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NCAA Tournament Field Projections and Predictions, Jan. 29
by - 1/29/2013

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Duke Blue Devils forward Mason Plumlee

What the hell happened to January?

Maybe I am just blacking this month out of memory banks because for the last two weeks I’ve been in what feels like some Eli Roth-concocted torture chamber with my college basketball picks. But I feel like it was just yesterday that I was shaking off that New Year’s hangover and lying to my wife about why her Christmas present was late (because I ordered it Christmas Day, honey. Sorry.).

But, alas, it is nearly February. And things are now getting Serious in college basketball. February is really the separation month as teams fight their way through the backyard brawl that is conference play. February is also the month that most of the All-Of-A-Sudden Experts (see: mainstream media bobbleheads) start actually paying attention to the sport. So that means that these upcoming games will take on increased importance when it comes to making NCAA Tournament predictions and projections.

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This is a wide-open college hoops season. There is no clear-cut National Championship favorite. And the field fighting for the final NCAA Tournament berths seems to be growing by the day rather than contracting. It should be a wild month as we start to sort out who’s who and what’s what across the college hoops landscape.

And while we continue to sort these things out, here are my updated NCAA Tournament predictions and projections:

Atlantic-10 (Projected Teams: 4)
In:Butler*
Bubble: Temple*, VCU*, LaSalle, St. Louis*
Skinny: I actually have to say that I’m kind of disappointed with the Atlantic 10 this year. I was expecting some second-tier teams, like Dayton, St. Joseph’s or Massachusetts, to step up and secure a fifth bid for this league. But to this point there are only four solid bids from this very deep, very difficult league. There are some sleeper teams, like LaSalle and Charlotte, which could put themselves in the mix with a serious February run.

ACC (Projected Teams: 5)
In: N.C. State*, Duke*, North Carolina*, Miami*
Bubble: Maryland, Virginia*, Florida State
Skinny: The ACC is presently the fourth-rated conference in the country, and I think even that might be a stretch. I have been saying for years that this league is amazingly overrated because it is so top-heavy. And this year is no exception. Right now Florida State is an NIT team. But I’m not ready to write them off just yet. Also, North Carolina is a team that needs to be careful. They are 13-6 right now. But they aren’t very good, and they don’t have much of a margin for error. This team didn’t beat anyone in the nonconference, and if they finish the regular season 18-13 it might be tough to make an argument that they have a sound enough resume.

Big 12 (Projected Teams: 6)
In: Kansas*, Kansas State*, Baylor*
Bubble: Oklahoma*, Iowa State*, Oklahoma State*
Skinny:I think the Big 12 has been the second-best conference in college basketball, behind the Big East, over the past decade. So for the Big 12 to be rated No. 6 right now is kind of embarrassing. That said, the bottom of this league (TCU and Texas Tech) is dragging down the rest of the league, and I still think there are a half-dozen teams that will find their way to The Dance. However, all three of the teams on the bubble from this league still have a lot of work to do. And whomever can knock off Kansas – and the Jayhawks shouldn’t go unbeaten in league play this year – will essentially punch their ticket.

Big East (Projected Teams:9)
In: Syracuse*, Louisville*, Pittsburgh*, Marquette*, Georgetown*, Notre Dame*, Cincinnati*
Bubble:St. John’s, Connecticut*, Villanova*
Skinny: Right now the lowest-rated team in the Big East is DePaul at No. 133, and 12 of the 15 teams in the league are rated in the Top 100. Roll your eyes all you want, but this league is still far and away better than anything else in the nation, and they definitely deserve this many bids. Villanova is a shocker to me. But they notched two wins over Top 5 teams (Louisville and Syracuse) last week and have the No 6 toughest schedule in the sport. This team still has a lot of work to do and needs to avoid a free fall. But they have the inside track at a bid. And you are high if you don’t think that Connecticut – currently No. 10 in the Big East – is better than the No. 4 or No. 5 team in every league in the nation.

Big Ten (Projected Teams: 7)
In:Indiana*, Michigan*, Michigan State*
Bubble:Ohio State*, Wisconsin*, Minnesota*, Illinois*, Iowa
Skinny:The Big Ten is presently the No. 1-rated league in the country. But just like the Big 12 is being pulled down by some atrocious teams at the bottom of the league, the Big Ten is being propped up by two or three teams at the top. There isn’t much to argue about in the Big Ten in terms of who is going to the NCAA Tournament and who isn’t. But Iowa is the X-Factor, and they could be good enough to knock off Minnesota or Illinois. If they get to 20 wins and can get a ‘W’ in the conference tournament they are going to be one of the last teams in or out of The Big Dance.

Conference USA (Projected Teams: 1)
In:None
Bubble:Southern Mississippi, Memphis*
Skinny:Memphis is racking up wins in one of the worst leagues around. But they aren’t guaranteed anything yet because their best nonconference wins have been over Ohio and Harvard, both at home. Southern Miss is in virtually the same situation with a gaudy record being build up against feeble competition. Southern Miss made the tournament last year, but they did so on the back of a significantly stronger nonconference resume. This team will need to get to 27 or 28 wins before Selection Sunday in order to have a chance at an at-large bid, and even then I think it would be a long shot. 

Missouri Valley (Projected Teams: 2)
In:Creighton*, Wichita State*
Bubble:Indiana State
Skinny:The Shockers and Blue Jays could fall asleep for a month and still make the NCAA Tournament. But, beyond that, this is a quality league that may end up with just two teams dancing. Indiana State is an interesting team, though. They have overtime wins over Mississippi and Miami, two teams that are in the Top 25 and surging. If Indiana State can steal a win against one of the top Valley teams and then just avoid getting upset by the MVC bottom feeders, then they will be in a real nice position heading into Arch Madness.

Mountain West (Projected Teams: 4)
In: UNLV*, San Diego State*, Colorado State*, New Mexico*
Bubble:Wyoming, Boise State
Skinny:Anyone that has read anything that I’ve written over the past decade knows that I have been screaming that the Mountain West is the most underrated league in the country year in and year out. They are finally getting some love, and right now, statistically, The Mountain is rated as the No. 3 league in the country. Unfortunately for them, two teams that were off to sizzling starts – Boise State and Wyoming – have been slipping. Both still have time to make a move in league play. But projecting ahead I think both end up among the favorites of the second-tier March tournaments.

Pac-12 (Projected Teams: 4)
In:Arizona*, UCLA*, Oregon*
Bubble:Colorado*, Arizona State
Skinny: Finally, West Coast basketball is getting respect again. It was a joke that only two teams from this league make the NCAA Tournament last year, and they should at least double that total this year. This league is rated higher than the Big 12 and SEC, and they should at least be able to match their bid counts. Washington wasn’t good enough in the nonconference to garner any attention on the bubble, but, like FSU in the ACC, I won’t be stunned if they make a league run. Arizona State is another team to watch. They played a pathetic nonconference schedule, and their blowout home loss to DePaul is a noose around their neck. But, other than that, the only teams that have beaten them are Creighton, Oregon and Arizona – all Top 15 teams. They are a team to keep an eye on over the next month.

SEC (Projected Teams: 4)
In: Florida*, Missouri*
Bubble:Kentucky*, Mississippi*
Skinny: I think what is most disappointing about the SEC isn’t the overall lack of talent (seriously, the bottom six teams in this league are pathetic). What is most disappointing is the lack of middle-tier teams on the bubble from this league. I would love to throw Alabama or Arkansas on the bubble, but neither of them did a thing in November or December. They both need to avoid upsets in league play, but that is going to be nearly impossible. The SEC is presently the No. 7-rated league in the country – barely ahead of the Atlantic 10 and Missouri Valley – and I think that this conference will max out at four bids. Also, Ole Miss is in right now. But they played the No. 329 nonconference schedule in the nation, and they are lacking any nonconference wins. This team needs to beat either Kentucky or Florida this week, or sweep Missouri (they play again on Feb. 9) to really be able to make a case.

WCC (Projected Teams: 2)
In: Gonzaga*
Bubble: BYU*, St. Mary’s
Skinny: Gonzaga is a no-brainer. In my opinion, BYU and St. Mary’s are clearly among the best 70 teams in the nation. But St. Mary’s has been snubbed in the recent past, and they can’t let up in conference play. And I think that St. Mary’s and/or BYU need to steal a win from the Bulldogs in order to feel really secure about at-large status. Especially St. Mary’s. Neither team was able to earn a marquee nonconference win, and that could come back to haunt them. But, again, I think that both of them will get a win over Gonzaga, and I think they will do enough to barely sneak into the field. However, right now I have St. Mary’s as the last team projected out of the field.

Automatic Bid Leagues (Projected Teams: 20):
America East – Stony Brook
Atlantic Sun – Florida-Gulf Coast
Big Sky – Montana
Big South – Charleston Southern
Big West – Long Beach State
Colonial – Northeastern
Horizon – Valparaiso
Ivy League – Harvard
Metro – Niagara
Mid-American – Ohio
MEAC – N.C. Central
Northeast – Robert Morris
Ohio Valley – Belmont
Patriot League – Lehigh
Southern – Davidson
Southland – Stephen F. Austin
SWAC – Southern
Summit – North Dakota State
Sun Belt – Middle Tennessee State
WAC – New Mexico State

*Denotes team projected for the NCAA Tournament.

Robert Ferringo is one of the premier college basketball handicappers in the country right now. He has banked $8,400 in profit for his clients with his sides and totals since Nov. 11 and he is working on his fifth consecutive winning season, the top streak in the country. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.

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