Michigan v Louisville

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

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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


EASTNew York MIDWESTIndianapolis                       
Milwaukee St. Louis
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
Orlando Buffalo
6) Connecticut 6) MARQUETTE
11) Maryland 11) LSU
3) Florida 3) Michigan
Buffalo San Antonio
7) Indiana 7) Notre Dame
10) UNLV 10) Stanford
2) Syracuse 2) Oklahoma State
SOUTH – Memphis WEST – Anaheim
Milwaukee St. Louis
8) Baylor 8) Virginia
9) Boise State 9) Arizona State
San Antonio San Diego
5) Wisconsin 5) WICHITA STATE
4) VCU 4) Iowa
Orlando Raleigh
11) BYU / SMU 11) St. John’s
3) Ohio State 3) North Carolina
Raleigh San Diego
7) Creighton 7) NEW MEXICO
10) Cincinnati 10) La Salle

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)

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.