Editor’s Note: Bruce Marshall is the top-ranked college basketball handicapper at VegasInsider.com. Don’t miss out on his daily selections with analysis! Click to win!
Now that college football is finally complete, it's time to get switch gears to college hoops. Be prepared to get familiar with Joe Lunardi (ESPN's resident "Bracketologist"), "bubble teams" and "protected seeds" and all of the other terminology that relates to the Big Dance, now only two months away.
This week, we provide our "Bracketology" update and understand it becomes a bit harder to move as quickly on the big checkerboard the later we get into the regular season, but for now the composition of the eventual 68-team field is quite fluid. We've dropped a few sides (Pitt, Oregon State, Oklahoma) from the last version of our projected field and added some new ones to the mix. And we're certain we'll be making more changes all of the way up until Selection Sunday.
Following are latest Big Dance projections for 2012; straight-up records and RPI numbers are thru January 11.
EAST REGIONAL (Boston)
1 Syracuse (SUR 18-0, RPI-1) vs. 16 Bucknell (11-6, 119)...Nothing has happened over the past two weeks to knock Syracuse off the top line or the overall number one seed in the Dance, although there are still plenty of banana peels for Jim Boeheim to avoid in Big East play. The Patriot League looks like a three-team dogfight between Lehigh, American, and Bucknell; a measured vote for the Bison, alma mater of CBS head honcho Les Moonves.
8 Harvard (14-2, 45) vs. 9 Stanford (13-3, 38)...This all-intellectual battle would be the first time an Ivy rep has worn white in the first round since Princeton back in 1998 against UNLV. Although the Crimson didn't help their seeding cause with a recent loss at Fordham. The Pac 12 is not especially deep this season, and we are hardly sure of more than two bids for the league, although Stanford still seems well-positioned for one of those after salvaging a split at the Oregon schools last weekend.
4 Michigan (14-3, 25) vs. 13 Colorado (11-4, 92)/Saint Joseph's (12-5, 59)...Michigan is on track for protected seed territory, as losses vs. Kansas, Virginia, and Indiana (all projected high seeds) don't figure too hurt the Wolverines too much. The Big Ten figures to get plenty of respect from the Selection Committee as well. Tad Boyle's Colorado has moved into a contending spot in the Pac-12 and we suspect could get involved in one of the at-large play-in games. For the moment, we pit the Buffs vs. Phil Martelli's St. Joe's, which recovered from last weekend's slip vs. Charlotte to beat Fordham on Wednesday night. Colorful Hawk HC Phil Martelli hasn't been to the Dance since the Jameer Nelson/Delonte West team of 2004.
5 Kansas State (12-3, 12) vs. 12 Marshall (11-4, 50)...K-State has dropped a couple of bitter decisions vs. Kansas and Baylor within the last week. While those losses won't dim the tourney prospects for the Wildcats, for the moment they have pushed K-State out of protected seed territory. We also suspect that Conference USA could get multiple bids to the Dance and that Marshall, with a valuable non-conference win at Cincinnati, might earn one of those.
2 Duke (13-2, 7) vs. 15 Robert Morris (12-5, 93)...Duke figures to be in contention for a spot on the top line all winter. But for the moment, last week's loss at Temple probably puts the Blue Devils on the second line. Regardless, Coach K's team should be bound for the Greensboro sub-regional. The Northeast is shaping up as a pretty compelling race between the home team of the Pittsburgh Airport, Robert Morris, and the home team of the Staten Island Ferry, Wagner (coached by Danny Hurley), each having claimed scalps of major conference foes in pre-league play.
7 Louisville (13-4, 33) vs. 10 Murray State (16-0, 14)...Louisville is falling faster than Rick Perry's presidential campaign; a 31-point loss at Providence and four losses in five games are definitely enough to drop the Cards out of protected seed territory. Rick Pitino ought to say "Pittsburgh" to his team in case they don't think they can fall into bubble trouble. Pitino also might not be humored if he has to run into another Ohio Valley rep after getting dumped by Morehead State in the sub-regional last year. Worse yet, Murray State looks better than Morehead last year, although the Racers could easily move into protected seed territory.
3 Florida (13-4, 35) vs. 14 Belmont (11-6, 58)...This could be one of those bones the Selection Committee often likes to throw to a worthy mid-major; a few years ago, the Committee put Stephen Curry's Davidson in nearby Charlotte for the sub-regional, and it might do the same with Nashville-based Belmont, which qualifies for the Bridgestone Arena (home of the NHL Predators) sub-regional because it is not the Bruins' home floor. Which might not humor Florida's Billy Donovan if the Gators (who quickly re-established protected seed credentials in the Tuesday romp past Georgia) had to draw Rick Byrd's ever-dangerous crew that lost by just 1 at Duke in November.
6 West Virginia (12-5, 26) vs. 11 Texas (11-4, 44)...Bob Huggins' Mountaineers have taken some defeats but none of them is of the bad variety, and the Mounties' strength of schedule should end up helping their seeding prospects on Selection Sunday. We've placed Texas further back in the queue for now, but it would not surprise us for Rick Barnes' very young Longhorns to move up the seeding ladder and into white uniform territory by March.
SOUTHEAST REGIONAL (Atlanta)
1 Kentucky (16-1, 2) vs. 16 Mississippi Valley State (4-11, 225)/Stony Brook (8-6, 197)...Nothing has transpired in the last two weeks to move Kentucky off of the top line. The Louisville sub-regional at the KFC Yum! Center looks to be a natural fit for Coach Cal's Wildcats. Flip a coin for the SWAC's Big Dance rep; at the moment we project it to be Jerry Rice's alma mater, the Delta Devils of Mississippi Valley State (who scored 29 total points in a first-round game vs. Ben Howland's UCLA a few years ago), but no SWAC team is entering this weekend with anything better than a 4-11 record. Whichever team emerges will surely be involved in one of the 16 vs. 16 play-in games. So might the America East champ, at the moment looking to be a race between Long Island's Stony Brook Seawolves and the Albany Great Danes.
8 Wisconsin (12-5, 17) vs. 9 New Mexico (14-2, 30)...Much like Louisville and a few others, Wisconsin is losing traction with a recent three-game losing streak suggesting it might be hard-pressed to claim an upper-division finish in the Big Ten. Scoring options aside from G Jordan Taylor have been inconsistent, and Taylor himself is being schemed out of the offensive flow by many opponents. The Badgers could sink lower than an 8 seed if they continue to slide. Heading in the other direction appears to be Steve Alford's New Mexico, which has recovered from two early losses and appears to be a top contender in the well-respected Mountain West.
4 Seton Hall (15-2, 21) vs. 13 Iona (13-3, 37)...We're sold on Seton Hall's protected seed credentials after recent dominating wins over West Virginia and UConn in Newark, as well as handy wins over potential banana peels Providence and DePaul. Kevin Willard's Pirates are not outgunned in this year's Big East. It would be a regional tri-state affair if the Hall should hook up with Iona, across the Hudson River and north of the Bronx in New Rochelle. Regional sources believe the Gaels could be one the latest in a string of dangerous Metro-Atlantic Big Dance entries that recently included a Siena side that won first-round games two years running. The addition of Arizona transfer G Momo Jones to an established lineup makes Iona the team to beat in the MAAC.
5 Gonzaga (13-2, 18) vs. 12 BYU (14-4, 27)...After a shaky early start, Gonzaga has stabilized itself quite nicely and scored some very useful non-conference wins over Arizona and Xavier (the latter on the road) that are going to come in quite handy on Selection Sunday. Losses to Illinois and Michigan State certainly don't look bad now, either. BYU figures to be riding the bubble all of the way into March. The new affiliation with the well-regarded WCC doesn't figure to hurt the Cougars' at-large chances, either.
2 Michigan State (15-2, 4) vs. 15 Coastal Carolina (11-4, 145)...Tom Izzo is no stranger to March, and his Spartans are moving into consideration for a spot on the top line with their 15-game win streak since opening with losses vs. North Carolina and Duke. Cliff Ellis could be on the verge of taking his fourth different school to the Dance if he can steer the CC Chanticleers to the Big South title; Ellis earlier took South Alabama, Clemson, and Auburn to the NCAAs, first doing so with the Jaguars way back in 1978-79. The Chants will force foes to take notice after early-season wins over LSU and Clemson.
7 Temple (11-4, 49) vs. 10 Memphis (14-4, 27)...Temple appears to be back on the radar after recovering from a shock home loss vs. Dayton with a win at Rick Majerus' Saint Louis. The Owls' home win last week over Duke is also going to be a gift that keeps on giving for Fran Dunphy's crew, which curiously has been eliminated in the first round the last four years in the Big Dance. Memphis was a major underachiever in the first stage of the season but appears to have stabilized and has time to rehab its prospects and get an even better seed than this one.
3 Missouri (15-1, 9) vs. 14 Nevada (12-3, 81)...Mizzou might warrant a better seed than a 3 at the moment, but the Big XII looks to have plenty of hurdles, and the Tigers failed their first serious loop road test last weekend at Kansas State. Meanwhile, look out for Nevada, which has put together an impressive 9-game win streak (including a win last week at Utah State) to move into the clear favorite's role in the WAC.
6 Georgetown (13-3, 13) vs. 11 Wichita State (13-3, 22)...Sorry, we're just not feeling it right now with Georgetown, which has looked sluggish on too many occasions in recent weeks and let Cincinnati come back and steal a win on Monday night at Verizon Center. For the moment we have the Hoyas out of protected seed territory. Wichita, however, continues to look good for an at-large spot as the Missouri Valley appears to be a good bet to become a multi-bid league one again (Creighton looking solid as well).
SOUTHWEST REGIONAL (St. Louis)
1 North Carolina (15-2, 6) vs. 16 Norfolk State (12-5, 123)/Lamar (11-5, 79)...With Ohio State slipping up at Illinois this week, North Carolina appears to be in position to temporarily replace the Buckeyes on the top line. Regardless, the Heels likely get sent to nearby Greensboro for sub-regional action (where UNC and Duke fans will likely cheer loudly for foes of the other school's teams in what could make for an unexpected lively setting at the Coliseum). The Heels could face the winner of one of the 16 vs. 16 play-in games; for this one, we project Bob Dandridge's alma mater Norfolk State Spartans from the MEAC, and Pat Knight's Lamar Cardinals from the Southland.
8 Purdue (13-4, 28) vs. 9 Creighton (14-2, 20)...Robbie Hummel has returned this season for Purdue, and we think the Boilermakers are in good shape to get to the Dance, although we don't see them as the same threat we have the past few seasons. Creighton, led by unstoppable PF Doug McDermott (one of the nation's leading scorers), looks a good bet along with Wichita to make the Valley a multi-bid league once again this season.
4 Connecticut (13-3, 32) vs. 13 Cleveland State (14-3, 70)...UConn has taken a few hits that might slide it down a seeding line or two, but we still have the Huskies in protected seed territory. Remember, Jim Calhoun's last team finished Big East play at 9-9 but went on to win the national title. As for Cleveland State, it looks the most likely to survive the Horizon League wars, although we would never want to dismiss Brad Stevens' Butler, and Detroit (which beat the Bulldogs last week) also looks menacing.
5 Vanderbilt (14-4, 41) vs. 12 Xavier (11-5, 68)...We're assuming that "X" is going to make a rally and get itself on the safe side of the cut line; Wednesday's romp past Duquesne, on the heels of a win at Fordham, suggests that the Musketeers are turning around their fortunes that went sour in the aftermath of the brawl vs. Cincinnati, when X lost five of its next six. This would be a rematch, as before the Bearcat brawl, the Musketeers were good enough to win at Vandy in December. But the Commodores have caught fire since and might be the hottest non-Kentucky side in the SEC at the moment.
2 Ohio State (15-3, 5) vs. 15 College of Charleston (11-4, 99)...Ohio State is eligible for the hometown Columbus sub-regional because the games will be played at Nationwide Arena, home of the NHL Blue Jackets, and not the Buckeyes' normal Value City Arena. Although for the moment we don't have OSU as a number one seed after the Bucks slipped at Illinois on Tuesday night. Bobby Cremins' College of Charleston remains our pick in the Southern Conference, although Davidson is showing very good early foot in the league race.
7 San Diego State (14-2, 47) vs. 10 Ohio (13-3, 59)...Steve Fisher's San Diego State might not be equipped to get as far as last season's Aztec squad that reached the Sweet 16, but has nonetheless proven a somewhat pleasant surprise in the first half of the season and owns a couple of non-conference wins over Long Beach and Cal that will help its at-large credentials. John Groce's Ohio U could be a very dangerous sub-regional draw; remember, the Bobcats KO'd favored Georgetown at this stage two years ago.
3 Kansas (13-3, 10) vs. 14 Middle Tennessee State (15-2, 43)...Kansas appears to be really catching stride and could be destined for a better seed than a three, although we suspect the Jayhawks are a good bet to be sent to the Omaha sub-regional regardless. Meanwhile, Kermit Davis' potent Middle Tennessee (with a handful of eye-opening non-conference wins) looks the most likely to emerge from the Sun Belt.
6 Marquette (13-4, 19) vs. 11 Saint Mary's (15-2, 16)...Marquette has stumbled at a few hurdles in the first half of the season, but those slips only likely keep the Golden Eagles out of protected seed territory. They look solid to make the make the Big Dance field once again. We're thinking Randy Bennett's Saint Mary's will return to the Dance after missing a year ago and to make the WCC a possible three-bid league (with Gonzaga and BYU) in March.
WEST REGIONAL (Phoenix)
1 Baylor (16-0, 8) vs. 16 Weber State (12-3, 117)...Nothing has changed over the past two weeks to cause us to alter this potential first-round matchup. Baylor continues to stay unbeaten in the tough Big XII, while Weber State looks to be emerging from a jumbled Big Sky field.
8 Mississippi State (13-3, 51) vs. 9 Cincinnati (13-4, 60)...Just when we thought Cincy might go into a tailspin after last Saturday's loss at St. John's, the Bearcats recovered to win at Georgetown on Monday. After already dealing with adversity in the aftermath of the Xavier brawl, Cincy appears unlikely to fall off the Big Dance radar anytime soon. MSU is also positioned nicely for a return to the Dance as one of several likely SEC entries.
4 Virginia (14-1, 24) vs. 13 Southern Miss (15-3, 36)/Florida State (10-6, 62)...We continue to be impressed with Virginia, which prior to Thursday's game at Duke had not lost a game on the U.S. mainland (only defeat in the Virgin Islands vs. TCU in November). The second at-large play-in game could feature Larry Eustachy's Southern Miss, following in the footsteps of another C-USA play-in team from last year, UAB, and perhaps Florida State, which got a leg up on Virginia Tech (and perennial Big Dance bridesmaid Seth Greenberg) for this spot with a 63-59 win over the Hokies earlier in the week.
5 Illinois (15-3, 29) vs. 12 Long Beach State (10-6, 39)...Any doubts about the Illini's Big Dance credentials were surely erased in its Tuesday night win vs. Ohio State. Bruce Weber's team looks almost certain to make the Dance again and suddenly appears a threat for a protected seed. Dan Monsen's Long Beach State could be a very dangerous draw for some team, considering how the 49ers took on all comers in pre-league play, beating Pitt and Xavier and coming close at Kansas and North Carolina.
2 Indiana (15-1, 3) vs. 15 Oral Roberts (14-4, 46)...We were very tempted to put Indiana on the top line this week, but for the moment keep the Hoosiers at a 2. Wins over Kentucky and Ohio State have removed all doubts about Tom Crean's team being a potential serious Final Four contender. As usual, ORU will be expecting a miracle in March, and at the moment looks the best bet to emerge over South Dakota State and Oakland in the Summit.
7 Saint Louis (13-4, 34) vs. 10 Cal (13-4, 23)...Saint Louis should get some mileage from the 76 Classic win at Anaheim over Thanksgiving week, but Rick Majerus had better be careful, as his Billikens have lost three times over the past two weeks, failing to beat New Mexico, Dayton, or Temple. Several A-10 teams have dropped from Big Dance radar in recent seasons, although we still think the Bills should make it under the cut line with room to spare. We're not quite as sure about Cal, which took some potentially damaging non-conference beatings vs. Missouri and at UNLV, but still looks likely to get one of the few bids for the Pac-12 this term.
3 UNLV (16-2, 11) vs. 14 George Mason (12-4, 109)...With what looks like the best UNLV team since the Tarkanian era, new HC Dave Rice has the Runnin' Rebels on course for a protected seed. Non-conference wins over North Carolina, Illinois, and Cal are looking pretty good, and UNLV could cause matchup problems for several foes with its size and athleticism on the wings. Meanwhile, first-year HC Paul Hewitt seems to finally have George Mason paddling in the right direction as the ascending Patriots emerge as the team to beat in the Colonial.
6 Alabama (13-3, 15) vs. 11 Dayton (12-5, 40)...This would be another regular-season rematch in a game won by the Flyers at UD Arena, a result that could really help Dayton's at-large credentials on Selection Sunday. As for ‘Bama, it seems to have stabilized after a couple of rough outings (including the Dayton loss) in December and could move toward protected seed territory if it continues its recent form.
Last four in: Colorado, Saint Joseph's, Florida State, Southern Miss.
Last four out: Virginia Tech, Arizona, LSU, Northern Iowa.
Next four out: Northwestern, La Salle, Iowa State, Wyoming.