Written by Chris Canada, Co-Founder of Gatorsfirst.com
Now that we are a little more than half way through the 2009-10 college basketball season, we look at where we are right now, as teams are knee deep in their conference schedules. March madness is seven weeks away, and teams have a ton to play for. Remember, there are 65 spots available, comprised of 31 automatic bids to conference champions and 34 at-large bids. Here is a comprehensive look at the major leagues in Division-I (rankings are current AP poll)...
From the results that follow, I predict that at this point 58 teams are safe, which includes 31 auto-bids and 27 at-large bids. This means that there are seven remaining bids that will go to the ''bubble'' teams that I have listed. Out of the 58 that I have found, 31 come from major conferences and 27 from minor ones. A lot can change over the next few weeks, as you've already seen since last week.
SEC (6)Projected Champion: #1 Kentucky (19-0, 4-0)
Should be in: #14 Tennessee (15-3, 3-1), #31 Mississippi St (15-4, 3-1), #23 Vanderbilt (15-3, 4-0), Florida (14-5, 3-2), #18 Mississippi (15-4, 3-2)
Bubble: Alabama (12-7, 2-3)
Analysis: As always we start off with the SEC, as we should because we represent a Florida Gator site! I moved Florida to the &should be in& column. Yes, outsiders may think this is a big homer pick, but I think I can explain it.
The Gators have some very quality non-conference so far. They've beaten the current #5 Michigan Stateon a neutral court when the Spartans were #2 nationally. They then defeated Rutgers to take home the tournament title. They are also 2-0 against the ACC with wins over FSU (currently #26) in Gainesville andNC State on the road.
As for their five losses, they consist of a neutral site loss against current #4 Syracuse and a home loss to current #1 Kentucky where both games were tied with roughly four minutes left, a close road loss to current #21 Vandy, and a neutral site loss to Richmond (a 15-6 team whose resume consists of wins over Missouri, Mississippi St, UMass, GW and an overtime loss at Wake Forest). The only real bad loss was to South Alabama, which was probably a letdown after consecutive losses to 'Cuse and Richmond.
We still have a ton of games against quality SEC opponents, including two games against current #14 Tennessee, current #31 Mississippi St in Gville, at current #20 Mississippi, current #23 Vandy in Gville, and at current #1 Kentucky
Hopefully they find their stride during conference play. They should be able to win at least 3 of 5 remaining home conference games. If they can win 3 of their remaining 6 road games, they should be in good shape. Also, current #37 Xavier comes to Gainesville for a late season non-conference matchup that could mean a lot to the tournament committee. Unlike previous years, I think Florida has the resume to push them over the edge.
John Calipari has the Kentucky Wildcat program back to it's lofty status of the 90's. They have blown through their early SEC schedule. From the looks of it now, I believe that they will take the championship. In a related story, I hate Kentucky, but I digress...
Tennessee has started well, and have a really good win at home against Kansas. Mississippi St, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt look very good at this point. The bubble holds Alabama at this point, but that could change in a split second.
ACC (6)Projected Champion: #8 Duke (16-3, 4-2)
Should be in: #29 Wake Forest (14-4, 4-2), #28 Clemson (15-5, 3-3), #26 Florida St (15-4, 3-2), Virginia Tech (15-3, 2-2), #19 Georgia Tech (14-5, 3-3)
Bubble: North Carolina (12-7, 1-3), Miami (15-4, 1-4), #41t Virginia (12-5, 3-1), #35 Maryland (13-5, 3-1)
Analysis: Unlike last year when there were three teams with a legit shot at winning the NCAA tournament, this year's ACC is WIDE OPEN for the taking. At this point, after watch a select few games, I think Duke is in the best position to win the conference title. However, at this point you could argue that all twelve teams still have a shot at making the tournament at this point. Talk about a loaded conference.
Duke and Clemson are locks and GT, VT, Wake, and FSU all have good enough resumes to get in at this point. Virginia is flying high with new coach Tony Bennett, formerly of Washington State. UNC and Miami have gotten off to rough starts in conference and now fall back to the bubble.
Big East (7)Projected Champion: #3 Villanova (18-1, 7-0)
Should be in: #4 Syracuse (19-1, 6-1), #17 Pittsburgh (15-4, 5-2), #7 Georgetown (15-3, 6-2), #9 West Virginia (15-3, 6-2), #19 Connecticut (13-6, 4-3), Notre Dame (15-5, 4-3)
Bubble: Louisville (13-7, 4-3), Cincinnati (13-7, 4-4)
Analysis: The Big East is definitely the toughest conference to play in, because it seems like you are playing a top-25 team every night. Villanova, Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia & Georgetown look to be the teams I see going deep in the tourney. Notre Dame is playing well right now and I see them punching their ticket. UConn got a huge win over former #1 Texas after losing three straight. They have too much talent back from a final four team to miss the big dance.
Louisville and Cincy have some work to do if they want a bid. I think this is the year that Marquette starts to feel the loss of former coach Tom Crean. Also, can Rick Pitino get Louisville back in shape?
Big Ten+1 (4)Projected Champion: #5 Michigan St (17-3, 7-0)
Should be in: #10 Purdue (16-3, 4-3), #20 Ohio St (14-6, 4-3), #16 Wisconsin (16-4, 6-2)
Bubble: Illinois (12-8, 4-3), #40 Northwestern (14-5, 3-4), Minnesota (12-7, 3-4)
Analysis: Michigan St seems like the clear class of the league (and is a great notch in the belt for Florida!). Purdue started off really hot, winning thier first 13 games, but they have recently lost 3 games and have cooled off a bit. They should still be fine for the tourney. Ohio St and Wisconsin should be fine.
Illinois, Minnesota and Northwestern also have good resumes so far, but need to get a few more big wins.
Big 12 (6)Projected Champion: #2 Kansas (18-1, 4-0)
Should be in: #6 Texas (17-2, 3-1), #11 Kansas St (16-3, 3-2), #24 Baylor (15-3, 3-2), #34 Missouri (15-4, 3-1), #33 Oklahoma St (15-4, 3-2)
Bubble: #32 Texas A&M (14-5, 3-2), Texas Tech (14-5, 2-3)
Analysis: Texas is no longer undefeated as they lost not once, but twice this past week. Kansas is now in the driver's seat for conference supremacy. It's still going to be them two battling it out for the conference title. They have two head-to-head matchups coming up, and I'm sure they'll have a chance to see each other again in the conference tourney.
Kansas State and Baylor have really surprised me as they've started off very hot. Missouri they should be able to make it back to the tournament, where they reached the elite eight last season, and Okie St looks solid after a big win over K-State last weekend. Texas A&M and Texas Tech have some work ahead of them.
Pac-10 (2)Projected Champion: #43t California (13-6, 5-2)
Should be in: Arizona State (14-6, 4-3)
Bubble: Washington St (14-6, 4-4)
Analysis: Is it possible that the Pac-10 can only bring ONE team to the NCAA tourney? If you look at how the teams stack up right now, you can make the case. Not one team in the Pac-10 registered one vote for the AP top 25 last week. I've never seen that before.
There are only four teams that can realistically be worthy of making the tourney as of right now, and one of them is on probation (the USC OJ Mayos). California is on top of this conference at the moment, but Arizona St & Wash St are right behind.
Other Conferences (27)Projected Champions (threat teams, 7): #15 Temple (17-3, 5-0, Atlantic 10), #25 UAB (17-2, 5-0, Conference USA), #30 Butler (16-4, 9-0, Horizon League), #27 Northern Iowa (17-2, 8-1, Missouri Valley), #12 BYU (20-1, 5-0, Mountain West), #13 Gonzaga (16-3, 5-0, West Coast), #43t Louisiana Tech (18-3, 6-1, Western Athletic)
Projected Champions (non-threat teams, 18): Maine (America East), Campbell (Atlantic Sun), Northern Colorado (Big Sky), #46t Coastal Carolina (Big South), Pacific (Big West), #37t Old Dominion (16-5, 8-1, Colonial Athletic), #35 Cornell (Ivy League), #41t Siena (MAAC), Akron (Mid-American), Morgan St (MEAC), Quinnipiac (Northeast), Murray St (Ohio Valley), Lehigh (Patriot League), Western Carolina (Southern), Stephen F. Austin (Southland), Texas Southern (SWAC), Oakland (Summit League), Arkansas State (Sun Belt)
Should be in: #23 New Mexico (18-3, 4-2, Mountain West), #39 UNLV (16-4, 4-2, Mountain West)
Bubble: #37t Xavier (13-6, 5-1, Atlantic 10), Richmond (15-6, 4-2, Atlantic 10), Rhode Island (15-3, 3-2, Atlantic 10), Dayton (14-5, 3-2, Atlantic 10), Charlotte (14-5, 4-1, Atlantic 10), Memphis (14-5, 4-1, Conference USA), Marshall (15-4, 4-1, Conference USA), Tulsa (16-3, 5-0, Conference USA), UTEP (13-5, 4-1, Conference USA), Wichita St (17-4, 6-3, Missouri Valley), Illinois St (14-6, 5-4, Missouri Valley), San Diego St (14-6, 3-3, Mountain West), #43t St Marys (17-3, 4-1, West Coast), Utah St (15-6, 5-2, Western Athletic),
Analysis: From the minor conferences, I have determined that 25 different conference champions and two at-large spots are safe right now. I have broken the champions into two categories: the first will be those that should have a splash at the tourney, and the second are those in traditionally small conferences. The ''threat teams'' include three teams currently ranked in the top-25, including Temple, UAB, BYU, & Gonzaga. The rest of those teams play in traditionally tougher conferences.
As for the at-larges, I would think New Mexico, & UNLV are good enough to make the tourney without winning their conference. Teams on the bubble are hoping that these teams win their leagues because this is where you usually find your bubble busters year-in and year-out.
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