Duke earns top spot in our first 68-team bracket

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Defending champion Duke sits atop our first 68-team NCAA Tournament bracket for 2011. The other teams on the top line: Purdue, Kentucky, and Michigan State.  With the Wildcats moving up (from our April look-ahead), Kansas now headlines a strong group of No. 2-seeds that include Ohio State, Texas, and Villanova.

The first real question, however, is … which teams face off in the new Opening Round (considered the First Four).  These four games will be played in Dayton, with winners moving into the traditional 64-team bracket design.  The last four at-large teams are paired, along with teams seeded 65-68 on the S-curve.  Our initial projection looks like this … St. John’s vs. NC State | St. Louis vs. Miami-FL | Lehigh vs. Vermont | Jackson State vs. SF AustinNote: I originally projected Northwestern as one of the final four teams “in” but Kevin Coble has since decided not to return to the Wildcats for the 2010-2011 season.

As I have time, I’ll be working on a graphic to showcase these pairings.  For now, these teams are listed in the bracket with a “/” in between; the winner goes on the seed line indicated.  The St. John’s-NC State winner becomes a 12-seed in the East, playing Missouri in Tampa.  The St.Louis-Miami winner gets a 12-seed opposite national runner-up Butler (game in Tucson, Southeast Region).  The other winners earn 16-seeds in the Southwest and West.

Enough talk for now.  Several teams moved one seed line to accommodate bracketing issues.  BYU always creates some chaos because the Cougars cannot be placed in Friday-Sunday sites.  Have a different opinion?  Send a rebound.  The breakdown by conference and other teams considered are listed below the bracket.

68-TEAM BRACKET PROJECTION for 2011

EAST — Newark Southwest — San Antonio
Charlotte Chicago
1) DUKE 1) PURDUE
16) MORGAN STATE 16) JACKSON ST/SF AUSTIN
8) Wisconsin 8) Texas A&M
9) WICHITA STATE 9) Richmond
Tampa Charlotte
5) Missouri 5) Tennessee
12) St. John’s/NC State 12) Louisville
4) Florida 4) North Carolina
13) OLD DOMINION 13) MURRAY STATE
Denver Tampa
6) XAVIER 6) Georgetown
11) Arizona 11) Mississippi State
3) Kansas State 3) MEMPHIS
14) WEBER STATE 14) CHARLESTON
Washington, DC Tulsa
7) Illinois 7) SAN DIEGO ST
10) Virginia Tech 10) Minnesota
2) VILLANOVA 2) Texas
15) E. TENNESSEE ST. 15) HARVARD
SOUTHEAST — New Orleans WEST– Anaheim
Cleveland Chicago
1) KENTUCKY 1) Michigan State
16) WINTHROP 16) LEHIGH/VERMONT
8) Connecticut 8) Temple
9) Florida State 9) Georgia Tech
Tucson Denver
5) BUTLER 5) WASHINGTON
12) St.Louis/Miami-FL 12) UTAH STATE
4) Baylor 4) Syracuse
13) OHIO 13) OAKLAND
Washington, DC Tucson
6) Wake Forest 6) GONZAGA
11) New Mexico 11) BYU
3) Pittsburgh 3) West Virginia
14) FAIRFIELD 14) PACIFIC
Cleveland Tulsa
7) California 7) Maryland
10) Mississippi 10) Georgia
2) Ohio State 2) KANSAS
15) ROBERT MORRIS 15) NORTH TEXAS

NOTES on the BRACKET: Duke is the No. 1 overall seed in this projection, followed by Purdue, Kentucky, and Michigan State.  Next in line (No. 2 seeds): Kansas, Ohio State, Texas, Villanova

Last Five teams in (at large): Arizona, St. John’s, Miami-FL, St. Louis, NC State

First Five teams out (at large): Washington State, Dayton, VCU, UCLA, Northwestern

Also considered (not listed in any order): UNLV, Northern Iowa, Rhode Island, Cincinnati, Cleveland State, Creighton, South Florida, George Mason, Texas Tech, Nevada, Arizona State, UTEP, UAB, Virginia, Oregon

Conference Breakdown: ACC (8), Big East (8), Big  Ten (7), SEC (6), Big 12 (6), Atlantic 10 (4), Pac-10 (3), Mountain West (3)

For more, follow my blog at Bracketville.  I’m also on Twitter at BracketguyDave.