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Bracket Bits: A Holiday look at the NCAA picture

BRACKET BITS

Fresh off a great Christmas with the family.  Hope you had a wonderful day, too.  As the slate of NCAA hoops games is light for the next few days, time for a quick glance at the NCAA picture – particularly some at-large scenarios.  It’s broken down by conference.  If you don’t see a conference listed, assume we expect a single-bid as of this post (Dec. 26, 2009).  Let’s get started …

Atlantic 10 – Dayton is still the favorite; so consider the Flyers an NCAA team.  Temple has put together a solid non-conference profile, followed by Richmond.  Teams in the hunt include: Xavier, Rhode Island, and Charlotte.  Of those, XU, R. Island and Charlotte have the most work to do in-conference.  Our guess is at least three A-10 teams make the field, most likely four.

Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) – Despite three early losses (all to Top 5 teams), North Carolina remains our favorite.  Duke, Clemson, and Florida State are solid NCAA teams at this point.  Others in the at-large picture: Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Miami-FL.  Maryland, Boston College and NC State all face a heavier workload.

Big East – Syracuse might have to be considered the favorite, although West Virginia and Villanova are right behind.  Other solid NCAA teams at this point: Georgetown and Connecticut.  In the next tier: Cincinnati and St. John’s have had some good early moments, but certainly aren’t locks.  Teams needing a conference-heavy profile include: Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Seton Hall.

Big 12 – Kansas and Texas are two of the nation’s best.  Kansas State is next up and the Wildcats are certainly NCAA worthy.  After these three, there’s a bit of a dropoff.  Texas Tech has a gaudy record, but mostly at home, so questions remain.  The Big 12 NCAA picture also includes: Missouri, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and Baylor.  Oklahoma would be on the fringe; the Sooners will need a stellar showing in the league.

Big 10 – Michigan State and Purdue are locks. Ohio State would be considered a lock, but questions remain after the loss of Evan Turner.  The good news he should return in time to play the Big 10 Tournament.  The rest of the Big 10 is a bit of a mosh-pit.  Wisconsin and Northwestern are the leading contenders from this group, with Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan a step behind.  The Wolverines, in particular, face a long up-hill battle.

Pac 10 – A favorite?  Could be hard to find one.  We’ll stick with Washington, followed by California.  This could be a two-to-four bid league depending on how the conference shapes up.  It’s up to Washington State and USC (after a mid-December run).  As for the rest?  Arizona State perhaps, but there’s a lot of work ahead.

Southeastern Conference (SEC) – Kentucky is clearly the favorite and a national power.  Other NCAA teams at this point?  Tennessee, Mississippi and Florida (even with a recent slide).  Those we expect to be in the NCAA hunt … Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Alabama.  Any other at-large candidates will have to surprise within the league.

Conference USA – UTEP and UAB have perhaps overtaken Tulsa as league favorite; all three should be in the hunt for NCAA consideration along with Memphis.  Could easily place two or three teams in the Field if things break right.

Colonial – William & Mary has been a pleasant surprise, but don’t sleep on Virginia Commonwealth.  At this point, both teams would be in the at-large pool.  Old Dominion might also generate some conversation, but the Monarchs’ resume isn’t as strong.

Horizon – Given the preseason hype, Butler will remain in at-large consideration.  Despite a less-than-ideal December, the Bulldogs haven’t wasted every opportunity.  At the same time, their leash is much shorter now and it’s important they win the regular-season Horizon crown.

Missouri Valley – Northern Iowa is favored, but it could be a one-bid league again.  Others who could put themselves in the at-large hunt: Wichita State and Missouri State.  They – and anyone else – will need a strong run within the MVC.

Mountain West – New Mexico might be the top at-large candidate, but the Lobos are closely followed by UNLV and BYU.  All three could land spots in the NCAA’s, with BYU needing to do the heaviest lifting.  Once a favorite, San Diego State is now an at-large long shot without a strong league showing.

West Coast – Gonzaga certainly looks like an NCAA team most of the time.  At the same time, the Zags’ best wins (Cincinnati and Wisconsin in Maui) are not necessarily lock-makers.  Odds remain in their favor.  St. Mary’s has an outside shot, but will need to keep pace in the WCC and at least split games with the ‘Zags.

Our final question is this … Could Cornell (Ivy League) be considered for an at-large bid?  Cornell has wins at Alabama and St. Johns, with their only losses to Seton Hall and at Syracuse.  It might not be enough, but several other teams would like to have that profile right now. 

As always, conference play will sort out much of the speculation.  This picture will likely change several times.  That’s the great part about college hoops.  Enjoy the Holidays!  Our next bracket projection is Monday, January 4.

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