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Final BracketExpress NCAA Tournament Field Projections
by: Drew Barnette - Staff Writer
March 12, 2006
(5:30 PM EST:) The Bracket is set.

Drew Barnette gives us a sneak peak at his Final Bracket. The Bracket will be updated throughout the day as things change, so stick around to see how the bracket evolves.

In this week's article you'll find the S Curve Rankings, a breakdown of the teams on the outside of the bubble, and some thoughts on potential changes that could be made to the bracket after the championship games today.

You can find the updates to the bracket today on the BracketExpress section of the site. One final bracket will be made and will replace the one below before 6 PM.

The Bracket:




NOTES ON THE BRACKET

***UPDATE, (1:56pm, est)***

After reviewing it more closely, I've switched Seton Hall and George Mason. Seton Hall is now my last team in and George Mason is the first team out. See SETON HALL VS GEORGE MASON feature, which has been added to the article below.

***UPDATE, (3:20pm, est)***

-Florida held on to beat South Carolina, which should keep South Carolina out of the field. Duke also held on to beat Boston College. Because there weren't any unexpected results the bracket has not changed.

-Northwestern State leads Sam Houston 68-61 with less than twelve minutes to play in the Southland Championship. If they hold on to win then there will be no changes. If Sam Houston pulls the upset then Norhtwestern State will be removed from the field and Same Houston will be placed at #60 on the S Curve, which would make them a #15 seed


***UPDATE, 3:53pm, est***

-Kansas has been moved up to a #5 seed and George Washington has moved down to a #6 seed. I accidentally had a potential matchup between George Washington and Xavier in the second round, but that isn't the only reason for the move. I after looking at it closely again, I think Kansas has done more. The outcome of the Big Twelve Championship will not effect that move.

-Northwestern State has won the Southland Championship.


***FINAL UPDATE, 4:30pm, est***

-Ohio State leads Iowa 37-34. If they hold on to win they will remain the 4th #1 seed. If they do not win it's very possible that Memphis will end up with the 4th #1 seed. The main reason for this is that although Memphis might not have the computer numbers that Ohio State has, that has a lot to do with the fact that they play in C-USA. I also believe Memphis has a very high NABC Ranking given where they are ranked in the coaches' poll, and that alone will get them strong consideration for a #1 seed. If Ohio State wins, I think the committee will give them a #1. They've just done too much.


****FINAL FINAL UPDATE, 5:30pm, est****

The bracket is set.

S CURVE RANKINGS

-Here are my projected S Curve Rankings as of Sunday Morning. Automatic bids are given to all 31 conference champions no matter how good or bad the league is. The teams who are projected as conference champions have either won their conference tournaments or are the highest remaining seed in. Those are the teams that are in ALL CAPS.

1. DUKE
2. Villanova
3. Connecticut
4. OHIO STATE
5. MEMPHIS
6. TEXAS
7. IOWA
8. Illinois
9. North Carolina
10. GONZAGA
11. Pittsburgh
12. lsu
13. West Virginia
14. UCLA
15. FLORIDA
16. Tennessee
17. SYRACUSE
18. Boston College
19. Michigan State
20. George Washington
21. Kansas
22. Washington
23. Georgetown
24. Marquette
25. Indiana
26. Wisconsin
27. Oklahoma
28. Wichita State
29. SOUTHERN ILLINOIS
30. NEVADA
31. Arizona
32. Northern Iowa
33. Bradley
34. Missouri State
35. Arkansas
36. Kentucky
37. North Carolina State
38. uab
39. UNC WILMINGTON
40. Texas A&M
41. Alabama
42. Hofstra
43. Cincinnati
44. California
45. BUCKNELL
46. Seton Hall
47. SAN DIEGO STATE
48. WISCONSIN MILWAUKEE
49. KENT STATE
50. SOUTH ALABAMA
51. XAVIER
52. NORTHWESTERN STATE
53. IONA
54. MURRAY STATE
55. WINTHROP
56. MONTANA
57. DAVIDSON
58. PENN
59. PACIFIC
60. BELMONT
61. ALBANY
62. ORAL ROBERTS
63. SOUTHERN
64. MONMOUTH
65. HAMPTON







SETON HALL VS GEORGE MASON

REASONS TO TAKE SETON HALL
-9-7 in Big East play
-quality wins against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, NC State and Syracuse. George Mason just has won win of that caliber, and that is on the road against Wichita State
-SOS = 36
-some decent road wins

REASONS TO NOT TAKE SETON HALL
-RPI (58) is 22 spots lower than George Mason
-lost four of their last six, and momentum is always a huge factor in determining which bubble teams get in or out.


REASONS TO TAKE GEORGE MASON
-RPI = 26, which would be an all time high if they were left out
-have much more momentum down the stretch, which helped UAB get in last year (see below in LOOKING BACK AT LAST YEAR)
-tied for regular season title

REASONS TO NOT TAKE GEORGE MASON
-One game suspension to Tony Skinn (this is perhaps the biggest)
-their wins arenít as good as Seton Hallís
-SOS = 89


STATUS: After looking at it closely (and Iíve been flip-flopping with this for almost 16 hours now) It looks to me like Seton Hallís overall body of work is better. There are very good reasons for taking both of them, but the only real reason I could see Seton Hall being left out is that they have a lack of momentum, whereas George Mason has to deal with the suspension of Tony Skinn and they havenít beaten the types of teams that Seton Hall has. I am now flip-flopping again and putting Seton Hall in as my last team.

Obviously, this is a decision Iím not entirely sure about. I would not be at all surprised to see George Masonís name called today. However, after looking at it and looking at it and looking at it, there are just more reasons to take Seton Hall than George Mason.

-South Carolina trails Florida 25-18 in the SEC Championship. They cannot get in without winning the tournament. If they win, then they will be the last team in. If not, Seton Hall will be my last team in. Itís really a toss up though, but I think Seton Hall has the slight advantage.



-Itís rare that there is a team from a major conference playing on the final Sunday of Championship week who needs to win the tournament to get into the NCAAs, but that is the case with South Carolina today. At least the game tips off at 1pm EST because it will give the committee some time to react if South Carolina were to win. They are facing Florida, which is a team they beat twice during the regular season, so South Carolina has a very good chance of winning this game. If the Gamecocks win they are going to be seeded around #11, so they would appear on the S Curve just ahead of either California or Cincinnati. This would also knock a team out of the field. I believe that team will either be George Mason or California, at least as far as my projections go. I would most likely take Cal out despite the fact that I have them one spot higher than George Mason on the S Curve.


VERY CLOSE

Creighton
Houston
George Mason

I wouldnít be at all surprised if a few of the teams listed above got into the field. They are all very close. I stated in an article that I posted yesterday that I strongly feel that Creighton deserves to be in the field. I still feel that way, but I just have a feeling the committee is going to take California instead. Cal finished third in the Pac Ten and was ahead of Arizona in the standings. That is important. They also advanced to the finals of the Pac Ten Tournament. They didnít beat anyone all that significant to get to the finals and really struggled to get past an Oregon team who was weak on paper and not at full strength, but they still got there. Creighton just didnít have a whole lot of momentum coming down the stretch. Much of that was due to the fact that they were missing Josh Dotzler, but I donít know how much of a break the committee is going to give them on that. I think Creighton deserves to be in and hope the committee puts them in, but I just have a feeling that they wonít. They also have some poor RPI losses on their profile. Cal does as well, but they just seem to have a little more momentum down the stretch and I think that is what will make the difference.

Houston has a ton of momentum and as well. Their RPI is in the low 50s and they have notable wins against the likes of LSU and Arizona, but they also have some very poor losses and although they finished strong they havenít beaten anyone that I have projected into the field as an at large since early December. Thatís not to say that those wins donít count for anything, but just donít see them as being as strong on paper as the other teams.

Seton Hall is an interesting case. In looking at their body of work, there are certainly several reasons to include them. They beat Cincinnati (who is also a bubble team) head to head. They also beat North Carolina State, Syracuse and Pittsburgh on the road. The Pitt win came very late in the year, so that should really count for something. Their RPI is only 58, but they definitely have the kinds of wins that could get them an invite to the dance over a team like George Mason, California, or possibly Cincinnati. All and all there is more good than bad about Seton Hall, but the thing is that this is only a 65 team tournament and I just have the feeling that California is one step ahead of them. Had Seton Hall not lost to Rutgers in the opening round of the Big East Tournament, or for that matter not lost four of their last six I think theyíd definitely be in the field. However, I think it once again comes down to momentum when youíre talking about the bubble and they just donít have as much as the teams in the field, so therefore their status is questionable


-All that being said, Cincinnati, Seton Hall, Hofstra and California are in the field, but they are by no means safe. If South Carolina wins the SEC Championship, one of those teams is coming off. There isnít a whole lot separating them from the teams that I left out, so it is very possible the committee will take someone other than them. The bubble is not a safe place to be.


LOOKING BACK AT LAST YEAR

-Eight people that are on this yearís committee were also on last yearís. Therefore, I believe last yearís selections and seedings are a very good frame of reference for what is likely to happen this year. When comparing this yearís Seton Hall and George Mason teams to last yearís Notre Dame and UAB teams, the similarities areÖ.wellÖquite similar.

-Last year, Notre Dame clearly had much better wins than UAB. However, their RPI was 23 spots lower and the Irish lost four of their last six games, including an opening round loss to Rutgers in the conference tournament. UAB played weaker teams, but finished strong down the stretch. Although none of their wins were impressive, they still finished with more momentum.

This year, Seton Hall clearly has better wins than George Mason. That isnít even debatable. However, they lost four of their last six. They lost their opening round game to Rutgers (who is better this year than last, but still nowhere close to tournament worthy) and they are 22 spots lower in the RPI than George Mason. George Mason has won eight of ten and although none of those are overly impressive, they have two wins that are better than any UAB had in their final stretch run. The committee took UAB last year over Notre Dame. If recent history is an indication of the present, I believe they will take George Mason this year. One problem George Mason has that last yearís UAB team didnít have is that one of their best players is suspended for the first game so a committee might come to a different conclusion this year, but other than that the situation is almost exactly the same.




POTENTIAL BRACKET MOVES

-It seems like every year is different when it comes to how the committee reacts to the conference championship games on Sunday. Some years theyíve said that they donít pay much attention to them at all, but it was obvious they took them into account last year and this year they donít really have a choice because of South Carolina.

-Ohio State is still my fourth #1 seed, but if they lose today I may take them down and move Memphis up. The reason they are playing the play in winner is because if Ohio State is seeded #1, they will most likely be placed in Dayton. The play in winner plays a #1 seed in the first round, but not necessarily the top #1 seed. I think the committee will keep them in Dayton if a #1 is placed in that pod.

-A Florida loss to South Carolina obviously puts the Gamecocks into the field and takes one of the other teams out. It could result in Florida not making the pod system, but I think Florida is still a #4 regardless of whether or not they win or lose unlessÖ..

-if Florida loses and Boston College wins the ACC Championship, the two could switch places making BC a #4 and Florida a #5, at least in my simulation bracket.

-If Duke, Florida, Ohio State and Texas all win tomorrow, then I donít think anything happens. Take a wild guess on who I will be rooting for. Itís probably the same teams the actual committee members are rooting for.

-There is one other game tomorrow, and that is the Southland Championship. If Northwestern State wins they will most likely end up a #13 or #14, but if Sam Houston State wins theyíll probably end up as either a #15 or a #16. That shouldnít disrupt things too much though.

All and all expect for some changes to be made later on today. Iíll probably have to end up rebracketing the teams, but this is pretty close to what the final bracket will look like.

OTHER NOTES

-Syracuse won the Big East Championship as a #9 seed and Xavier won the Atlantic Ten as a #10 seed. I canít recall an incident where a team seeded that low won a conference tournament. This year we had two. Itís called March Madness for a reason I guess.

-I also donít remember a year where there were two #1 seeds from the same conference, and neither of those teams won the conference tournament. That could very easily happen this year with Villanova and Connecticut.

-If George Mason is not selected for the NCAAs, and there is a very good chance they wonít be, it would make them the highest RPI team to ever miss the dance. Their RPI as of Sunday morning is 26.

-Hampton upset Delaware State in the MEAC Championship game. I donít know what the lowest RPI team is to ever make the dance, but Hamptonís is 284. If that isnít the worst ever it has to be close. They will most likely face Monmouth in the Opening Round game, who has an RPI of 144. That is a difference of 140 between the two teams. Believe it or not, that is a bigger difference in RPI than Dukeís (1) and Southernís (132). That means that according to the RPI, the biggest mismatch in the entire tournament is the play in game.


THE MADNESS BEGINS IN NOVEMBER

-I know most sports fans across the nation are stoked for college basketball right now, but if analyzing and projecting the brackets have taught me anything itís that the season begins in November. Most casual fans probably donít start paying all that close attention until after the Super Bowl, but it ALL counts. The fact that Gonzaga played so well in the Maui Invitational back in November has a lot to do with why they are seeded as high as they are. Those were some of their best wins. Had Creighton just managed one more win against someone like De Paul or Chattanooga back in November/December, they would most likely be in the field. One of Kentuckyís best wins came against West Virginia back in November, and without it they may be dangerously close to the bubble themselves and possibly out of the dance. Had Memphis not fallen to Texas earlier this year, they might be a lock for a #1 seed. It ALL matters. MARCH STARTS IN NOVEMBER!!! March Madness is great and you see some of the greatest basketball of the season in March, but there are very intense, exciting and highly important games all year long.




 
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