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Bracketology: A trio of unbeatens lead the way early

Wisconsin, Arizona and Syracuse share the top line with Michigan State in Chris Dobbertean's first bracket of the 2013-14 season.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

I know, you're likely unhappy right now because a thrilling college football season ended Monday night, but fret not! Let me be the first to welcome you to -- if you haven't been paying much attention to it so far -- an exciting college basketball season. Non-conference play is all but over and league play is just heating up. So sit down, grab a beverage, relax and enjoy what the next three months have to offer.

As for those of you who have been watching since November ... the excitement of the first two months of the season can be our little secret.

Wait. I can't really do that, as I need to use all of those games to build the first bracket of the season. And yes, I am aware of all of the criticisms of doing a projection this early. In response, I'm not going to focus too much on seeding for the first few weeks of this annual exercise. Today, for example, I'm going to name a surprise (positive, of course) and disappointment from each multi-bid conference in this projection, along with the single-bid leagues as a whole, based on the first half of the season.

That's after today's bracket and rundown.

Indianapolis (Fri/Sun)
(2) EAST
New York (Fri/Sun)
Milwaukee (Thu/Sat) Buffalo (Thu/Sat)
1 Wisconsin (Big Ten) 1 Syracuse (ACC)
16 Florida Gulf Coast (A-Sun) 16 Southern/Western Carolina
8 VCU 8 Xavier
9 Pittsburgh 9 Florida State
Orlando (Thu/Sat) San Diego (Fri/Sun)
55 5 Kentucky 5 Baylor
12 George Washington/Notre Dame 12 Toledo (MAC)
4 Kansas 4 UMass (A10)
13 Belmont (OVC) 13 Hawai'i (Big West)
St. Louis (Fri/Sun) Raleigh (Fri/Sun)
6 North Carolina 6 Duke
11 Harvard (Ivy) 11 Minnesota/Oklahoma
3 Wichita State (MVC) 3 Villanova (Big East)
14 Stephen F. Austin (Southland) 14 Stony Brook (AmEast)
Spokane (Thu/Sat) St. Louis (Fri/Sun)
7 Illinois 7 Missouri (SEC)
10 Dayton 10 Connecticut
2 Oregon 2 Iowa State
15 Air Force (MW) 15 Arkansas State (Sun Belt)
Memphis (Thu/Sat)
(3) WEST
Anaheim (Thu/Sat)
Milwaukee (Thu/Sat) San Diego (Fri/Sun)
1 Michigan State 1 Arizona (Pac-12)
16 UMKC (WAC) 16 Hampton/James Madison
8 Saint Louis 8 Georgetown
9 Kansas State 9 Michigan
Spokane (Thu/Sat) Raleigh (Fri/Sun)
5 Iowa 5 Creighton
12 North Dakota State (Summit) 12 Southern Miss. (C-USA)
4 San Diego State 4 Cincinnati (AAC)
13 West Virginia (Big 12) 13 Manhattan (MAAC)
San Antonio (Fri/Sun) San Antonio (Fri/Sun)
6 Louisville 6 Memphis
11 Texas 11 Green Bay (Horizon)
3 Colorado 3 Oklahoma State
14 St. Francis Brooklyn (NEC) 14 Boston U. (Patriot)
Orlando (Thu/Sat) Buffalo (Thu/Sat)
7 New Mexico 7 Gonzaga (WCC)
10 UCLA 10 Virginia
2 Florida 2 Ohio State
15 Radford (Big South) 15 Northern Colorado (Big Sky)
Tuesday: To Buffalo Tuesday: To Orlando
16 Southern (SWAC) 12 George Washington
16 Western Carolina (SoCon) 11 Notre Dame
Wednesday: To San Diego Wednesday: To Raleigh
16 Hampton (MEAC) 11 Minnesota
16 James Madison (CAA) 11 Oklahoma

Big 12: 8 Virginia Air Force Boise State
ACC: 7 Connecticut Arkansas State Eastern Kentucky
Big Ten: 7 Dayton Belmont Elon
A-10: 5 Texas Dayton High Point
American: 4 LAST FOUR IN Florida State Indiana
Big East: 4
George Washington George Washington Indiana State
Pac-12: 4 Notre Dame Hampton Iona
MW: 3 Minnesota Hawai'i La Salle
SEC: 3 Oklahoma Illinois Louisiana Tech
1-Bid Conferences: 23 FIRST FOUR OUT Iowa State Marquette

SMU James Madison Montana

Boise State Manhattan New Mexico State

Tennessee Minnesota Norfolk State

St. Mary's Northern Colorado Northwestern State

NEXT FOUR OUT Oklahoma Purdue

LSU Radford Robert Morris

Indiana State St. Francis Brooklyn St. John's

Louisiana Tech Southern Miss. Stanford

Butler Stephen F. Austin Tennessee

Texas Towson

UMKC UC Irvine

West Virginia UNLV

Western Carolina Western Kentucky

Also considered (in order): California, New Mexico State, Utah, Arkansas, Wake Forest, Stanford, Richmond, Princeton, Mississippi, Indiana, Marquette, UAB, Maryland, UNLV

Teams are listed in the conference rundowns in seed list order. This post contains information about how I determine automatic bids before the conference tournaments, and my preseason bracket includes a rundown of the new bracket rules for this season. All data is courtesy Basketball State ($) and reflects games against Division I opposition only that were completed before Monday, January 6, 2014.

American Athletic

Bids This Week (4): Cincinnati Bearcats (auto bid, in as at-large), Memphis Tigers, Louisville CardinalsConnecticut Huskies, SMU Mustangs

Surprise: Cincinnati (13-2, 2-0 AAC, RPI rank: 21, SOS rank: 112)
Back in early December, when the Bearcats hit the road for the first time this season, they failed to impress on consecutive Saturdays against New Mexico and Xavier. Since then, Mick Cronin's squad has rattled off six straight wins, starting with a victory over Pitt in the Jimmy V Classic that was not pretty, to put it nicely. (Sorry for bringing it up, those of you who watched.) Yes, four of the wins after the one-point triumph over the Panthers came at Fifth Third Arena, but Cincy followed up its AAC-opening home win over an SMU squad that sits just outside of this projection with a resounding and completely unexpected win at Memphis on Saturday afternoon.

Disappointment: Connecticut (11-3, 0-2 AAC, RPI rank: 36, SOS rank: 68)
Thanks to an 0-2 start in conference play and three losses in their last five games, the Huskies are unexpectedly close to the cut line at this early stage. The big problem for UConn is that its schedule, which looked quite attractive in November, doesn't look as great now. Sure, there's a win over Florida, but the struggles of Maryland, Indiana, Boston College, and Washington mean victories over those teams (all away from home) won't provide much of an RPI or perception boost.

Five Games To Watch This Week

Cincinnati at Houston, Tuesday 9 p.m. ET (CBS SN)
Harvard at Connecticut, Wednesday 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Memphis at Louisville, Thursday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN/ESPN2)
Memphis at Temple, Saturday 3 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
SMU at Louisville, Sunday 2 p.m. ET (CBS SN)

Atlantic 10

Bids This Week (5): UMass Minutemen (auto bid, in as at-large), Saint Louis Billikens, VCU RamsDayton FlyersGeorge Washington Colonials

Surprise: George Washington (12-2, RPI rank: 22, SOS rank: 98)
Last season, the Colonials entered Atlantic 10 play with a 6-7 record and struggled to earn seven more wins the rest of the way. They enter 2014 requiring one more win to match that 2012-13 victory total. A win over Creighton in the Wooden Legacy is GW's best by far, and the Colonials will need to take advantage of the strength of their league rivals to stay in the field long-term. Still, Mike Lonergan seems to have things back on track in the Foggy Bottom, which hasn't seen an NCAA team since 2007.

Disappointment: La Salle (7-6, RPI rank: 113, SOS rank: 95)
While the Explorers lost Ramon Galloway to graduation after their Sweet 16 appearance, you expected another excellent season for them, thanks to the return of the majority of that team's top performers. However, it appears John Giannini's team really misses Galloway, as the Explorers' non-conference record is three games worse than last season's mark and they don't have a single win against the RPI Top 100 heading into the Atlantic 10 season.

Five Games To Watch This Week

Saint Louis at Rhode Island, Tuesday 7 p.m. ET (CBS SN)
St. Joseph's at UMass, Wednesday 7 p.m. (Comcast Network/SNY/CSN New England)
George Mason at VCU, Thursday 7 p.m. ET (CBS SN)
George Washington at La Salle, Thursday 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Saint Louis at Dayton, Saturday 11 a.m. ET (ESPN2)


Bids This Week (7): Syracuse Orange (auto bid, in as at-large), Duke Blue Devils, North Carolina Tar HeelsFlorida State SeminolesPittsburgh Panthers, Virginia Cavaliers, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Surprise: North Carolina (10-4, 0-1 ACC, RPI rank: 38, SOS rank: 22)
Even with a controversy regarding the eligibility of Leslie McDonald (eventually reinstated) and P.J. Hairston (off the team) swirling, the Tar Heels have been able to defeat 2013 champ Louisville (in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off), Michigan State (at Breslin), and preseason number one Kentucky. No team has a finer collection of non-conference wins than UNC.

Disappointment: North Carolina
On the flip side, the Tar Heels have a nasty habit of playing to the level of their opponents, which has led to losses in winnable games against Belmont and Texas in Chapel Hill and UAB and Wake Forest on the road. Roy Williams' squad is guaranteed to drive him crazy through the ACC season and to present a significant seeding challenge to the Selection Committee. While I joked on Twitter on Sunday that I expected to slot Carolina in an 8/9 game throughout the season, the Heels are a bit higher than that this week. Don't expect that positioning to last.

Five Games To Watch This Week

Wake Forest at Virginia, Wednesday 9 p.m. ET (ACC RSNs)
North Carolina at Syracuse, Saturday 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Notre Dame at Georgia Tech, Saturday 12 p.m. ET (ACC Network Regional/ESPN3)
Maryland at Florida State, Sunday 8 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Virginia at Duke, Monday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Big 12

Bids This Week (8): Iowa State Cyclones, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats, Baylor Bears, Texas Longhorns, Oklahoma SoonersWest Virginia Mountaineers (auto bid, not in as at-large)

Surprise: Iowa State (13-0, 1-0 Big 12, RPI rank: 4, SOS rank: 34)
Looking back, it was very silly to leave the Cyclones out of my preseason projection. Early in his career, Fred Hoiberg is gaining a reputation as the Big 12's version of Bo Ryan -- the coach you should never underestimate in the preseason. Iowa State has rattled off 13 straight wins to start the season and looks very capable of challenging preseason favorites Kansas and Oklahoma State for the Big 12 crown. Triumphs over Michigan and Iowa (both in Ames) are the two best on the Cyclones' profile, but victories over BYU (in Provo) and Boise State (in the Diamond Head final) might not help as much as anticipated.

Disappointment: Kansas (9-4, RPI rank: 2, SOS rank: 1)
How exactly can a team that's ranked second in the RPI and is deemed as having the top schedule in the country a disappointment? Well, the Jayhawks have dropped four games so far this season (three away from Phog Allen), and it looks like Bill Self's young squad has yet to jell. When they do, they'll be exceptionally dangerous, but until that happens, Kansas will take its licks. This week's three games -- including two road trips -- will provide a nice test for Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, and company, especially after Sunday's home loss to San Diego State.

Five Games To Watch This Week

Baylor at Iowa State, Tuesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Kansas at Oklahoma, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Iowa State at Oklahoma, Saturday 12 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Kansas State at Kansas, Saturday 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Kansas at Iowa State, Monday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Big East

Bids This Week (4): Villanova Wildcats (auto bid, in as at-large), Creighton Bluejays, Georgetown Hoyas, Xavier Musketeers

Surprise: Villanova (13-1, 2-0 Big East, RPI rank: 3, SOS rank: 17)
Heading into the first season of the new Big East, Creighton and Marquette looked to be the heavy favorites. But thanks to 11 wins in 12 non-conference games, including victories over Kansas and Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Wildcats have announced themselves as a serious threat to win the conference crown. Given how Jay Wright's team snuck into the NCAAs last season, such a strong start is a shock. But maybe Nova just built on its finish in 2013.

Disappointment: Marquette (9-6, 1-1 Big East, RPI rank: 109, SOS rank: 113)
Buzz Williams hasn't really found a point guard this season, and it's showing for the Golden Eagles. Marquette has just one win against a top 100 foe in seven opportunities (over George Washington in Anaheim), which leaves them with a lot of work to do in the league. Given Marquette's struggles offensively, a strong conference showing might just be too much to ask.

Five Games To Watch This Week

Georgetown at Providence, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (FS1)
Marquette at Xavier, Thursday 9 p.m. ET (FS1)
Villanova at St. John's, Saturday 1 p.m. ET (FS1)
Georgetown at Butler, Saturday 7 p.m. ET (FS1)
Xavier at Creighton, Sunday 3 p.m. ET (CBS SN)

Big Ten

Bids This Week (7): Wisconsin Badgers (auto bid, in as at-large), Michigan State Spartans, Ohio State Buckeyes, Iowa Hawkeyes, Illinois Fighting Illini, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers

Surprise: Wisconsin (15-0, 2-0 Big Ten, RPI rank: 1, SOS rank: 19)
By now, everyone knows not to pick a Bo Ryan-coached Badger team to finish any lower than fourth in the Big Ten. As for figuring a Badger team is going to make it through the non-conference season without a blemish ... well, that's a different story. Yes, Wisconsin will lose somewhere along the way. After all, they barely got by Iowa at home on Sunday night, but Fran McCaffery's Angry Dad impersonation boosted a Badger rally that was already in progress. It will be interesting to see how the Badgers respond to being the league favorites in January after spending so many seasons sneaking up on their rivals.

Disappointment: Indiana (10-5, 0-2 Big Ten, RPI rank: 89, SOS rank: 81)
The Hoosiers were naturally going to take a step back after losing Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo to NBA early entry and Christian Watford to graduation off last season's Big Ten championship team. However, this season's youthful Indiana lineup has struggled mightily, particularly on offense, and failed to grab a quality win so far (0-5 vs. the RPI Top 100) as a result. Much like in the case of Kansas, the Hoosiers should be better as their freshmen gain more experience. However, given a rough non-conference mark, IU's path to the NCAAs is not terribly easy.

Five Games To Watch This Week

Ohio State at Michigan State, Tuesday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Minnesota at Penn State, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (BTN)
Illinois at Wisconsin, Wednesday 9 p.m. ET (BTN)
Minnesota at Michigan State, Saturday 2:15 p.m. ET (BTN)
Iowa at Ohio State, Sunday 1:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

Mountain West

Bids This Week (3/4): San Diego State Aztecs, New Mexico LobosAir Force Falcons (auto bid, not in as at-large)

Surprise: San Diego State (10-1, 1-0 MW, RPI rank: 18, SOS rank: 80)
The Aztecs lost Jamaal Franklin and three seniors off a 2012-13 team that was good, but not spectacular, and look to be a far better team. If you watched Sunday's win over Kansas, you'll notice that the reasons for this jump in performance are pretty simple. Steve Fisher's squad has cranked up the defense and the Aztecs' length inside is going to give plenty of teams problems. Given preseason pick New Mexico's early season struggles (relatively), SDSU is the new favorite to claim the Mountain West crown.

Disappointment: UNLV (10-5, 1-1 MW, RPI rank: 118, SOS rank: 152)
You'll notice that Air Force is in this week's projection as the Mountain West's auto bid holder. That's because the Falcons went into the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday and walked out with a seven-point win over the Runnin' Rebels -- UNLV's fourth home loss of the season. Even with Anthony Bennett, Mike Moser, Anthony Marshall and Katin Reinhardt gone -- and that's a lot of talent playing either in the pros or at other schools -- that's an unacceptable number of home defeats for a team known for having a great homecourt advantage. With a single top 100 win (against transitioning Summit League member Omaha), Dave Rice's squad may need the auto bid to get in, especially with this Mountain West looking to be considerably weaker than last year's version.

Five Games To Watch This Week

Nevada at UNLV, Wednesday 9:15 p.m. ET (CBS SN)
Boise State at San Diego State, Wednesday 11 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
New Mexico at Wyoming, Wednesday 11 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Wyoming at Boise State, Saturday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
San Diego State at Air Force, Sunday 4 p.m. (ESPN3)


Bids This Week (4): Arizona Wildcats (auto bid, in as at-large), Oregon Ducks, Colorado Buffaloes, UCLA Bruins

Surprise: Utah (10-2, 1-1 Pac-12, RPI rank: 161, SOS rank: 335)
The Utes aren't near the bracket yet. Honestly, they may never make it, thanks to a truly awful non-conference slate. Utah's home wins over struggling BYU and Fresno State were its only non-conference games scheduled against teams from outside of the RPI Top 230! However, last week's overtime loss to Oregon and win over Oregon State showed that the Salt Lake City leg of the Pac-12's Mountain road trip is going to be nearly as difficult as the Boulder segment. That fact makes Larry Krystkowiak's team a dangerous one in the conference race.

Disappointment: Arizona State (12-3, 1-1 Pac-12, RPI rank: 69, SOS rank: 158)
Glancing at the Sun Devils' record, they appear to have a nice case for the field of 68 at this point. But a closer look reveals wins at UNLV and over Marquette that aren't delivering the RPI boost expected and a pair of bad losses to Miami and Washington that hurting the squad's computer numbers. Also, a loss to Creighton in Anaheim is the only game Arizona State has played against a team in the RPI Top 100 so far. In short, the Sun Devils have a lot of work to do in what's shaping up to be a make-or-break season for head coach Herb Sendek

Five Games To Watch This Week

Arizona at UCLA, Thursday 9 p.m. ET (ESPN/ESPN2)
California at Oregon, Thursday 11 p.m. ET (FS1)
Colorado at Washington, Sunday 3 p.m. ET (FS1)
Stanford at Oregon, Sunday 5 p.m. ET (FS1)
Arizona State at UCLA, Sunday 10 p.m. ET (ESPNU)


Bids This Week (3): Florida Gators, Kentucky Wildcats, Missouri Tigers (auto bid, in as at-large)

Surprise: Florida (11-2, RPI rank: 15, SOS rank: 52)
Sure, the Gators were expected to be good and challenge Kentucky for the SEC crown, but given the number of injuries and suspensions Billy Donovan has had to juggle, UF gets the nod, especially after you consider how that the rest of the conference is off to a slow start. While their one-point loss to Connecticut looks worse by the day, the Gators' performance in a November 12th defeat at Wisconsin really stands out, especially since Scottie Wilbekin missed it via suspension.

Disappointment: Tennessee (8-4, RPI rank: 57, SOS rank: 31)
In their last game against Division I opposition, the Volunteers took apart Virginia, defeating the Cavaliers by 35 in Knoxville. Tennessee also earned a split against Xavier, falling to the Musketeers in Cincinnati on November 12th before gaining some revenge in the Bahamas 17 days later. That's the good part of the Vols' profile. On the flip side, Cuonzo Martin's team has also lost to UTEP in the Battle 4 Atlantis and an average N.C. State team -- in Knoxville. Given that the Vols' non-conference schedule kept them out last year, you'd think they'd have learned a lesson from that NIT trip. Apparently not.

Five Games To Watch This Week

Tennessee at LSU, Tuesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Florida at Arkansas, Saturday 1 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Kentucky at Vanderbilt, Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Ole Miss at Mississippi State, Saturday 4 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Texas A&M at Tennessee, Saturday 6 p.m. ET (SEC on FSN/ESPN3)

Single-Bid Leagues

Bids This Week (23): Stony Brook Seawolves (America East), Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (Atlantic Sun), Northern Colorado Bears (Big Sky), Radford Highlanders (Big South), Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors (Big West), James Madison Dukes (Colonial), Southern Miss. Golden Eagles (C-USA), Green Bay Phoenix (Horizon), Harvard Crimson (Ivy), Manhattan Jaspers (MAAC), Toledo Rockets (MAC), Hampton Pirates (MEAC), Wichita State Shockers (MVC, in as at-large), St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers (NEC), Belmont Bruins (OVC), Boston U. Terriers (Patriot), Western Carolina Catamounts (Southern), Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (Southland), Southern U. Jaguars (SWAC), North Dakota State Bison (Summit), Arkansas State Red Wolves (Sun Belt), Gonzaga Bulldogs (WCC, in as at-large), UMKC Kangaroos (WAC)

Surprise: None
Of this group, just six will be able to make a case for an at-large come March, and all of them -- Gonzaga, Green Bay, Harvard, North Dakota State, Southern Miss., and Wichita State -- were expected to contend heading into this season. Toledo could have joined this group with a win over Kansas last week. Belmont would have been there had it built upon early wins against Indiana State and North Carolina. However, the Rockets non-conference schedule strength and the Bruins' inconsistency keep them out of the at-large pool and leave this category empty.

Disappointment (tie): BYU (8-7, 1-2 WCC, RPI rank: 40, SOS rank: 3) and St. Mary's (11-4, 2-1 WCC, RPI rank: 31, SOS rank: 40)
The WCC's run of multiple bids is in trouble thanks to these two squads' struggles. BYU was expected to challenge Gonzaga from the start, while St. Mary's needed to prove that it didn't miss the graduated Matthew Dellavedova. Well, the Cougars have struggled with a difficult non-conference schedule, while the Gaels looked to be a national surprise before an ugly trip to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic changed matters.

Both squads have computer numbers that compare favorably to just about any other bubble team out there. Unfortunately for both, each also has some bad losses to overcome. The Cougars have more work to do, arguably, thanks to the absence of a Top 50 win and three losses to teams ranked outside of the Top 100 (and nearly the Top 150, Pepperdine is ranked 149th). The Gaels, on the other hand, have two Top 50 wins (against North Dakota State and Boise State, so who knows how long those will hold that status) and two losses to teams from outside the Top 100 (but above the 150th spot), thanks to that 0-3 trip to Hawai'i. Both squads will need to avoid further WCC losses, and the pair of meetings between the two looms especially large.

Five Games To Watch This Week

Harvard at Connecticut, Wednesday 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Radford at High Point, Friday 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Loyola Marymount at BYU, Saturday 9 p.m. ET (BYU TV)
Green Bay at Milwaukee, Sunday 2 p.m. (TWCS Wisconsin)
Akron at Ohio, Sunday 6 p.m. ET (TWCS/ESPN3)

I'll release my next projection on Tuesday, January 14th. In the meantime, head over to Blogging the Bracket for my daily TV previews and follow me during each night's action on Twitter @DobberSBN.

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