ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi -- perhaps you've heard of him -- just released his first Bracketology of 2011. The results are, as always, both enlightening and surprising. Some scattered thoughts therein:
The photo and headline you see on the men's home page pretty much says it all. (Our editor, Brett Edgerton, is the best in the business for a reason, kids). In a year that both the Virginia Tech Hokies and Northwestern Wildcats pegged as the one they'd finally get over the NCAA hump, both teams currently sit precariously on the bubble. Virginia Tech is smack dab on the bubble, and Northwestern is one of Joe's first four out. This is about right, considering each team's nonconference performance. Virginia Tech has been massively disappointing, losing pretty much every major nonconference test Seth Greenberg scheduled in the wake of last year's cupcake schedule, while Northwestern has itself gone the cupcake route and lost its only game against a marginal NCAA tournament team (St. John's). The result is what you see now. Both teams have a lot of work to do in their respective conferences -- and Northwestern, already 0-2 in the Big Ten, could start tonight win a win over Michigan State at home -- if either is going to achieve their respective preseason goals.
Speaking of St. John's, the Red Storm are currently Joe's biggest January RPI outlier. Steve Lavin's experienced but inconsistent bunch is No. 6 in the RPI, which explains why a team with losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham nabbed a spot on the No. 11 seed line.
Cincinnati, which has gone undefeated thus far, also gets a nod in Joe's bracket. That's as precarious a spot as any in the bracket, however, because the Bearcats have yet to play a team in the current bracket or bubble this season. Cincinnati is going to have to notch a few quality wins if the selection committee is going to take it seriously come March; too many ugly losses or a bad finish in Big East play will doom Mick Cronin's team in a hurry.
Thanks to the two aforementioned Big East teams, the conference currently has 10 -- yes, 10 -- teams in Lunardi's bracket. That would break the record of eight teams in a single NCAA tournament set by the Big East in 2006 and 2008. Meanwhile, Marquette is one of Lunardi's first four teams out, which means the Big East could theoretically get 11 teams in the dance if current projections hold or improve.
That sounds insane, sure, but it makes sense when you look at the lack of depth in the rest of the high-major conference picture. Lunardi has Northwestern and Michigan just missing the bubble, meaning the Big Ten would get merely six teams. Same goes for the Big 12. The ACC currently has five teams in the mix, but that projection feels slightly optimistic, while the SEC only has four squads in the bracket.
Then there's the Pac-10. Good news, Pac-10 fans: As of right now, the league is still not in a one-bid bind. Still, the only team on solid footing in the Pac-10 is Washington; Arizona's loss to Oregon State Sunday night throws its bid into question, while Washington State has to continue to pile up good wins if it wants to hold onto its current No. 11 seed. USC is on the bubble, while UCLA is one of Joe's next four out.
On the opposite end of things, your No. 1 seeds are pretty straightforward. They're Duke, Ohio State, Kansas and Syracuse. Talk about usual suspects. Meanwhile, Kentucky is already on the No. 2 line, with plenty of improvements yet to make. If the Wildcats do enough to deserve a No. 1 seed, and push Ohio State out in the process, we could have the first repeat No. 1 seeds in the history of the NCAA tournament. Wacky, wild stuff.