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NCAA Tournament Projections: 'Bracket Now' Commentary for December 21st, 2008

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The latest action around the country saw yet another week of college basketball play where the National powers have separated themselves from the rest of the competition. Although there are about a dozen legitimate title contenders, I see just a handful of teams who have shown they belong with a top seed.

Starting at the top with North Carolina, has there been a more dominant team in college basketball in the last twenty years? UConn travelled west in a return game of sorts with the pesky Gonzaga Bulldogs who seemingly had the game won, but faltered down the stretch giving way in overtime to the battle tested Huskies. While other teams have their conference schedules to play for seeding, Gonzaga plays for their seeding in November and December, and they may have let the chance for that coveted number one seed slip through their fingers. Pittsburgh went on the road and showed their experience as they held off Florida State who seems to always play highly ranked teams well at home. Oklahoma may not be the most dominant number one seed that we’ve seen but Blake Griffin gives them toughness and swagger that has kept them perfect thus far.

Duke bounced back from that loss at Michigan and throttled Xavier at the Meadowlands. It seems as if the Blue Devils are waiting for someone to slip up so that they can nab that top seed. Texas and Notre Dame aren’t the best choices for a two seed, however, Notre Dame has beaten the Longhorns and they are the only team who has given the Tar Heels a real contest thus far. Texas’ loss in Houston against Michigan State may have some people wondering how they can still be seeded so highly. It’s a combination of a drop off with the next tier of schools as well as the brutal schedule that Texas has played so far which includes wins over UCLA and Villanova.

Wake Forest is a team who is just waiting to break out when ACC play begins. They are undefeated with a key win coming against Baylor on a neutral court. Their 218 SOS (Strength of Schedule) is what is holding them back so far. Georgetown, fresh off their win against Memphis last week, slipped by Mt. St. Mary’s and continues to be somewhat of a surprise this year. This could mark the first year in which a conference could place 9 teams in the tournament. Such a situation has occurred this week as you see the possibility of Georgetown and Louisville meeting in the Sweet 16.

Michigan State was probably the biggest winner of the weekend as a loss at Texas may have relegated them to a six seed, however, that “road” win gave them huge style points and they were rewarded with a four seed down in Miami, FL against Utah State. Purdue continued the banner day for the Big Ten as they jumped all over Davidson from the beginning and never looked back. Arizona State and Baylor are my two X factors in this bracket. The Sun Devils could be rewarded handsomely if they can make it out of Portland and into the Sweet 16 in Glendale, AZ.

In what many thought would be an NIT team, the Michigan Wolverines continued their winning ways and really have two of the best wins in the field thus far. After beating UCLA in New York, they were brought back to reality by Duke, only to return the favor some ten days later in Ann Arbor. Staying with the Big Ten, because they had a big week, Minnesota pulled a nice upset of the Louisville Cardinals and both are looking at seven seeds this week.

It has been a rough start for the SEC. The quality of the teams is just not there. Tennessee was ripped by Temple last week, but then bounced back to beat Marquette, or the highest seed for the SEC may have been a six. Tennessee has a five seed for now. Only Florida and Kentucky were the other two teams to qualify for the tourney this week and both would most likely be underdogs in their first round matchups against St. Mary’s and Villanova respectably. LSU was considered a bubble team but they lost to Texas A&M and have played absolutely no one else of note thus far.

As for the Cinderella seeds, I love the mid-major first round matchup of Davidson and Creighton. The Missouri Valley Conference may be down a bit compared to previous years. Illinois State is undefeated but their SOS is extremely weak and I cannot justify two bids at this point. The matchup of Syracuse and UNLV has upset written all over it. Syracuse showed their vulnerability losing at home against Cleveland State, but bounced back nicely to defeat Memphis over the weekend. Siena, last years’ first round darling draws an Ohio State team who just wins, but may be without David Lighty for 12 weeks (potential medical redshirt).

Finally, Butler, Western Kentucky, and George Mason are three teams to not be taken lightly early in the NCAA Tournament. Butler is turning into a system program where they just keep reloading. Western Kentucky has already beaten Louisville, and George Mason always has some magic come March. The only other low seeded dark horse to keep an eye on would be VMI who beat Kentucky to open the year and could come up and bite a favorite looking ahead to a second round matchup.


Karl Gustafson Staff Writer & 2009 NCAA Tournament Projections
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