It says a lot about a 68-team NCAA tournament field --- particularly this projected 68-team field --- that Maryland just nosed its way in.
That's not to say the Terrapins aren't good. But the evidence they are capable of upending other tournament-quality opponents lies mostly in their ability to play ranked teams close rather than beating those ranked teams.
Playing opponents close --- and owning just one top-50 and three top-100 victories as January comes to a close --- isn't exactly the meatiest resume. But Maryland has done nothing terrible, and looked dreadful just once in its first 21 games. While sizing up this week's bracket, the Terps made it into the field over a free-falling Oklahoma State outfit, Kansas State and Wichita State teams with even blander overall profiles than Maryland and a Butler bunch that has three losses to teams outside the top 100.
With their increasingly valuable defeat of Penn State, the Terps at least have something going for them while enduring no ugly stains. For the moment, it's enough to at least be in the discussion for a tournament berth --- and in this projection, just enough to snag a trip to Dayton.
Some acknowledged flaws with this field, plus the full projection after the jump ...
* A surprisingly large headache was triple-digit RPI Alabama acting as the SEC's automatic qualifier. The Crimson Tide was bumped up a line to create fewer headaches.
* There are some fascinating potential second round games: Georgetown-North Carolina, Kansas-Illinois, Purdue-Virginia Tech (Round II), Pittsburgh-UCLA, Kentucky-West Virginia, Duke-Michigan State (Round II) and Connecticut-Boston College. None were planned during the bracketing, and only one (Georgetown playing North Carolina in Charlotte) seems harsh for the higher-seeded team.
(1) BIG TEN/Ohio State vs. (16) SOUTHLAND/McNeese State-SWAC/Jackson State
(8) Georgia vs. (9) WEST COAST/Saint Mary's
(4) Louisville vs. (13) SUMMIT/Oakland
(5) Texas A&M vs. (12) MISSOURI VALLEY/Missouri State
(3) Georgetown vs. (14) ATLANTIC SUN/Belmont
(6) North Carolina vs. (11) Old Dominion
(2) MOUNTAIN WEST/Brigham Young vs. (15) BIG SKY/Montana
(7) Tennessee vs. (10) Marquette
(1) Kansas vs. (16) NORTHEAST/Long Island-MEAC/Bethune-Cookman
(8) Illinois vs. (9) Florida State
(4) Villanova vs. (13) IVY/Harvard
(5) Washington vs. (12) George Mason/Penn State
(3) Purdue vs. (14) PATRIOT/Bucknell
(6) Florida vs. (11) Virginia Tech
(2) Notre Dame vs. (15) BIG WEST/Long Beach State
(7) ATLANTIC 10/Xavier vs. (10) UNLV
(1) BIG EAST/Pittsburgh vs. (16) AMERICA EAST/Maine
(8) Temple vs. (9) UCLA
(4) Missouri vs. (13) SOUTHEASTERN/Alabama
(5) Minnesota vs. (12) COLONIAL/Virginia Commonwealth
(3) Kentucky vs. (14) SOUTHERN/College of Charleston
(6) West Virginia vs. (11) HORIZON/Cleveland State
(2) ACC/Duke vs. (15) SUN BELT/Florida Atlantic
(7) Cincinnati vs. (10) Michigan State
(1) BIG 12/Texas vs. (16) OHIO VALLEY/Austin Peay
(8) St. John's vs. (9) WESTERN ATHLETIC/Utah State
(4) Wisconsin vs. (13) MID-AMERICAN/Kent State
(5) Syracuse vs. (12) Maryland/Washington State
(3) San Diego State vs. (14) BIG SOUTH/Coastal Carolina
(6) Vanderbilt vs. (11) CONFERENCE USA/Memphis
(2) Connecticut vs. (15) METRO ATLANTIC/Fairfield
(7) PAC-10/Arizona vs. (10) Boston College
Last four in: George Mason, Maryland, Penn State, Washington State
Last four out: Oklahoma State, Wichita State, Butler, Kansas State
Next four out: Clemson, Richmond, Colorado State, Drexel
Bids by league: Big East (11), Big Ten (7), ACC (6), SEC (6), Big 12 (4), Pac-10 (4), Colonial (3), Mountain West (3), Atlantic 10 (2)