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Joe Lunardi (bracketology) 37 thoughts for the new year

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Joe Lunardi (bracketology) 37 thoughts for the new year

Post  MULECHOPS on Fri Dec 31, 2010 12:28 am

37 New Year's thoughts
December, 28, 2010Dec 289:21AM ETEmail Print Comments97 By Joe LunardiIn honor of the expanded NCAA tournament field, here is one thought for each of the 37 at-large spots in 2011 (respectfully deferring to Pat "Forde" Minutes):



1. With Kyrie Irving, Duke remains a prohibitive favorite to defend its national title. Without him, I think Kansas and Ohio State are just as good.


2. The Jayhawks may be even better than the Blue Devils once whole and fully integrated.



3. Our preseason bracket gave No. 1 seeds to Duke, Michigan State, Kansas (not Kansas State) and Pitt, with Ohio State leading the pack of No. 2 seeds. Not bad.



4. Those choices look even better after Pitt's dismantling of UConn in Monday night's Big East opener.



5. The Big East will break its record of eight teams in an NCAA tournament. Pitt, Syracuse, Georgetown and UConn are locks. Notre Dame, Villanova, West Virginia and Louisville should be in about a month. And at least one team among Cincinnati, Marquette, St. John's and Providence should grab one of the three new at-large berths.



6. When your ninth-best team is 12-0 and receiving votes in both major polls, that's a pretty good league. But don't blame me, Cincinnati, if that 339th-ranked nonconference schedule comes back to bite you.



7. It would only be fair if the Portland Trail Blazers get a chance to draft Jared Sullinger to take Greg Oden's roster spot.



8. Sullinger, Josh Selby and Irving would be a No. 1 seed in any three-on-three tournament short of NBA All-Star Weekend.



9. At the end of the day, I believe Georgetown will emerge as the Big East champion and No. 1 NCAA tournament seed. Guards, guards, guards.



10. Kentucky should be back in the top 10 by now (No. 11 in the Associated Press poll, No. 12 in the ESPN/USA Today poll). The Wildcats will get better and better on their way to another SEC title and No. 1 NCAA tournament seed. cheers



11. The other No. 1 seeds will be Duke and whatever team wins the Big Ten.



12. If you can pick the Big Ten champion today, you're way smarter than yours truly. Ohio State is sitting pretty right now, but Purdue is well-positioned, and it would be extremely unwise to give up on Michigan State. I also remain bullish on Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. This is the nation's second-best league.



13. I'm not sure whom to like between San Diego State and BYU in the Mountain West, but I do know that the conference is in for a great race before next season's defections. UNLV is another NCAA tournament team, and New Mexico still could get there.


14. Unless or until Kansas State straightens itself out, Missouri and Texas will battle for second position in the Big 12 behind Kansas. Against truly elite competition, I'm reluctant to back teams (such as Mizzou) whose primary strategy is to speed up the other guys.



15. Hard to believe, I know, but Notre Dame may be a bit underrated after very un-Notre Dame nonconference wins over Georgia, Cal, Wisconsin and Gonzaga. Then again, the Irish have yet to play a true road game and will not until New Year's Day at the Carrier Dome.



16. Speaking of Syracuse, the Orange win this season's Rand McNally Award for latest true road game (Jan. 8 at Seton Hall).



17. I'll get killed for this, but Villanova may be the nation's most overrated team at this point. The Cats' best win came against mediocre UCLA, and they were defeated handily by their only top-50 opponent (Tennessee). We'll know more when Nova meets Temple later this week for the Philly Big 5 title.



18. Much was expected of Florida, yet the Gators continue an almost four-year run of "average." bounce



19. Elsewhere in the vaunted SEC East, the wheels may be coming off Tennessee's wagon. It may be up to Vanderbilt to chase Kentucky into March, as another supposed challenger -- Georgia -- has squandered its best opportunities to date. rabbit



20. I dare you to name the second-best team in the ACC. Go ahead, I'll wait.



21. Bonus points if you said Boston College. Throw out an early loss to Yale, and the Eagles have overachieved markedly under new coach Steve Donahue. BC already won its ACC opener at Maryland and should take a 3-0 conference record to Miami on Jan. 15.



22. Ken Pomeroy (No. 5) loves Washington, and the RPI (No. 61) does not. Split the difference, and you have another so-so Pac-10 leader. We'll learn quickly about the Huskies, who visit both Southern Cal (Wednesday) and UCLA (Friday) this week.



23. Ditto Washington State. The Cougars have the same trip in reverse.



24. The Atlantic 10 has been marginally disappointing, although Temple, Richmond and Xavier have multiple signature wins. Still, the league will be hard-pressed to match last season's three NCAA tournament bids and single-digit seeding.



25. Whenever Temple and Richmond play a quality opponent (or each other), take the under.



26. Temple coach Fran Dunphy really should win his first NCAA tournament game with the Owls. Not sure, though, whether he'll win Thursday at Villanova.



27. I take full credit for Butler's resurgence. Remember this?



28. Same for Gonzaga. (Was just kidding when I wrote that.)



29. Memphis doesn't do it for me (at least not yet). The best story by far in Conference USA is Central Florida.



30. UCF has never been to the NCAA tournament as a Conference USA member. The Golden Knights last danced as Atlantic Sun champions (2004, 2005).



31. Even at 11-0, UCF's tournament odds are no better than 50-50. A No. 232-rated schedule will do that.



32. Arizona should get back in the NCAA tournament after its first absence of the 64-team era. Heck, the Wildcats could win the Pac-10. Somebody has to, right?



33. True mid-majors with the best at-large chances (outside of Butler and Gonzaga) are Old Dominion, Saint Mary's and Cleveland State. ODU should make the tournament, the Gaels might and the Vikings will need to beat Butler at least once to hold their perch.



34. I'm less optimistic about preseason mid-major darlings Utah State and Wichita State. Neither has been able to distinguish itself through the season's first six weeks.



35. For a real sleeper, don't forget about Drexel. The Dragons can outugly just about anyone, as their thoroughly unexpected victory at Louisville attested. Kent State is similarly dangerous.



36. Expect the most Selection Sunday whining from the ACC. Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Miami, Maryland and Clemson all expect to be in the tournament, but only about half will make it. These half-dozen teams have beaten three top-50 opponents combined.



37. All of which leaves the epic quest of Northwestern, as the Wildcats look to end their historic NCAA drought. Our up-to-the-minute S-curve has them at No. 69 … for a 68-team field. Sorry, Wilbon. Sorry, Greenie. It's going to be that kind of year. Again.



Joe Lunardi is the resident Bracketologist for ESPN, ESPN.com and ESPN Radio. He also teaches "Fundamentals of Bracketology" online at Saint Joseph's University. Comments may be sent to bracketology@verizon.net
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MULECHOPS

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