The middle and back end of the at-large part of the field continues to be muddled by a plethora of similar teams in terms of RPI and strength of schedule. Simply taking a look at the standings of conferences like the Big Ten and ACC gives a good picture of the landscape of that part of the bracket – plenty of quality teams but many with records at or around .500 in conference play. This leaves the field (and the proverbial “bubble”) very fluid.As we roll through January and into the thick of conference play, several themes are emerging this season. The top of the projected N.C.A.A. tournament field continues to be headlined by some familiar faces (Villanova, Kansas, Gonzaga) as well as some pleasant surprises who have maintained high levels of play (UCLA and Baylor).
Looking ahead, I tend to anticipate a field heavy on power-conference teams come Selection Sunday for several reasons. First, the “mid-major” conferences (most notably the Atlantic-10 and Mountain West) have put forth fewer tournament-worthy teams than normal so far this season. Additionally, the depth (some may say mediocrity) of the major conferences leaves the committee with an ample supply of teams to select from. Finally, the preference for teams from the power conferences has been on display in full the last few years – the committee has not hesitated to select a power-conference team with a .500 conference record over a mid-major team with a stronger raw record and comparable RPI/strength of schedule.
The arguments for and against this particular preference of the committee can be argued, but I am trying to reflect the lean towards power-conference teams in the projected field. Again these projections are not based on what the committee should do, but rather on what they can be expected to do in March.
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|1. UCLA||1. Kansas (Big 12)|
|16. Winthrop (Big South)||16. Texas Southern (SWAC)/LIU-Brooklyn (Northeast)|
|8. Northwestern||8. Minnesota|
|9. SMU||9. VCU|
|5. Florida||5. Virginia|
|12. UNC-Wilmington (CAA)||12. Valparaiso (Horizon)|
|4. Duke||4. Oregon|
|13. Vermont (America East)||13. New Mexico State (WAC)|
|6. Cincinnati (AAC)||6. South Carolina|
|11. Illinois State (Missouri Valley)||11. Richmond (Atlantic-10)|
|3. Creighton||3. Butler|
|14. Belmont (Ohio Valley)||14. Chattanooga (Southern)|
|7. USC||7. TCU|
|10. Miami (Fl)||10. Seton Hall|
|2. Baylor||2. Kentucky (SEC)|
|15. North Dakota St (Summit)||15. Bucknell (Patriot)|
|1. Villanova (Big East)||1. Gonzaga (West Coast)|
|16. Weber State (Big Sky)/Morgan State (MEAC)||16. New Orleans (Southland)|
|8. Dayton||8. Michigan State|
|9. Indiana||9. Arkansas|
|5. Wisconsin||5. Louisville|
|12. Middle Tennessee||12. Nevada (Mountain West)|
|4. Notre Dame (ACC)||4. Maryland (Big Ten)|
|13. Akron (MAC)||13. Monmouth (MAAC)|
|6. Purdue||6. Xavier|
|11. Providence vs. California||11. Texas Tech vs. Illinois|
|3. West Virginia||3. Florida State|
|14. Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun)||14. Georgia Southern (Sun Belt)|
|7. Iowa State||7. St. Mary's|
|10. Georgia||10. NC State|
|2. North Carolina||2. Arizona (Pac-12)|
|15. Princeton (Ivy)||15. UC Irvine (Big West)|
Note: Conference's automatic bids are listed in parentheses.