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Beyond the Arc: The Quest for 65, Sunday

At 4:40 p.m. EST, I think I'm ready to finalize my bracket. Let's break down the major arguments:

  • The No. 1 seeds: UNC, Pittsburgh and Louisville are set, so the race for the last 1-seed comes down to Connecticut, Memphis and Duke. To me, it's an easy decision: the Huskies have done more than either the Tigers or Blue Devils in terms of quality wins and a dearth of bad losses. Consider this: In 2009, UConn has lost twice to Pitt and in six overtimes to Syracuse. Not too much to be ashamed of. Memphis hasn't lost in 2009, but its only quality win in that time is over Gonzaga. Beating Tulane and Tulsa at home in the conference tournament isn't enough, especially considering the Tigers' 0-2 record against Big East competition. If Duke had one fewer loss, or had beaten a healthy UNC team today, it would have a better claim. If UConn isn't a top seed, it's probably because the Committee was scared of three top seeds from one conference.
  • Mississippi State's win in the SEC Championship pops one last bubble. I have that one belonging to Saint Mary's, with Dayton, Maryland and Penn State as the last three teams in. The Bulldogs' win saves the SEC from the embarrassment of having just two teams in the Tournament. At the same time, do any of them pose long-term threats? (And a conversation between some friends and I: Where would you seed a team composed of first-team All-SEC players? Does it even get a one? Would you favor them against North Carolina?)

Some bubble math:

  • 31 automatic bids: Louisville, Memphis, Duke, Missouri, Purdue/Ohio State winner, Gonzaga, Utah, USC, Siena, Utah State, Temple, Mississippi State, VCU, Western Kentucky, Northern Iowa, Cleveland State, American, North Dakota State, Akron, Stephen F. Austin, Portland State, Binghamton, Morgan State, Robert Morris, Cornell, East Tennessee State, Radford, Cal State-Northridge, Alabama State, Morehead State, Chattanooga
  • 27 at-large locks, in conference order: UNC, Wake Forest, Florida State, Clemson, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Villanova, Syracuse, Marquette, West Virginia, Michigan State, Illinois, Ohio State/Purdue loser, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State, Washington, UCLA, California, Arizona State, LSU, Tennessee, Xavier, Butler, BYU
  • 4 at-large almost-certainly-ins: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Texas A&M
  • That leaves three spots, for, in order: Dayton, Maryland, Penn State
  • Teams that are just on the outside, in order: Saint Mary's, San Diego State, Creighton, Arizona
  • For a reference, Joe Lunardi at last check had Saint Mary's and Creighton in the Tournament; that was before Mississippi State's win took away one of those spots. Lunardi also does not have Penn State in the bracket.

Dayton has been a lock for weeks, but it wouldn't be unheard of if Temple's run in the A-10 Tournament costs its conference colleague a bid. The Flyers' best wins of the season, over Marquette and Xavier, aren't as impressive today as they were just two weeks ago. At the same time, few bubble teams have wins even that good.

Maryland is one of those teams with a bunch of quality wins--Michigan State, Michigan, UNC and Wake--that offset a similar number of really bad losses (see: Morgan State, Virginia).

Penn State is the last at-large in my book because, again, the Nittany Lions have beaten a bunch of Tournament teams. They won at Michigan State, swept Illinois and beat Purdue at home. Also, their worst loss is on a neutral court to Rhode Island, and all Duke fans know how respectable that is.

Saint Mary's and San Diego State just don't have the quality wins; between them, they have just three wins over Tournament teams. The Gaels' win over the Aztecs on a neutral floor earlier this year means SDSU shouldn't be in over SMC.

Creighton has too many bad losses; a team from the Missouri Valley can't afford defeats at Arkansas-Little Rock, Nebraska, Illinois State and Wichita State. The Bluejays' win over Dayton, however, may come in handy--it's one of only two victories for them over Tourney teams (Northern Iowa, the other).

Arizona has a lot of quality wins, with victories over Gonzaga, Kansas, Washington and UCLA. The problem? The Wildcats are 2-9 on the road, with their lone road victories coming over under-.500 Oregon and Oregon State.

So without further ado, I present my official 2009 bracket:

1 North Carolina Pittsburgh LOUISVILLE Connecticut
2 Oklahoma Michigan State DUKE MEMPHIS
3 Villanova Kansas MISSOURI Wake Forest
4 Syracuse Florida State Purdue Washington
5 GONZAGA Xavier UCLA Illinois
6 Clemson Arizona State West Virginia Marquette
7 Tennessee LSU Ohio State UTAH
8 Oklahoma State California Boston College Texas
9 Wisconsin Minnesota Butler BYU
10 Michigan SIENA USC Texas A&M
11 UTAH STATE Maryland Dayton Penn State
16 ALABAMA ST. CS-Northridge Play-in* RADFORD

*Play-in game: Morehead State vs. Chattanooga

Feel free to post your thoughts, questions and scathing criticisms in the Comments section, and I'll try to get back to you before the Selection Show starts.


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