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NCAA tournament projections: Louisville tops NBCSports.com’s 2013-14 preseason edition

Nov 8, 2013, 7:00 AM EDT

Michigan v Louisville Getty Images

The Road to the Final Four is about to begin, and a host of familiar names sit atop our preseason bracket projection.

Reigning NCAA champion Louisville opens as the top overall seed in the Midwest Region, which again goes through nearby Indianapolis. The Cardinals are followed by Michigan State (East), Kentucky (South), and Kansas (West) as favorites to reach AT&T Stadium in April. Close behind are Duke, Arizona, Syracuse, and Oklahoma State. Need more heavyweights? How about Michigan, Ohio State, Florida, and North Carolina as possible three-seeds?

Beyond conference realignment – and remembering that Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are now in the ACC, for example – the NCAA has changed a few of its bracketing principles for 2014. If you want to read them for yourself, visit http://www.ncaa.com. The most significant updates are an emphasis on maintaining a team’s true seed (from the seed list), and allowing teams from the same conference to potentially meet before a regional final if they played less than three times during the regular season. (Note: This could happen previously but only if more than eight teams from a conference were selected). There are a lot of variables, but the goal is to provide the Selection Committee with more options during the bracketing process. In year’s past, bracketing procedures often required moving several teams up or down a seed line to avoid such things as conference conflicts within the region. While this may still occur, it should be less frequently. What we can’t predict in the preseason is how many times conference foes will actually meet because conference tournament games are included.

With the arrival of the American Athletic Conference (AAC), there will also be one less at-large bid in 2014. We now have 32 automatic qualifiers and 36 at-large spots. In our preseason bracket the First Five out are Illinois, California, Providence, Massachusetts, and Xavier. Purdue, Iowa State, Pittsburgh, Missouri, Washington, and Florida State are next. A host of other potential at-large candidates were also evaluated.

Our opening First Four? BYU, Indiana State, San Diego State, and SMU.

Fortunately, the actual bracket will develop over the course over four and a half months. At this point, it’s guesswork. The journey will be tremendous. Think about the storylines we already have: Will John Calipari blend his vaunted recruits into a championship team? Can the Cardinals repeat? Will Tom Izzo return Michigan State to the Final Four? Who will be this year’s Wichita State, Butler, VCU, or George Mason? And the list goes on.

It’s almost time for tip-off. Grab a seat. It’s going to be quite a ride toward Selection Sunday.

UPDATED: November 7, 2013

Teams in CAPS represent the projected AUTOMATIC bid based on current standings. Exceptions are made for teams that use an abbreviation (UCLA, BYU, etc). Records are for games against Division I teams only.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • San Diego State vs. Indiana State | Midwest Region
  • BYU vs. SMU | South Region
  • CHARLESTON SO vs. NC-CENTRAL | East Region
  • TX-SOUTHERN vs. NORTHWESTERN ST | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EASTNew York MIDWESTIndianapolis                       
Milwaukee St. Louis
1) MICHIGAN STATE 1) LOUISVILLE
16) CHARLESTON SO / NC-CENTRAL 16) N’WESTERN ST / TX-SOUTHERN
8) Saint Louis 8) HARVARD
9) Georgetown 9) Villanova
Spokane Spokane
5) Colorado 5) Tennessee
12) TOLEDO 12) San Diego St / Indiana St
4) Memphis 4) Oregon
13) WRIGHT STATE 13) WEBER STATE
Orlando Buffalo
6) Connecticut 6) MARQUETTE
11) Maryland 11) LSU
3) Florida 3) Michigan
14) IONA 14) EASTERN KENTUCKY
Buffalo San Antonio
7) Indiana 7) Notre Dame
10) UNLV 10) Stanford
2) Syracuse 2) Oklahoma State
15) WAGNER 15) WESTERN KENTUCKY
SOUTH – Memphis WEST – Anaheim
Milwaukee St. Louis
1) KENTUCKY 1) KANSAS
16) MOUNT ST. MARY’S 16) BOSTON UNIVERSITY
8) Baylor 8) Virginia
9) Boise State 9) Arizona State
San Antonio San Diego
5) Wisconsin 5) WICHITA STATE
12) NEW MEXICO ST 12) SOUTHERN MISS
4) VCU 4) Iowa
13) ELON 13) TOWSON
Orlando Raleigh
6) UCLA 6) GONZAGA
11) BYU / SMU 11) St. John’s
3) Ohio State 3) North Carolina
14) MERCER 14) UC-IRVINE
Raleigh San Diego
7) Creighton 7) NEW MEXICO
10) Cincinnati 10) La Salle
2) DUKE 2) ARIZONA
15) VERMONT 15) NO DAKOTA ST

NOTES on the BRACKET: Louisville is the No. 1 overall seed followed by Michigan State, Kentucky, and Kansas. Next in line: Duke, Arizona, Syracuse, and Oklahoma State.

Last Five teams in (at large): St. John’s, BYU, Indiana State, San Diego State, SMU

First Five teams out (at large): Illinois, California, Providence, Massachusetts, Xavier

Next five teams out (at large): Purdue, Iowa State, Pittsburgh, Missouri, Washington

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (6): Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia, Maryland

Pac 12 (6): Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, UCLA, Arizona State, Stanford

Big Ten (6): Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana

American (5): Louisville, Memphis, Connecticut, Cincinnati, SMU

Big East (5): Marquette, Creighton, Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s

Mountain West (4): New Mexico, Boise State, UNLV, San Diego State

SEC (4): Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, LSU

Big 12 (3): Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor

Atlantic 10 (3): VCU, Saint Louis, La Salle

Missouri Valley (2): Wichita State, Indiana State

West Coast (2): Gonzaga, BYU

Conference Automatic Qualifiers … Southern Miss (C-USA), Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), Boston University (Patriot), North Dakota State (Summit), Wright State (Horizon), Elon (Southern), New Mexico State (WAC), Iona (MAAC), Northwestern State (Southland), Toledo (MAC), Mercer (A-Sun), Harvard (IVY), UC Irvine (Big West), Towson (Colonial), Vermont (American East), Weber State (Big Sky), North Carolina Central (MEAC), Charleston Southern (Big South), Wagner (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)

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