Bracketology 2012: Syracuse Holds On To Top Spot; Kansas Makes Big Jump

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 11: Head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange talks with his players during a timeout against the Villanova Wildcats at the Wells Fargo Center on January 11, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)

SB Nation's resident bracketologist gives the Orange the edge over Kentucky for now, while the Jayhawks jump Baylor after beating the Bears on Saturday.

Just when you think the path of the college basketball season is safe and predictable, days like Saturday, January 21st, 2012 happen. Thanks to highly-ranked teams falling one after another on an afternoon and evening that served as a preview of the excitement to come in March, there was plenty of movement in this week's bracket (indicated by the arrows in the table below) when compared to last week's projection, but not quite as much at the top as you'd expect.

(1) EAST
Boston (Thu/Sat)
(2) SOUTH
Atlanta (Fri/Sun)
Pittsburgh (Thu/Sat) Louisville (Thu/Sat)
1 Syracuse (Big East) 1 Kentucky (SEC)
16 Miss. Valley St./Stony Brook 16 Long Island U. (NEC)
8 Dayton (A-10) 8 Cincinnati
9 Wichita State 9 Temple
Portland (Thu/Sat) Portland (Thu/Sat)
5 Illinois 5 Virginia
12 Long Beach State (Big West) 12 Middle Tenn. (Sun Belt)
4 Murray State (OVC) 4 West Virginia
13 Notre Dame
13 New Mexico/Oklahoma
Columbus (Fri/Sun) Pittsburgh (Thu/Sat)
6 Marquette 6 Michigan
11 Davidson (Southern) 11 Harvard (Ivy)
3 Michigan State 3 Georgetown
14 Iona (MAAC) 14 George Mason (CAA)
Greensboro (Fri/Sun) Albuquerque (Thu/Sat)
7 Mississippi State 7 Wisconsin
10 California (Pac-12) 10 Memphis
2 Duke (ACC) 2 Baylor
15 Ball State (MAC) 15 Mercer (Atlantic Sun)
(4) WEST
Phoenix (Thu/Sat)
(3) MIDWEST
St. Louis (Fri/Sun)
Omaha (Fri/Sun) Louisville (Thu/Sat)
1 Kansas (Big 12) 1 Ohio State (Big Ten)
16 UNC Asheville/UT Arlington 16 Bucknell (Patriot)
8 Alabama 8 Gonzaga
9 Florida State 9 Louisville
Nashville (Fri/Sun) Nashville (Fri/Sun)
5 Connecticut 5 Vanderbilt
12 Southern Mississippi 12 Minnesota
4 Indiana 4 Creighton (MVC)
13 Cleveland State (Horizon) 13 Marshall/Oregon
Albuquerque (Thu/Sat) Columbus (Fri/Sun)
6 St. Mary's (WCC) 6 San Diego State (MWC)
11 Saint Louis 11 UCF (C-USA)
3 UNLV 3 Seton Hall
14 Oral Roberts (Summit) 14 Nevada (WAC)
Greensboro (Fri/Sun) Omaha (Fri/Sun)
7 Kansas State 7 Florida
10 Purdue 10 Xavier
2 North Carolina 2 Missouri
15 Norfolk State (MEAC) 15 Weber State (Big Sky)
FIRST FOUR (Dayton)
Tuesday: To Pittsburgh
Tuesday: To Portland
16 Stony Brook (America East)
13 New Mexico
16 Miss. Valley State (SWAC) 13 Oklahoma
Wednesday: To Omaha Wednesday: To Nashville
16 UNC Asheville (Big South)
13 Marshall
16 UT Arlington (Southland) 13 Oregon

Syracuse remains No. 1 overall, even though they are no longer the top-ranked team in the country after Saturday's loss at bracket returnee Notre Dame, just another example of how the polls don't quite match up to the process of building the field of 68. Kentucky remains second by a narrow margin. While the Wildcats and Orange have the same number of RPI top 50 wins (four) and the same 6-1 record away from home, Syracuse has a superior record against the top 100 (10-0 vs. 6-1).

This will change if the Orange lose to Cincinnati Monday night and if Fab Melo's absence from the team for academic issues turns out to be a long-term one. Syracuse fans don't have to reach too far into the past to remember what losing a talented big man can do to the team's national championship hopes.

As for the other two spots on the top line, the race opened after Baylor dropped two games this week and Duke fell Saturday afternoon at home to Florida State. I considered no fewer than seven teams for the openings, with Ohio State sticking around, particularly as they avoided the upset bug at Nebraska on Saturday, and Kansas moving up to replace Baylor. The Bears are joined on the No. 2 line by the other team they lost to this week, Missouri; Duke, who would have been in line to jump up had they won Saturday; and North Carolina, who just edged out Michigan State.

Now that I've cleared the top two lines up, here's a summary of the rest of this week's vital bracket statistics.

BIDS BY CONFERENCE LAST FOUR BYES ARRIVALS DEPARTURES
Big East: 9
Saint Louis Ball State Akron
Big Ten: 8 Southern Mississippi Cleveland State Belmont
Big 12: 5 Minnesota George Mason Georgia State
SEC: 5 Notre Dame Mercer Massachusetts
ACC: 4
LAST FOUR IN Minnesota Milwaukee
A-10: 4
Marshall Notre Dame Northwestern
C-USA: 4 Oklahoma Oklahoma Penn
MWC: 3 New Mexico Oregon Stanford
MVC: 2
Oregon

Pac-12: 2 LAST FOUR OUT

WCC: 2
Northwestern

1-Bid Conferences: 20 Arkansas


NC State


BYU


NEXT FOUR OUT


Rutgers


Stanford


USF


Iowa State

The Atlantic 10 and Ivy League both lost bids this week, thanks to changes in conference leadership. That opened up two more at-large spots, but with the bubble so weak, there is plenty of argument over who should fill them.

Oklahoma jumps into my projection, even after the Sooners picked up a bad loss at Texas A&M on Saturday afternoon, thanks to three top 100 wins (even if they were all at home), while New Mexico hangs on, despite losing to both San Diego State and UNLV this week and the lack of a top 50 win on its profile. Meanwhile, Northwestern finally fell out, replaced by the Minnesota team that blew them out in Minneapolis on Sunday afternoon. Oregon fills the "not really deserving, but still expected" second Pac-12 slot for this week, even though their best win is over Arizona (and over Nebraska out of conference). Stanford, who was in last week, would be in better shape if they could win more consistently away from home, as they've already lost in Eugene and dropped both games on their trip to the state of Washington.

As for the other candidates, the holes in their profiles are rather gaping. Arkansas moved closer after they hung on to beat Michigan Saturday afternoon, but the Razorbacks have yet to win away from Fayetteville, even managing to lose to Houston in North Little Rock earlier this season. N.C. State needs to make some noise in the ACC, as their victory over Texas in the Legends Classic isn't holding up. Iowa State needs to do the same in the Big 12, as a victory of those same Longhorns is the Cyclones' lone top 100 victory. Rutgers has nice wins over Connecticut and Florida and little else, something you'd expect out of an 11-9 team. Colorado State's high RPI is courtesy more of the teams they lost to than the teams they defeated, while Mountain West rival Wyoming has racked up an impressive record by feasting on weak opponents. Twelve of the Cowboys 14 Division I wins are against teams ranked 150th or worse in the RPI.

Making matters worse, a credible mid-major surprise has yet to emerge, as teams like BYU, Denver, Indiana State, and Northern Iowa haven't performed at a high level during conference play, and teams like George Mason, Milwaukee, and VCU simply didn't grab enough quality wins early in the season. But all is not lost. Keep an eye on Cleveland State, Davidson, Harvard, Long Beach State, and Middle Tennessee, as these three have the potential to earn an at-large if they fail to win their respective conferences' auto bids in March. Then there are Creighton and Murray State, who both sit on the four line in this projection. That means both are near locks at this stage of the season.

While the week's schedule looks a bit weak at first glance, there are still plenty of games with bracket impact on the slate, particularly on another Saturday that could create more upheaval.

Monday, January 23
Syracuse at Cincinnati, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Orange failed their first test without Fab Melo, though they likely would not have won in South Bend Saturday night even if he was in the lineup. Tonight, Syracuse tries to bounce back in the place where the bulk of the national media figured they would fall for the first time.

Wednesday, January 25
Saint Louis at Xavier, 7 p.m. ET (FS Ohio/FS Midwest/FCS Atlantic)
Did you realize there are seven teams sitting a loss behind Dayton in the Atlantic 10 race? That's half of the misnamed league! The Billikens and Musketeers are in that scrum and the winner will remain in the thick of the title race, though I wouldn't necessarily count the loser out.

BYU at Virginia Tech, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
The Hokies have life after they won their first ACC game of the season Sunday night at Virginia, while most of the country was focused on the NFL conference championship games. They can grab a big bubble win if they can stop the visiting Cougars, another team desperate for something, anything that resembles a quality win.

Notre Dame at Seton Hall, 8 p.m. ET (Big East Network/Full Court/ESPN3)
This one is worth checking out to see how the Fighting Irish follow their big win from Saturday. Meanwhile, the Pirates need to end a two-game skid which has cost them in seeding.

Thursday, January 26
Indiana at Wisconsin, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Hoosiers have dropped three of their last four road games, and Madison isn't the place you'd expect them to end that trend, especially since the Badgers have come back to life after an early 2012 swoon.

Saturday, January 28
Mississippi State at Florida, 1:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network/Full Court/ESPN3)
After stunning Vanderbilt in overtime on Saturday, the Bulldogs will attempt to win in another hostile SEC East arena. Florida could have trouble with Mississippi State's size if Patric Young is still limited by ankle tendinitis.

Purdue at Northwestern, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
The last time the Boilermakers visited Evanston, in 2010, they lost. And that was a better Purdue team than this edition. Plus, the Wildcats will be desperate after being embarrassed on Sunday.

Oklahoma at Kansas State, 7 p.m. ET (FS Midwest/FS Oklahoma/Full Court/ESPN3)
The Wildcats look to reverse a Jan. 14th loss in Norman and deal a blow to the Sooners' at-large hopes in the process.

Southern Mississippi at UCF, 7 p.m. ET (CSS/Bright House Sports Network) and Marshall at Memphis, 9 p.m. ET (CSS/WSAZ)
Conference USA's quartet of title contenders square off in Orlando and Memphis. The road teams have much to gain if they can somehow grab wins.

St. Mary's at BYU, 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
The Cougars need to avenge a December 29th loss in Moraga to stay in the WCC race and bid conversation, particularly if they lose in Blacksburg on Wednesday.

Sunday, January 29
Stanford at California, 8:30 p.m. ET (FSN/Comcast SportsNet)
Both these teams need a victory in Sunday night's Pac-12 showcase, given the league's decreasing chance at earning mulitple bids.

As usual, my next projection will be out in a week's time. Your guess is as good as mine as to the changes that will appear inside.

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