2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament

This is my favorite sporting event of the year! There is no single event which generates more excitement over a longer period than the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Coupled with Spring Training and Opening Day, there is no better season on the sporting calendar than mid-March through early April.

So, the 2011 version of the Big Dance comes to us with a big change. The NCAA increased the number of teams from 65 to 68 teams for this year’s tourney. The extra three teams break down something like this: the NCAA calls these games the “First Four” as opposed to the “Final Four” which describes the number of teams remaining, not the number of games. The extra three teams will consist of one more 16 seed and two extra 12 or 13 seed teams or, the last at-large teams to get into the party. So what happens is this: there will essentially be six 16 seed teams and the four lowest rated of those six will play for the last two 16 seeds for the right to play a #1 seed in the opening weekend of games.

The final four at-large teams will do something similar. Those four teams will pair off to play for the right to be the final at-large teams admitted to the field of 64. They will be either 12 or 13 seeds, depending upon the rest of the field. The final at-large teams typically fall into this range.

As of this writing, the four 16 seeds to play in the ‘First Four’ are, according to the rankings compiled by SportsMeasures are: McNeese St (#191), Arkansas-Little Rock (#211), Bethune-Cookman (#240), and Texas Southern (#247). The last four at-large teams in the field of 68 are (in order of admission): Georgia, Maryland, New Mexico and Nebraska. So, what that means to Nebraska is that if an upset occurs in the conference tournaments and an unexpected team earns the automatic bid which relegates the defeated team to at-large status, Nebraska would be the first team knocked out of the tourney.

Click here to see the projected tournament field, according to SportsMeasures.

There are a few teams and seeds that no one would have expected at the beginning of the season including San Diego St as a 2 and Belmont is in as a 6 (it will be interesting to see what the NCAA does with Belmont – they’ve been in the top 30 of SportsMeasures rankings most of the season).

Some conference representations will surprise as well. The Big East absolutely is dominant with 11 teams in the projected field of 68. The ACC and the Big 10 are somewhat a surprise with both conferences having six teams in the field, despite an overall subpar performance from some conference members. The Mountain West conference is a bit of a surprise with four teams making the field. The quirk about the fourth team, New Mexico, is that they finished one game behind non-qualifier, Colorado St in conference play. But, UNM apparently played a tougher non-conference schedule because the two teams had similar records (20-11 for UNM and 19-11 for CSU), but UNM measured 1.27 points better than CSU which was good for ten spots in SportsMeasures’ rankings and the second to last spot in the tourney.

SportsMeasures’ rankings of every college basketball team gives fan a deeper understanding of the ability level of every team in the field. Most fans have a good feel for the top 30 or so teams because they get the most media coverage and are the topic of most conversations. The teams that fans know the least about are the winners of the smaller conferences, the Woffords and Arkansas-Little Rocks of the college basketball world.

There are 345 Division I teams competing for the 68 spots in the field. Thirty-one of them automatically get in the tourney by winning their conference tourney (except the Ivy League winner – there is no conference tournament). The winners of the six big conferences, the so-called BCS Conferences, are almost always in the top 20 of all teams in the country. The winners of the smaller conferences can range all the way down the list. The worst team in the tourney (as of March 9) will likely be the winner of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, most likely Texas Southern. TSU won the conference by four games and are the best measured team from the SWAC with a ranking of 247. The final pre-tournament analysis will likely result in their ranking getting a little better, assuming they win the conference tournament. As of now, there are three teams ranked lower than 200 which will qualify for the tourney. There are six more ranked between 100 and 199. There is a cluster of six more teams ranked between 87 and 99. That leaves 53 other teams and they all come from the top 59.

By Sunday evening we will all know who’s in and who’s not. It will be a lot of fun between now and then. Saturday, March 12 will prove to be one of the more exciting days of the basketball season with 12 conferences crowning their tourney champion and thus earning an automatic bid to the tournament.

This article will be updated on Monday, March 14 reflecting the actual tournament field and the teams that NCAA mistakenly chose, assuming there are any. I can make such a strong claim because of the methodology used by SportsMeasures. SportsMeasures produces the only unbiased and objective measures available. Our tag-line says it as well: Real Science for Real Sports.

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