rd.)
Old Dominion (12, First Round), Hofstra (13)
Conference USA: 2
UCF (9), Tulane (14)
West Coast: 2
Gonzaga (7), St, Mary's (9)
Boise State (12), Utah State (12, 1st Rd.)
One Bid Leagues: 19
America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Horizon, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Missouri Valley, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Southwestern, Summit, Sun Belt
My next bracket projection will appear on Tuesday, January 18th. On Friday, Bubble Watch will make its 2011 debut, just in time for the weekend's games. In the meantime, be sure to visit Blogging The Bracket, where I'll rate each night's busy TV slate for bracket impact and watchability.