NCAA Basketball Bracketology: Pitt Rises To Top Line, Syracuse Slips

PITTSBURGH PA - JANUARY 17: Nasir Robinson #35 of the Pittsburgh Panthers celebrates a lay up against the Syracuse Orange at Petersen Events Center on January 17 2011 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

After Pittsburgh topped a Kris Joseph-less Syracuse on Monday night in the Orange's House of Horrors, there is some change on the top line of this week's Bracketology. Three of the top four from last week's bracket return. Unbeaten Ohio State Buckeyes remains first overall and at the top of the Southeast Region, while Kansas, another team that's had to fight over the past seven days to remain perfect, moves to the second slot and the Southwest Region.

On the other hand, Duke slides to fourth overall and is shipped out West after its loss at Florida State on Wednesday. The change affects the East Region and third seed overall, which goes to Pittsburgh after its unbelievably strange win. The Orange don't fall too far after suffering their first loss of the season, as they join fellow Big East sides Villanova and Connecticut (which played a terrific game second half of its own) on the two line.

Click Here For This Week's Full NCAA Tournament Bracket

Conference races are becoming a bit more settled, resulting in fewer unexpected faces (though there are still a few, as you'll see in the Conference Breakdown section). Several teams have taken control of their league races and look like they'll be regular fixtures in the bracket until March, if they survive some significant challenges in the weeks ahead. 

  • Belmont has been crushing teams in the Atlantic Sun (average margin of victory in eight league wins: a staggering 29 points), but has to visit its closest challenger, two-time defending league champ East Tennessee State Sunday.
  • Northern Colorado is the lone unbeaten in the Big Sky, but the Bears must play Weber State on two consecutive Saturdays, then face a February trip to their closest challengers, the Montana schools.
  • Coastal Carolina is unbeaten in the Big South, but plays its next four on the road (and six of eight).
  • Similarly, unbeaten Long Beach State owns a two-game lead in the Big West, but has to play its next three (and five of the next six) away from the Pyramid.
  • Bethune-Cookman and Morgan State are unbeaten in the MEAC, with the Wildcats owning the bid this week because they've won one more league game. The two will be challenged to keep that zero in the loss column before their lone meeting of the regular season, which takes place on February 7th in Daytona Beach.
  • Missouri State is the lone unbeaten in the Missouri Valley, but they face a trip to surprising Indiana State, who's a game back in the standings, on Wednesday.
  • Austin Peay finally fell in the Ohio Valley, losing to Tennessee State in overtime on Saturday, but they still own a game advantage on the Tigers and Murray State, a pair of teams they'll meet on consecutive Saturday's in early February.
  • Chattanooga is the lone unbeaten in the Southern Conference after their Monday night win over previously-unbeaten College of Charleston, but the Mocs could fall back down to earth this week, as a road trip to Furman and Wofford looms.
  • Texas Southern took control of the SWAC race with a home win over Jackson State Saturday, then toppled another pair of Tigers, woeful Grambling, on Monday. A trip to defending champ Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Mississippi Valley State looks to be a challenge, but remember the Tigers played 13 of their first 14, including their first three conference games, away from Houston.
  • Oakland owns a two-game lead on the Summit field, but faces a tricky trip to the Dakotas this week.
  • Florida Atlantic (6-0) and Denver (5-0) need to keep winning to set up an epic East-West battle for Sun Belt supremacy at the Pioneers' Magness Arena on February 10th. That won't be easy in a league that requires so much travel.
  • Utah State took control of the WAC race by topping Boise State and Fresno State last week, but must upend resurgent New Mexico State, who's a game back, on Saturday.

One familiar name did fall out of this week's field, thanks to a conference loss on Sunday night. Butler is no longer the Horizon League's entrant in the bracket, with in-state rival Valparaiso jumping in to replace them. Over the weekend, the Crusaders did what the Bulldogs couldn't, sweeping the Detroit/Wright State road trip to claim sole possession of first place with a 5-1 league mark. Butler is a game back at 4-2 (along with Cleveland State and Wright State) after the Raiders stunned them Sunday night in Dayton, thanks to their ability to force a slow, deliberate game. As the very first team left out this week, the Bulldogs cannot afford anymore league losses if they want to earn an at-large, but they likely will need to win the Horizon's auto bid to play meaningful March games.

And, really, that may be the way to go, because a conference championship would exempt them from the First Four.

Now a look at the 68 teams who did make this week's projection.

Regional Breakdowns

Southeast Region (No. 1 seed Ohio State)
Southwest Region (No. 1 seed Kansas)
East Region (No. 1 seed Pittsburgh)
West Region (No. 1 seed Duke)

Last Four IN (First Round): Marquette vs. Penn State and Old Dominion vs. Florida State
Next Four IN: (Second Round): Kansas State, Tennessee, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech

This week, a pair of First Round games feed into the East Region, with the Southwest going without a preliminary winner.

First Four OUT: Butler, UCLA, Miami, Richmond
Next Four OUT: Baylor, Clemson, Cleveland State, Wichita State
Breakdown of those Outside Looking In

Conference Breakdown

The biggest winner this week from a conference perspective was the Big 12, even if Baylor fell out of the backet. The conference holds steady with seven entrants, as Colorado jumped in to replace the Bears, thanks to three straight win to open conference play. Plus, the league got a seeding boost as the two teams who share the early lead with Colorado and Kansas, Texas A&M and Texas, moved up to the three line.

The Big East holds steady at 11 teams, though Marquette dropped into the First Four.

The Pac-10 is one of five conferences with a pair of teams in, as Washington State dropped out after splitting their Bay Area swing. The at-large entrants from the A-10 (Temple), Colonial (Old Dominion), and Conference USA (UCF) remain the same, but the auto bid for those leagues are brand new, as Xavier replaced the Owls, since the Musketeers own the only perfect A-10 record at the moment; James Madison steps in for former CAA leader Hofstra because of a superior overall record; and Southern Miss replaces Tulane, who went 0-2 on the week, at the top of C-USA.

Seeds in Parentheses

Seed List

Big East: 11
Pittsburgh (1), Syracuse (2), Villanova (2), Connecticut (2), Notre Dame (4), West Virginia (5), Louisville (5), Georgetown (6), St. John's (8), Cincinnati (10), Marquette (11, Rd. 1)

Big Ten: 7
Ohio State (1), Illinois (4), Purdue (4), Wisconsin (5), Michigan State (6), Minnesota (7), Penn State (11, Rd. 1)

Big 12: 7
Kansas (1), Texas A&M (3), Texas (3), Missouri (4), Oklahoma State (9), Colorado (10), Kansas State (10)

ACC: 5
Duke (1), Boston College (8), North Carolina (9), Virginia Tech (11), Florida State (12, 1st Rd.)

SEC: 5
Kentucky (3), Florida (6), Georgia (7), Vanderbilt (8), Tennessee (10)

Mountain West: 3
San Diego State (2), BYU (3), UNLV (5)

Atlantic 10: 2
Temple (7), Xavier (11)

Colonial: 2
Old Dominion (12, 1st Rd.), James Madison (14)

Conference USA: 2
UCF (9), Southern Miss (12)

Pac-10: 2
Washington (6), Arizona (8)

West Coast: 2
Gonzaga (7), St, Mary's (9)

One Bid Leagues: 20
America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Horizon, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern (1st Rd.), Missouri Valley, Northeast (1st Rd.), Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland (1st Rd.), Southwestern (1st Rd.), Summit, Sun Belt, WAC

You'll see my next bracket projection a week from today, on Tuesday, January 25th. Bubble Watch returns Friday as your interim report. In the meantime, be sure to visit Blogging The Bracket and follow me on Twitter, for information on the nightly TV slate, rated for bracket impact and watchability.

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