Syracuse headlines our first NCAA tourney projection of 2012

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source: AP

Welcome to 2012:  Time to renew our Countdown to Selection Sunday.  Today begins our weekly journey toward the Field of 68 and March Madness.

Conference play will help separate the pretenders and contenders.  Right now, the difference between seed lines and even our final IN and OUT selections is minimal – splitting hairs, really.  What we do have is a starting point.  Several teams in the current bracket will likely play their way out.  Others will move up and in.  Everything is fluid.

Today’s No. 1 seeds are Syracuse (East), Kentucky (South), North Carolina (Midwest), and Ohio State (West).  We can argue the order, but no one will be surprised to see those four at the top of a regional in March.  Duke and Baylor are next in line.  Several others could push their way into contention.  We’ll have to see how it plays out over the next month.

The Big Ten has nine teams in this bracket, although seven or eight are more realistic in March.  While the strength of the conference (Big Ten is No. 1 in the RPI) will help, there are too many variables to think 9 of 12 teams will end up in the field.  Of course, that all depends on what happens elsewhere.  Will we have a surprise team in the Big 12, ACC or SEC claim an extra spot or two.  There will also be upsets in conference tournaments.  Leagues to watch for extra bids include the Missouri Valley, Atlantic 10, Conference USA, and the West Coast.

Thanks for your interest and let’s enjoy our ride to Selection Sunday.

NEW BRACKET PROJECTION  |  Monday, Jan. 2

Teams in CAPS represent the projected AUTOMATIC bid. Exceptions are made for teams that use an abbreviation (UTEP, BYU, etc). Records are for games against Division I teams only.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • St. Joseph’s (10-4) vs. LSU (10-3) | Midwest Region
  • Northwestern (11-3) vs. Temple (9-3) | West Region
  • NORKFOLK STATE (9-4) vs. COASTAL CAROLINA (6-3) | South Region
  • MAINE (5-5) vs. MISSISSIPPI VALLEY ST (1-11) | East Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EASTBoston SOUTHAtlanta
Pittsburgh Louisville
1) SYRACUSE (15-0) 1) KENTUCKY (13-1)
16) MAINE / MISS VALLEY ST 16) CO. CAROLINA / NORFOLK ST
8) XAVIER (9-4) 8) San Diego State (11-2)
9) STANFORD (12-2) 9) Wichita State (9-3)
Nashville Portland
5) MURRAY STATE (11-0) 5) Kansas State (11-1)
12) NC State (10-4) 12) Minnesota (12-3)
4) Mississippi State (13-2) 4) Marquette (12-2)
13) CLEVELAND STATE (11-3) 13) Dayton (10-4)
Columbus Nashville
6) CREIGHTON (11-2) 6) Michigan (11-2)
11) St. Mary’s (11-2) 11) California (12-3)
3) Michigan State (12-2) 3) Louisville (12-2)
14) CHARLESTON (10-3) 14) VCU (10-3)
Omaha Greensboro
7) Alabama (10-3) 7) Purdue (12-3)
10) Southern Mississippi (11-2) 10) MEMPHIS (8-5)
2) Missouri (13-0) 2) Duke (12-1)
15) NEW MEXICO ST (8-5) 15) LEHIGH (10-4)
MIDWEST – St. Louis WEST – Phoenix
Greensboro Pittsburgh
1) NORTH CAROLINA (13-2) 1) OHIO STATE (13-2)
16) LAMAR (7-5) 16) ROBERT MORRIS (10-4)
8) Illinois (12-3) 8) HARVARD (11-1)
9) West Virginia (10-4) 9) Seton Hall (12-2)
Omaha Portland
5) UNLV (13-2) 5) GONZAGA (11-2)
12) IONA (10-3) 12) DENVER (11-3)
4) Kansas (10-3) 4) Florida (11-3)
13) LSU / St. Joseph’s 13) Northwestern / Temple
Louisville Albuquerque
6) Vanderbilt (9-4) 6) Wisconsin (12-3)
11) New Mexico (11-2) 11) Virginia Tech (11-3)
3) Indiana (13-1) 3) Connecticut (12-1)
14) BELMONT (8-5) 14) LONG BEACH ST (5-6)
Columbus Albuquerque
7) Virginia (12-1) 7) OHIO (11-1)
10) St. Louis (11-2) 10) Arizona (10-4)
2) Georgetown (11-1) 2) BAYLOR (12-0)
15) ORAL ROBERTS (11-4) 15) WEBER STATE (8-3)

NOTES on the BRACKET: Syracuse is the No. 1 overall seed followed by Kentucky, North Carolina, and Ohio State. Next in line are Duke, Baylor, Georgetown, and Missouri.

Last Five teams in (at large): Dayton, Northwestern, Temple, St. Joseph’s, LSU

First Five teams out (at large): Florida State, Oklahoma, Indiana State, Cincinnati, Marshall

Next Five teams out (at large): BYU, Texas, Central Florida, Pittsburgh, Missouri State

Bracket adjustments: Minnesota moves to a 12-seed (from an 11) to follow bracketing procedures – even though Big Ten has 9 teams in the bracket. California moves into the 11-seed slot.

Here is the team breakdown by Conference …

Big Ten (9): Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern

Big East (7): Syracuse, Georgetown, Louisville, Connecticut, Marquette, West Virginia, Seton Hall

SEC (6): Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Alabama, LSU

ACC (5): North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Virginia Tech, NC State

Atlantic 10 (5): Xavier, St. Louis, Dayton, St. Joseph’s, Temple

Big 12 (4): Baylor, Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State

Pac 12 (3): Stanford, Arizona, California

Mountain West (3): UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico

Conference USA (2): Memphis, Southern Mississippi

Missouri Valley (2): Creighton, Wichita State

West Coast (2): Gonzaga, St. Mary’s

Sun Belt (1): Denver

Mid-American (1): Ohio

Colonial (1): VCU

Horizon (1): Cleveland State

Conference leaders/champions … New Mexico State (WAC), Murray State (OVC), Iona (MAAC), Weber State (Big Sky), Charleson (Southern), Oral Roberts (Summit), Long Beach State (Big West), Robert Morris (NEC), Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Harvard (Ivy), Coastal Carolina (Big South), Norfolk State (MEAC), Lehigh (Patriot), Maine (America East), Lamar (Southland), Mississippi Valley State (SWAC)