NCAA Basketball Bracketology: Syracuse Rises Up, Hard Times For Mid-Majors

SB Nation's resident bracketologist has his first new bracket of 2011, which features a brand new top seed and a whole lot of power conference teams.

Since the holidays are over and conference play is getting warmed up, it's time to start weekly bracket projections for the NCAA Men's Tournament. March (and Spring) are just around the corner!

Click Here For This Week's Bracket

As a new feature, I've added links to my team breakdown pages directly to the bracket file. Simply click the region name. You can even click the First Four Out and Next Four Out titles to go to another new feature, a breakdown of the teams who are just outside the field.

Three of the four top seeds from my December 13th bracket have returned, as Kansas heads up the Southwest, Ohio State the Southeast, and Duke the East. As for the fourth top seed, well Tennessee lost to Oakland the day after I placed them, then dropped three more out of their next five. That means the Volunteers fell precipitously down the bracket, to a nine seed, meaning that instead of being a one seed, they may have to play one in the new Third Round.

The final one seed remains orange, literally so, as Syracuse rises up to replace the Vols. The Orange are at the helm of the West region after a 15-0 start  That means that Ohio State is the only one of the four top seeds who didn't earn one for the 2010 Tournament. (Parity? Ha!) You'll see the fourth of last year's top seeds, Kentucky, on the two line this week. However, the Wildcats need to jump a few teams to reach the top line, especially with the top four being fairly solid. That will be a difficult task in an SEC that may not provide as many quality wins as the Big East.

Like Tennessee, Minnesota also slipped a bit after a rough start to their conference season. The Golden Gophers, who lost point guard Al Nolen for much of December, then dropped their first two Big Ten games, tough roadies at Wisconsin and Michigan State last week after his return. That dropped them from a two seed to a seven this week.

You'll notice that there is a certain power conference flavor to this week's bracket, something that will likely remain constant as we head into league play. Even though teams living below the Red Line have won 117 of their 749 games against teams from above it (15.6 percent), the big boys losing these contests (looking at you, Auburn and Wake Forest) have been a bit more consistent than the teams pulling the upsets. That's hampered the ability of mid-majors to build at-large worthy resumes.

Right now, teams below the Red Line account for only six of 37 at-large bids. If you add in the Mountain West, a non-BCS league who resides above the Red Line's financial threshold, that number grows to eight. The number wouldn't even be that high if it wasn't for the presence of two teams who would be considered bid thieves later in the season. George Mason is in as the current Colonial auto bid holder (and at-large entrant Old Dominion isn't that safe, considering they're in the First Four), and Dayton avoids playing on its home floor for the First Round only because they're in as the Atlantic-10 leader.

If either the Dragons or Flyers slip out of the field (or Butler, a new entrant who's in real danger after being throttled in Milwaukee Monday night), their replacement would come from the Big Six, as Washington State and Virginia Tech are next in line. In fact, the you need to go to the "Next Four Out" group to find the next three non-BCS schools on my S-curve: Xavier, New Mexico, and Southern Mississippi. 

Curiously, this power conference dominance comes courtesy of three conferences, the Big East (an amazing 10 teams, thanks to the return of St. John's), Big Ten (seven), and Big 12 (six). The ACC and SEC provide five teams each, but both conferences will need to answer significant questions over the next several weeks. For the ACC, its whether anyone can challenge Duke even somewhat. North Carolina is currently the second highest-seeded team from the conference, and they're a seven. For the SEC, it's again a matter of whether the West, which has no teams in or close to the field, can compete with the East, who has a quintet.

As for the Pac-10, Washington is the only team who looks to be a lock at this early date, as I dropped Arizona down to an 11 seed after their Sunday loss to Oregon State and Washington State out completely after three straight losses. USC, who owns wins over Tennessee and Texas, alongside head-scratching losses to Bradley, Nebraska, Rider, and TCU, even has a shot to rise up and jump in the field soon, with archrival UCLA also owning some potential.

With all of this in mind, here's a breakdown of this week's projection.

Regional Breakdowns

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

Last Four IN (First Round): Miami, Old Dominion, Richmond, Butler
Next Four IN (Second Round): Oklahoma State, Arizona, Cincinnati, Georgia

First Four OUT: Washington State, Virginia Tech, USC, Marquette
Next Four OUT: Northwestern, Xavier, New Mexico, Southern Mississippi
Breakdown of those Outside Looking In

Conference Breakdown

Seeds in Parentheses

There was a lot of late shuffling on Monday night, thanks to St. John's win over Georgetown and losses by Florida State and Butler. I had to move these newcomers around because of those results, with the Bulldogs and Seminoles falling all the way down to the First Four. Miami and Cincinnati were among the beneficiaries of these late shifts.

Big East: 10
Syracuse (1), Georgetown (2), Pittsburgh (2), Connecticut (3), Villanova (3), Notre Dame (4), West Virginia (7), Louisville (8), St. John's (9), Cincinnati (10)

Big 12: 7
Kansas (1), Missouri (3), Texas (4), Kansas State (6), Texas A&M (6), Baylor (8), Oklahoma State (10)

Big Ten: 6
Ohio State (1), Purdue (2), Illinois (4), Michigan State (5), Wisconsin (5), Minnesota (7)

ACC: 5
Duke (1), North Carolina (7), Boston College (9), Miami (11), Florida State (11, 1st Rd.)

SEC: 5
Kentucky (2), Vanderbilt (5), Florida (7), Tennessee (9), Georgia (11)

Atlantic 10: 3
Temple (5), Dayton (12), Richmond (12, 1st Rd.) 

Mountain West: 3
San Diego State (3), BYU (4), UNLV (6)

Colonial: 2
Old Dominion (11, 1st Rd.), George Mason (13)

Conference USA: 2
UCF (8), Memphis (10)

Horizon: 2
Cleveland State (8), Butler (12, 1st. Rd)

Pacific-10: 2
Washington (6), Arizona (11)

West Coast: 2
Gonzaga (8), St. Mary's (10)

One Bid Leagues: 19
America East (1st Rd.), Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South (1st Rd.), Big West, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Missouri Valley, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern (1st Rd.), Southland, SWAC (1st Rd.), Summit, Sun Belt, WAC

My next update will be in this spot next Tuesday, January 11. In the meantime, be sure to visit Blogging The Bracket each day for a preview of the TV games with bracket impact. 

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