Illinois a No. 4 seed in CBT's projected bracket

Illinois a No. 4 seed in CBT's projected bracket
January 8, 2013, 5:14 pm
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With more than two months to play in the college basketball season, plenty will change between now and Selection Sunday. But that won't stop NCAA Tournament projections from coming fast and furious now that conference season is underway for the 348 Division-I schools vying for a berth in March Madness.
NBC Sports' College Basketball Talk released its first mock bracket this morning, and Illinois, one of the early surprises of the non-conference season in all of college basketball, was slotted as the No. 4 seed in the Midwest region, taking on No. 13 Middle Tennessee State.
The Illini (14-2, 1-1) bolted out to a fast start in Maui, defeating Butler 78-61 to win the Maui Invitational in November, and haven't looked back. With wins at No. 9 Gonzaga, the aforementioned No. 14 Bulldogs and, most recently, then-No. 8 Ohio State on Saturday, the Illini came in ranked No. 12 in the country in the NCAA's first release of its RPI standings.
That win over the Buckeyes last week salvaged the start to the Big Ten season for the Illini, who lost to unranked Purdue on the road, 68-61.
The Boilermakers (7-7, 1-1) were not listed in CBT's mock bracket, but six other Big Ten schools were: Indiana (No. 1 seed), Michigan (1), Minnesota (2), Michigan State (4), Ohio State (5) and Wisconsin (First Four game in Dayton).
The Big Ten, which touts an NCAA-best six teams in the top 25, is also the only conference with two No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds. Teams assuredly will move up and down as the season goes on, but the top six Big Ten teams (Wisconsin not included) are almost locks to make the NCAA Tournament.
The at-large field is weak this year, which means Northwestern (9-6, 0-2) could still contend for its first ever berth. With two games left against Ohio State and Illinois, and one game remaining against Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan and Michigan State, there's still room for big wins to boost the Wildcats' RPI (currently at 101).
NOTE Illinois State's rough 0-3 start to Missouri Valley play kept the Redbirds out of the projected bracket. Three teams -- Creighton, Wichita State and Indiana State -- made the first round of cuts.