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Preseason Bracketology: Bluegrass dominance

Kentucky and Louisville lead the way in Chris Dobbertean's mockable November NCAA Tournament projection. Michigan State and Duke join the Bluegrass State's finest on the top line, but the quartet will be pushed by some significant competition.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, another long seven month-long offseason has come to a close and it's time to see if the 2013-14 college basketball season can match the excitement offered by the 2012-13 version. Before diving into an opening night lineup that's far busier than the usual college hoops Friday, here's a look at how I'd complete the fool's errand that is selecting and seeding the field of 68 before a single game tips off.

Automatic bids are denoted by conference names in parentheses.

Indianapolis (Fri/Sun)
Memphis (Thu/Sat)
St. Louis (Fri/Sun) St. Louis (Fri/Sun)
1 Kentucky (SEC) 1 Louisville (American)
16 High Point or Northwestern State 16 Norfolk State (MEAC)
8 Notre Dame 8 Boise State
9 San Diego State 9 Pittsburgh
Spokane (Thu/Sat) San Diego (Fri/Sun)
55 5 Baylor 5 Creighton
12 Louisiana Tech (C-USA) 12 La Salle
4 Wichita State (MVC) 4 New Mexico (MW)
13 Green Bay (Horizon) 13 Florida Gulf Coast (A-Sun)
Buffalo (Thu/Sat) San Antonio (Fri/Sun)
6 Gonzaga (WCC) 6 Virginia
11 Indiana State or Xavier 11 Stanford
3 Syracuse 3 Oklahoma State
14 Towson (CAA) 14 North Dakota State (Summit)
Buffalo (Thu/Sat) Orlando (Thu/Sat)
7 Saint Louis 7 Colorado
10 Missouri 10 Villanova
2 Ohio State 2 Florida
15 Western Kentucky (Sun Belt) 15 Iona (MAAC)
(4) WEST
Anaheim (Thu/Sat)
(3) EAST
New York City (Fri/Sun)
Raleigh (Fri/Sun) Milwaukee (Thu/Sat)
1 Duke (ACC) 1 Michigan State (Big Ten)
16 Southern U. (SWAC) 16 Robert Morris or Stony Brook
8 Georgetown 8 Tennessee
9 Iowa 9 UCLA
San Antonio (Fri/Sun) Spokane (Thu/Sat)
5 Wisconsin 5 Memphis
12 New Mexico State (WAC) 12 UNLV
4 VCU (A-10) 4 Marquette (Big East)
13 Toledo (MAC) 13 Eastern Kentucky (OVC)
Orlando (Thu/Sat) Raleigh (Fri/Sun)
6 Oregon 6 Connecticut
11 St. John's 11 UMass or Purdue
3 Michigan 3 North Carolina
14 Montana (Big Sky) 14 Boston U. (Patriot)
Milwaukee (Thu/Sat) San Diego (Fri/Sun)
7 Harvard (Ivy) 7 Indiana
10 Cincinnati 10 Kansas State
2 Kansas (Big 12) 2 Arizona (PAC-12)
15 Elon (SoCon) 15 UC Irvine (Big West)
Tuesday: To Milwaukee Tuesday: To Buffalo
16 Robert Morris (NEC) 11 Indiana State
16 Stony Brook (AE) 11 Xavier
Wednesday: To St. Louis Wednesday: To Raleigh
16 High Point.(Big South) 11 UMass
16 Northwestern State (Southland) 11 Purdue

Keep in mind that with the split of the gargantuan Big East into a pair of 10-team conferences -- the American Athletic and "new" Big East -- there are now 32 automatic bids, leaving one less at-large spot bid up for grabs. The birth of a new conference means this bracket features a nice spread of at-large bids between 10 leagues.

Here's a look at the conference breakdown along with the new arrivals to this 2013 preseason projection, the teams who made the 2012 field who are left out this time around, and the other squads I considered for placement in this particular group of 68.

Big Ten: 7 La Salle Baylor Akron
ACC: 6 UNLV Boston U. Albany
Big East: 6 St. John's Connecticut Belmont
Pac-12: 5 Stanford Eastern Kentucky Bucknell
American: 4 LAST FOUR IN Elon Butler
A-10: 4
UMass Green Bay California
Big 12: 4 Purdue High Point Colorado State
MW: 4 Xavier Indiana State Davidson
SEC: 4 Indiana State Iowa Illinois
MVC: 2 FIRST FOUR OUT Kentucky Iowa State
1-Bid Conferences: 22 Maryland Louisiana Tech James Madison

Providence UMass Liberty

Southern Mississippi Norfolk State LIU Brooklyn

Arizona State North Dakota State Miami

NEXT FOUR OUT Purdue Middle Tennessee

Illinois Robert Morris Minnesota

California St. John's Mississippi

LSU Stanford N.C. A&T

BYU Stony Brook N.C. State

Tennessee Oklahoma

Toledo Pacific

Towson St. Mary's

UC Irvine South Dakota State

Virginia Temple

Xavier Valparaiso

Also considered (in order): Alabama, Charlotte, Dayton, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Iowa State, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, Mississippi, Oregon State, SMU, St. Joseph's, St. Mary's, Temple, UAB, Utah State, Washington

As always, you can expect a heavy amount of turnover between this educated guess and the one that will come just before 6 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, March 16. Last season, only 41 of the 68 teams in my opening night projection ended up in the final field. This number is pretty typical of an early season bracket, as I picked 43 of 68 correctly in 2012, which was a decline of one squad from 2011.

Obviously, my (and virtually everyone else's) biggest whiff last season was, well, another freshman-heavy Kentucky team, who went from the No. 2 overall seed on November 9th to the NIT. I did peg Indiana and Louisville correctly as top seeds, two of the six teams I seeded correctly in November. I missed nine further teams by just a single seed line. My biggest misses in terms of seeding were Georgetown (picked as an eight, ended up as a two), N.C. State (the Hoyas' situation in reverse), VCU (slated as an 11, rose up to a No. 5) and Miami, who rose an astounding 11 lines, from the First Four to a spot on the No. 2 seed line. Of all of these squads, the Wolfpack and Hurricanes are the only ones missing from this bracket.

As for the teams in the bracket, each one of the squads on seed lines two and three has a definite shot at jumping Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State and Duke between now and March. As I wrote last Selection Sunday morning, the ability to claim conference championships, particularly the double of regular season and tournament crowns, weighs heavily in the Selection Committee's deliberations for the No. 1 seed line. With this in mind, squads from conferences that are perceived to be weaker -- Kentucky, Louisville and perennial Big 12 champion Kansas (who will be pushed by Oklahoma State and Baylor) -- have an advantage over ACC, Big Ten and perhaps even Pac-12 contenders, if that conference can to live up to its preseason hype, in the race for top seeds.

In terms of the geography of the bracket, for the second season in a row, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region, set to be held once again in Indianapolis, will be the race to watch in terms of placement. Defending national champion (and Midwest titleholder) Louisville's visit to Kentucky on December 28th may go a long way to determining who earns this spot, but Kansas, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and undoubtedly others will have their say as well. Of course, with the South Regional based in Memphis, finishing as the No. 2 overall seed wouldn't be so bad, particularly for the Cardinals and Wildcats.

Finally, the construction of the bracket will see major changes, thanks to the somewhat unwieldy conferences formed by realignment. In previous seasons, the Selection Committee attempted to go to great strides to avoid regular season rematches of both the conference and non-conference variety, with a particular emphasis placed on keeping league rivals apart until at least the Elite Eight, though the 2011 Tournament saw a pair of potential Big East Round of 32 matchups, thanks to that conference placing a record 11 teams in the field. This focus on avoiding rematches compromised bracket integrity because teams would have to moved up or down a seed line to create new matchups, ones that may not necessarily reflect the true strength of the teams involved.

Now, teams will be kept apart based on how frequently they meet during the regular season. From the NCAA's official Principles and Procedures document, here's how these changes break down.

  • Up until 2013, the top three teams from a conference had to be placed in separate regions. Now, the first four teams from a league are separated regionally only if they are on lines one through four of the bracket. If five teams from a conference happen to be among the top 16, the fifth team can be placed in a region presumably based on the rematch rules that follow.
  • The distance between conference foes on the bracket will vary based on how frequently they met during the regular season, including any potential early season (particularly related to the Big East) and conference tournament matchups. If a pair of teams meet three or more times during the campaign, they'll be separated until the Elite Eight. Two meetings means squads can meet in the Sweet Sixteen. If squads meet just once (for example, Kentucky and Tennessee in the SEC and Indiana Hoosiers and Purdue in the Big Ten), they can meet in the Round of 32. However, if two teams from the same conference are sent to Dayton for the First Four, they could meet there no matter the number of regular season meetings.
  • Similar rules apply to non-conference games, as the Selection Committee will attempt to avoid rematches only in the First Four and Round of 64. However, the group of 10 may have some challenges on this front, thanks to the scheduling challenges posed by exempt events. For example, Oklahoma State and Memphis are scheduled to meet in a non-bracketed game in the Old Spice Classic, but they're also the projected finalists in the bracket itself. Presumably, if those teams actually play twice, they would not be able to meet until the Sweet Sixteen.

Expect to see more discussion of these issues once the season gets underway and regular updates resume in January. As for now, enjoy the first full weekend of the season. Days with college basketball are certainly better than ones without it.