November 3, 2010

Preseason NCAA tournament predictions

"Selection Sunday" is March 13, which means we're a little more than four months away.

But why wait? Here is our preseason look at how we think the NCAA tournament field will look when it is unveiled that day.

Teams are listed alphabetically by projected seed except in seeds 12 and 16. At the bottom is a breakdown by league of the number of projected bids.

Remember that the field has increased to 68 from 65, and that there will be play-in games for two No. 16 seeds and for two No. 12 seeds. In other words, the four weakest teams will play for two spots (No. 16 seeds) and the final four at-large teams will play for two spots (No. 12 seeds).

No. 1s

1. Duke

2. Kansas

3. Michigan State

4. Ohio State
BUZZ: Last season's champ will be expected to make another long tourney run in March. The backcourt has a chance to be even better than it was last season, but the Blue Devils are going to miss 7-footer Brian Zoubek. Michigan State getting to the Final Four has become as regular as your 75-year-old grandmother making sure she watches the weather report on the local news. Kansas is going to miss its departed players, but if G Josh Selby is cleared to play, the Jayhawks won't miss the departed players as much as you might think. If Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger is as good as the analysts say, the Buckeyes will go to the Final Four in his freshman season much like they went to the Final Four in Greg Oden's freshman season.
No. 2s

5. Kansas State

6. Kentucky

7. Pittsburgh

8. Villanova
BUZZ: Pitt and Villanova should battle it out for the Big East title. Kentucky won't win the SEC - and won't be a No. 2 seed - unless freshman big man Enes Kanter plays. His eligibility issues need to be resolved soon. G Jacob Pullen is the main reason K-State could dethrone archrival Kansas in the Big 12.
No. 3s

9. Gonzaga

10. Illinois

11. North Carolina

12. Syracuse
BUZZ: Gonzaga has a chance to make some noise. Who knows: Maybe this finally will be the season that the Zags make it to the Final Four. After a one-season absence, North Carolina should be back in the mix; freshman F Harrison Barnes is a first-team preseason AP All-America selection. Look for Syracuse F Kris Joseph to become a star this season. Illinois has all the pieces in place, and if Bruce Weber can't coax a long tourney run out of this season's team ...
No. 4s

13. Baylor

14. Florida

15. Purdue

16. Temple
BUZZ: Purdue will be wondering "what if?" all season. If not for Robbie Hummel's injury, this was a legit Final Four team. Temple again looks to be the class of the tough A-10. Florida returns all five starters from a team that lost in the first round of the NCAA tourney last season. Baylor has high-scoring G LaceDarius Dunn, but needs freshman F Perry Jones to excel down low.
No. 5s

17. Georgetown

18. Memphis

19. Washington

20. West Virginia
BUZZ: WVU made a nice run to the Final Four last season, but Bob Huggins' team lost too much talent to expect that to happen again. After a one-season absence, Memphis should be back in the field, thanks to a great freshman class. Georgetown has a great backcourt, but the frontcourt has some questions. Look for Washington to run-and-gun its way to the title in what again will be a relatively weak Pac-10.
No. 6s

21. Butler

22. San Diego State

23. Virginia Tech

24. Xavier
BUZZ: San Diego State's frontcourt will be one of the best in the nation. "Xavier" and "NCAA tourney" go together like "love" and "marriage." Butler made it to the NCAA final as a No. 5 seed last season. We're betting the Bulldogs won't be as good this season, but there's little doubt they'll be in the field. And there's Virginia Tech, which means we won't have to hear coach Seth Greenberg complain about being left out again.
No. 7s

25. BYU

26. NC State

27. Wichita State

28. Wisconsin
BUZZ: Wichita State is a team to keep an eye on out of the Missouri Valley; coach Gregg Marshall has a lot of talent to work with this season. If NC State doesn't get an NCAA bid, expect coach Sidney Lowe to be sent packing. BYU G Jimmer Fredette has the potential to lead the nation in scoring. Wisconsin always seems to overachieve, relative to its talent level. But in F Jon Leuer, the Badgers have a bona-fide star.
No. 8s

29. Arizona

30. Marquette

31. Missouri

32. Tennessee
BUZZ: Arizona's long string of NCAA appearances was broken last season, but behind sophomore F Derrick Williams, look for the Wildcats to start a new streak this season. Tennessee will be an interesting team to watch; the Vols have talent, but an NCAA investigation could be harmful to the team's psyche.
No. 9s

33. Dayton

34. Florida State

35. Texas

36. Vanderbilt
BUZZ: Texas started out like a house afire last season, then fell apart down the stretch. We're betting the Longhorns have better chemistry, if not necessarily as much talent, this season. Dayton, which won the NIT last season, and Florida State will get in because of their defense. Vandy, on the other hand, will get in despite its defense.
No. 10s

37. Mississippi State

38. UCLA

39. Utah State

40. UNLV
BUZZ: UCLA has fallen a long way in a short time, but Ben Howland is too good a coach to let the Bruins stay down for long. This certainly is not a vintage UCLA team by any means, but the Bruins will improve enough to get back into the field. Mississippi State needs a big impact from F Renardo Sidney, who missed last season because of eligibility issues.
No. 11s

41. Maryland

42. Minnesota

43. Richmond

44. Saint Mary's
BUZZ: All four of these teams made the field last season - and all four have lost key players. Still, there's enough remaining talent that they all should find their way back into the field in March.
No. 12s

45. Missouri State

46. Seton Hall

47. George Mason

48. Georgia

49. Colorado

50. New Mexico State
BUZZ: In our scenario, George Mason would meet New Mexico State and Georgia would play Colorado in two of the play-in games; those are the last four at-large teams in the field in our projections. Seton Hall will be a team to watch this season; the Pirates were an undisciplined group last season, but they have talent and a new coach (Kevin Willard).
No. 13s

51. Akron

52. Murray State

53. Old Dominion

54. Wofford
BUZZ: ODU (as a No. 11) and Murray (as a No. 12) won first-round games last season, and Wofford (as a No. 12) gave Wisconsin all it could handle in the first round. The field has been increased by three this season - all at-large teams; thus, remember that in the old format, one of these teams would've been a No. 12 seed.
No. 14s

55. Fairfield

56. North Texas

57. Princeton

58. UC Santa Barbara
BUZZ: Princeton hopes to regain its rightful place atop the Ivy standings. Fairfield is hoping to snap Siena's stranglehold on the MAAC title. North Texas and UCSB are looking to make their second consecutive NCAA appearances. In the old format, one of these would've been a No. 13 seed.
No. 15s

59. Belmont

60. Morgan State

61. Oakland

62. Weber State
BUZZ: Morgan State has a solid frontcourt headed by F Kevin Thompson. Oakland has one of the better big men in the nation in Keith Benson. Belmont almost beat Duke as a No. 15 seed a few seasons ago. And, once again, in the old format, one of these would've been a No. 14 seed.
No. 16s

63. Bucknell

64. Stephen F. Austin

65. Coastal Carolina

66. Stony Brook

67. Quinnipiac

68. Jackson State
BUZZ: No surprise in that the SWAC's representative, Jackson State, would be the lowest-ranked team in the field. And don't forget that one of these teams - a conference champ - would've been a No. 15 seed last season. In addition, while the play-in game involved two conference champs last season, there will be four involved at this seed this season.
BREAKDOWN BY LEAGUE
7: Big East
6: ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC
4: Atlantic 10
3: Mountain West, Pac-10
2: Colonial, Missouri Valley, WAC, West Coast
1: America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Conference USA, Horizon, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Southwestern Athletic, Summit, Sun Belt (19)

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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