NCAA tournament 2011: 11 Big East teams projected to make field
Go ahead and pencil in an NCAA-record 11 Big East teams in the 68-team tournament. Marquette had been vulnerable, but that was before disposing of Providence last night. The weakest link at this point is Villanova, which let the South Florida game slip through its fingers in a 70-69 loss. The Wildcats have been in free fall. But they are likely to become the first team to close the season with five straight losses to make the NCAA tournament. Why? If you believe what the selection committee has said -- that there is a move to de-emphasize a team's record in its last 12 games and instead consider a team's entire body of work -- then Villanova is certainly in. Look, it has six top 50 wins. Saint Mary's, the quintessential bubble team, has just three top 100 wins. Villanova is in, probably as a double-digit seed.
Butler's impressive effort to avenge two earlier defeats to Milwaukee gave the Bulldogs the automatic berth from the Horizon League. It also opens up a slot for another mediocre bubble team -- Colorado? Alabama? -- because Milwaukee is not getting into the field as an at-large. Butler is not nearly as dangerous as it was last season, but the Bulldogs are on a roll -- winners of nine straight -- and will be a dangerous team that a five or six seed will have to contend with in the first round.
If you are looking for two potential double-digit seeds from small conferences that could win a game, look no further than Belmont, the Atlantic Sun champ, and Oakland, which won the Summit League's automatic berth last night. Belmont, which nearly knocked off Duke in the first round in 2008, is an extremely deep and well-coached team. Oakland, which got a raw deal in seeding last season, played a murderous non-league schedule this season. It won at Tennessee this season and finished 20-1 (counting the league tournament) in conference play. I talked to Oakland Coach Greg Kampe at length in the summer about the frustration of scheduling and how that affects seeding, etc. Kampe told me one school reneged on an agreement to play after learning that big man Keith Benson was returning to school. Benson could be a lottery pick in June. Belmont and Oakland are two potential No. 13 seeds that absolutely no one wants to see.
Princeton beat Penn last night to force a one-game playoff with Harvard for the Ivy League crown. Remember, there is no conference tournament in the Ivy League. The Tigers, of course, historically have been the kings of the Ivy. Harvard has not reached the NCAA tournament since 1946. They will play Saturday at Yale.
| March 9, 2011; 8:31 AM ET
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