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The Bracket with Two Months to Go 'til Selection Sunday

Eight Sundays from now, at about the very time I'm writing this, we'll know who the 65 teams invited to the 2009 NCAA Division I Basketball Championship are, where they're seeded, and where and who they'll be playing. Even though yesterday felt like an early March afternoon with all of the exciting matchups happening in arenas and gyms across the country, when I stepped outside and felt a single-digit January evening, it hit me that there's a lot of basketball to be played over the next eight weeks.

In an unintentional nod to the Inauguration, this week's projection (seed list) features quite a bit of change. (Bracket trends link) There are 13 new entrants this week, 9 auto bids and 4 at-larges. There's also quite a bit of change on the top four lines. I've even done a bit more experimenting with the bracket page. The bracket and rundown, for this week anyway, appear as separate tabs.

New Number One Overall

Wake Forest jumps all the way from the lowest #2 seed last week to the very top of the bracket this week. The Demon Deacons are the only remaining unbeaten in the country. An impressive 3-0 week, featuring wins over UNC, Boston College, and previously unbeaten Clemson, with the last two being away from the Joel Coliseum, means they make the big jump. Dan O'Connor was wondering if we could have three ACC teams get #1 seeds at the end of year. Well, with two months to go, I have three on the top line for the week. Wake is the top seed in the Midwest, as Indianapolis is the closest regional site to Winston-Salem. (This year, there probably aren't going to be any convenient geographic fits for the second weekend.) Duke is #1 in the South (#2 overall), and UNC is tops in the West (#4). Pitt (#3) remains a number #1, moving to the East region this week.

UConn slips down to the 2-line, through no fault of their own. Georgetown and Syracuse switch places thanks to the Hoyas win on Wednesday night. The Orange are currently the top-rated 3-seed, and a win over Pitt on Monday night will bolster their case to move back up next week. Oklahoma and Michigan State remain on the 2 line this week.

Joining the Orange as 3 seeds this week: returnee Texas and former 4-seeds Arizona State and Xavier. Of this group, the Longhorns will have the biggest struggle staying this high, as the teams on the 4-line are rising with a bullet. ASU was very close to dropping, until they pulled out a huge win at Pauley yesterday afternoon.

Speaking of UCLA, the Bruins are new to the group of protected seeds this week. Despite the loss to the Sun Devils, the Bruins are still going to be in the Pac-10 race at the end. Wins at rising USC last Sunday and over fading Arizona (this week's last team in) showed a bit of what this group is capable of. Something two wins over the dreadful Oregon schools didn't. Clemson drops down a line after losing to Wake Saturday. I strongly suspect that, much like last year, this is the Tigers' true level. Big East co-leaders Louisville and Marquette are also new protected seeds this week. The Cardinals had a great week at home, knocking off Notre Dame in OT and the previously top-ranked Pitt Panthers in a gutsy effort. The Golden Eagles best two league wins are over new entrant Villanova and West Virginia at home. Yesterday, they won at bubble boys Providence for the first time.

Butler, Michigan, and Wisconsin fell from the top 16 this week. The Bulldogs were passed by teams with stronger profiles. The Wolverines and Badgers both dropped two Big Ten games.

It wasn't all bad news for the Big Ten this week. Minnesota jumped up from a 9 seed to a 6. However, the Gophers may drop slightly next week, as they lost to Northwestern this afternoon, giving the Wildcats their first conference win of the season. Kentucky now looks to be the favorites in the SEC after they demolished Tennessee 18 Tuesday night thanks to a school record 54 points from Jodie Meeks. They also jumped up to the 6 line from the 9 line.

Just As We Were Getting to Know You

At the bottom of the bracket, we say goodbye to both Arkansas and Boston College, who started to lose just around the time I stuck them in the field. Maryland is also out after dropping games to Florida State and newcomer Miami. If the Terps make it into the field in March, they better hope they aren't placed in a Miami pod. Maryland finishes the regular season 1-4 in games played in the state of Florida. Joining the Hurricanes as newcomers this week, Villanova, the 9th Big East team in, Stanford (even if their profile isn't the greatest), and Missouri. The Tigers win over Cal is looking better and better. Dayton hangs in the bracket this week after timely A-10 wins over Fordham and Duquesne.

I'll release my next bracket sometime next Sunday afternoon. Saturday, I'm hitting the road for two contests. First, I'll see Georgia State at Delaware in Newark, then I'm heading to the Palestra for St. Joe's-Penn.