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NCAA Tournament Bracket Projections - March 2, 2009

If you did not realize yesterday, we have entered March and are less than two weeks (and counting) from Selection Sunday. Out of the many years I have done this exercise, this has been the toughest. Why? There is a higher number of teams among the Last Four In and the Last Eight Out who have signature wins. Simply look at some of the teams that our top 4 overall seeds have lost to (v. Georgetown, @ Maryland, @ Providence, @ Michigan) and you will begin to understand that the Tournament Selection Committee already has with 13 days of basketball yet to played.

At the top, I decided to elevate Duke based on two crucial road wins against teams that we have in the field. Though the officials made as many as three errors in the final four minutes (all favoring Duke) against Virginia Tech, this is an improved team with Elliott Williams as a starter. Louisville, who continues to rack up quality wins, inches closer to the #1 line, while Oklahoma is hurting badly in the style points department.

In the next two weeks, there will be heavy movement between the 4th and 9th seed lines, as many of these teams will face each other in the middle and latter stages of their conference tournaments. Meanwhile, nothing is shored up on the bubble. In a week that expected to see shrinkage in the number of teams vying for spots, we saw more teams join the fray. Though not in the field, Michigan, Providence, Oklahoma State and Washington State earned a closer look with some unexpected wins taking shape.

Normally, we look at the Last Four In. This time, let’s look at the Last Seven In, because that is when the headache of choosing these evenly matched teams begun.

* My 28th at-large bid, Virginia Tech, won a shocker at Littlejohn, and nearly overcame a horrible first 10 minutes against Duke to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. While only 7-7 and with bad losses against Seton Hall and Georgia, Tech has the look and feel of a tournament team, with road wins against Wake Forest and Clemson.

* My 29th at-large bid, Georgetown, added another quality win on a floor other than their own by defeating Villanova. This gave them a real chance at finishing 8-10 in the Big East, which would likely gain them the #11 seed in the Big East Tournament. Two wins, which is very possible, and they are in with no questions asked.

* My 30th at-large bid, Maryland, willed themselves to victory against NC State in a game they badly needed and that is the profile of a tournament team. Additionally, the Terrapins have elevated their play and now hold signature victories over two teams among my top 7 overall seeds. One point of information: Maryland’s inclusion meant that Miami would not be in the field as the ACC will not include a 9th team.

* My 31st at-large bid, Florida, is in a world of hurt. They have a weak SOS and their best win was against Washington on a neutral court in November. Two wins this week (see assumptions) and they have a puncher’s chance at the NCAA Tournament.

* My 32nd at-large bid, Notre Dame, is playing better despite not achieving results. If they defeat Villanova, then that gives them wins v. Louisville, Villanova, Texas (N), Georgetown, and @ Providence. All things considered, Mike Brey should consider investing in a tie. Seriously.

* My 33rd at-large bid, Arizona, disappointing this weekend in the Pacific Northwest. In a game that would have been an ornament on their resume, Arizona blew a double-digit second-half lead at Washington. That said, Arizona can keep its streak of tournament bids going, but they must first sweep Cal and Stanford. Good luck.

* My final at-large bid is Kansas State. Kansas State? If they can defeat Oklahoma State in Stillwater and do not slip up versus Colorado, they are certainly in, as that would give them a 10-6 clip with a split against Missouri and road wins against the #2-4 teams in the Big XII South.

As I said, this was the toughest Last Four Out decision that I have to make so far this season. As a result of unanticipated losses on Saturday and concern about how they will play in their remaining games, I omitted Kentucky and South Carolina, who both had little margin for error. As mentioned, not much separates those Last 7 In and the Last 9 Out (the 9th is Washington State).

Who Slid One Seed Line?
West Virginia, Penn State, Ohio State, Maryland

Who Benefited by One Seed Line?
Texas, Creighton, BYU, Florida

Key Assumptions This Week
* UConn wins at Pitt
* UNC defeats Duke
* Minnesota wins versus Michigan
* Virginia Tech splits against UNC (home) and Florida State (away)
* Georgetown sweeps St. John’s (away) and DePaul (home – does it matter?)
* Florida takes out Mississippi State in Starkville and Kentucky at home
* Notre Dame versus Villanova and St. John’s
* Arizona pulls out a Bay Area team sweep in Tucson
* Kansas State wins at least one of two at Oklahoma State and versus Colorado
* Maryland achieves a split versus Wake Forest and at Virginia

Next Update: Friday, March 6 (results ending Thursday, March 5)

If you have any questions, comments, or just wish to send a shout, shoot me a line at phashemi@gmail.com.

The Seedings
1: UConn (Big East), North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Duke (ACC)
2: Louisville, Oklahoma (Big XII), Michigan State (Big Ten), Wake Forest
3: Kansas, Villanova, Clemson, Memphis (C-USA)
4: Marquette, Washington (PAC 10), Xavier (A-10), Illinois
5: Florida State, Missouri, Purdue, Arizona State
6: Butler (Horizon), Syracuse, UCLA, Gonzaga (WCC)
7: California, Boston College, LSU (SEC), Texas
8: Wisconsin, Utah, West Virginia, Tennessee
9: Dayton, Minnesota, Creighton (MVC), BYU
10: Virginia Tech, Penn State, Davidson (Southern), Ohio State
11: Georgetown, Florida, Siena (Metro Atlantic), Notre Dame
12: UNLV (MWC), Maryland, Arizona, Kansas State
13: Utah State (WAC), Vermont (America East), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), VCU (CAA)
14: North Dakota State (Summit), Buffalo (MAC), American (Patriot), Stephen F. Austin (Southland)
15: Cornell (Ivy), Weber State (Big Sky), VMI (Big South), Belmont (Atlantic Sun)
16: Robert Morris (Northeast), Tennessee-Martin (Ohio Valley), Morgan State (MEAC), Long Beach State (Big West), Alabama State (SWAC)

IN: Virginia Tech, Georgetown, Kansas State
OUT: Kentucky, Miami-FL, South Carolina

Last Four In: Florida, Notre Dame, Arizona, Kansas State
Last Four Out: Miami, Kentucky, South Carolina, Michigan
Next Four Out: Cincinnati, Providence, Oklahoma State, St. Mary’s

Seeding Summary (Multi-Bid Conferences Only in Order of Percentage)
ACC: 8/12
Big Ten: 7/11
Big East: 9/16
Pac-10: 5/10
Big XII: 5/12
Mountain West: 3/9
SEC: 3/12
A-10: 2/14

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