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

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)

Newton has triple-double, No. 21 UConn tops No. 10 Marquette

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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HARTFORD, Conn. – UConn appears to have its mojo back.

Jordan Hawkins scored 20 points and Tristen Newton recorded his second triple-double of the season as No. 21 Connecticut ran away from No. 10 Marquette 87-72 on Tuesday night.

Newton had 12 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds for the Huskies (19-6, 8-6 Big East), who won their third straight game after losing six of eight. They started the season 14-0, rising to No. 2 in the AP Top 25.

“Teams go through tough stretches during the course of the season,” coach Dan Hurley said. “The bottom line is we’re 19-6. You know, we beat some of the best teams in the country.”

Adama Sanogo added 18 points, while Alex Karaban and Nahiem Alleyne each chipped in with 13 for Connecticut, which never trailed.

Tyler Kolek had 17 points to lead Marquette (19-6, 11-3), which had its five-game winning streak snapped. Ben Gold and Stevie Mitchell each scored 12.

The Huskies outrebounded Marquette 48-24 and used 21 offensive boards to help them get 27 second-chance points. The Huskies also had 20 assists on 31 baskets, while holding Marquette to just seven assists.

UConn opened the game on a 22-6 run, highlighted by a fast-break lob from Newton to Andre Jackson for a dunk that brought the crowd to its feet. The Huskies made their first four 3-point shots, three by Hawkins, who had 14 points in the first half.

A hook shot by Sanogo gave UConn its first 20-point lead at 32-12 .

A late first-half run by Marquette cut the margin to 43-29, but Alleyne hit a 3-pointer from almost half court to send UConn into the break with a 17-point cushion.

Another 3-pointer from Alleyne gave the Huskies a 59-38 lead in the second half.

UConn led by 25 before Marquette went on an 8-0 run to pull within 17. But the Golden Eagles never threatened to get back in the game.

“We won two or three games in January,” Hawkins said. “It was definitely a tough stretch, definitely going to shake your confidence. But you just have to stay the course, trust the process and that’s what we did and that’s what we’re going to continue to do during this last stretch.”

BIG PICTURE

Marquette: The Golden Eagles had won nine of 10. They are trying to win a regular-season conference title after being picked ninth in the preseason poll by the league’s coaches.

UConn: Entered 1-5 against the top five teams in the Big East and 1-3 versus ranked opponents. UConn lost 82-76 at Marquette on Jan. 11 after leading by 11 points in the first half.

“The rankings mean nothing,” Marquette coach Shaka Smart said. “It’s amazing the disparity – no disrespect to anyone here – between what the ranking means to media and fans in the middle of a season and what it means to players and coaches. It just doesn’t mean anything.”

BACK FROM INJURY

Marquette’s Sean Jones, who missed the previous three games with a wrist injury, had 11 points in just over 19 minutes. He came down hard on the wrist in the second half, but appeared to shake it off and continued playing.

REPEAT PERFORMANCE

Newton’s first triple-double came in November against Buffalo, when he had 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. He joined Shabazz Napier as the only Huskies players to get more than one.

“My amigos right here, they were going crazy hitting shots,” Newton said. “They were boxing out and I was getting the rebound, so I just had the easy job, just get them the ball.”

UP NEXT

Marquette: At last-place Georgetown on Saturday.

UConn: Will visit No. 23 Creighton on Saturday.

Jackson-Davis leads No. 18 Indiana past No. 24 Rutgers 66-60

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The milestone moments keep piling up for Trayce Jackson-Davis.

Only one really mattered Tuesday night.

While he scored 20 points to become the sixth player in Hoosiers’ history with 2,000 and the first among that group with 1,000 career rebounds, the most satisfying celebration came after No. 18 Indiana beat No. 24 Rutgers 66-60 – Jackson-Davis’ first win in the series.

“I think that’s the last team in the Big Ten I hadn’t beaten,” Jackson-Davis said after finishing with 18 rebounds and six assists.

From the moment Jackson-Davis announced he would attend Indiana, the expectations were great even as critics contended the results were underwhelming.

Nobody’s complaining now. Jackson-Davis now has 2,004 points, 1,035 rebounds, a school-record 242 blocks and ranks fourth all-time with 44 double-doubles after breaking a tie with Steve Downing.

After helping the Hoosiers snap a five-year NCAA Tournament drought last season and falling out of the rankings after three straight January losses, Jackson-Davis has almost single-handedly led the Hoosiers (17-7, 8-5 Big Ten) into a second-place tie by winning seven of eight.

And his dominance is starting to open things up for his teammate. Or perhaps it’s the other way around.

“I think we’ve gotten a lot better playing around Trayce, giving him space,” Miller Kopp said after scoring 18 points. “It comes down to getting better at what the coaches are asking us to do and we’re all feeling more comfortable with where our looks are coming from.”

It certainly showed against the Scarlet Knights (16-8, 8-5), who had won six straight over Indiana including a 15-point blowout in December.

This time, though, they spent most of the game playing catchup. Clifford Omoruyi had 15 points, Cam Spencer had 14 and nobody else made more than three baskets.

“It’s a one-possession game with three minutes left, but I look at the (free throw) disparity and you can’t defend the foul line,” coach Steve Pikiell said. “Give Indiana credit, they got there. Tracye Jackson-Davis was a problem.”

The Hoosiers started fast and then scored 12 straight points to take a 30-14 lead midway through the first half but even without injured starting forward Mawot Mag, Rutgers charged back. It closed the first half on an 11-2 run, then tied it at 38 when Spencer opened the second half with a 3-pointer.

Kopp broke the tie with his third 3 of the game to start an 11-0 run and Jackson-Davis’ monumental basket, a putback dunk off his own miss, made it 54-44 with 11:13 to go.

The Scarlet Knights could have tied it on Caleb McConnell’s 3 with 3:02 left, but it bounced off the back of the rim and the Hoosiers closed Jackson-Davis’ big win with a 7-2 spurt.

“He’s a man who’s done a lot since he’s been here,” said coach Mike Woodson, who is 57 points ahead of Jackson-Davis on the Hoosiers’ scoring list. “He’s a phenomenal player who does a lot of beautiful things on the court. To get 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds says a lot.”

BIG PICTURE

Rutgers: Mag missed his first game with a torn ACL in his right knee and Rutgers struggled against Indiana’s size and speed. There could be similar challenges over the final eight regular-season games.

Indiana: Woodson’s team is playing, at times, like the conference’s preseason pick to win the league title. When the Hoosiers make perimeter shots and defend well, they’re a difficult matchup for anyone. They just need fewer lulls.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The victory should help solidify Indiana’s top-20 status – at least until it hits the road for their next two games. Losing Mag and Tuesday’s game may make Rutgers’ return to the rankings short-lived regardless of what happens later this week.

UP NEXT

Rutgers: Visits Illinois on Saturday

Indiana: Heads to Michigan on Saturday.

Pitt moves into 1st-place ACC tie destroying Louisville

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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PITTSBURGH – Nike Sibande scored 15 points off the bench, nine Pittsburgh players entered the scoring column and the Panthers demolished Louisville 91-57 on Tuesday night and moved into a first-place tie with Clemson in the ACC.

Entering play Tuesday, the top five teams in the ACC were separated by just a game in the standings. A win by No. 8 Virginia against No. 22 North Carolina State Tuesday would create a three-way tie for first between Clemson, Pitt and the Cavaliers.

Against Louisville, the Panthers (17-7, 10-3) distributed 23 assists on 28-made baskets. Defensively, Pitt held Louisville (3-21, 1-12) to 27.6% (16 for 58) shooting and outrebounded the Cardinals 37-30. Mike James scored 11 points for Louisville.

El Ellis made a pair of foul shots to bring Louisville into a 14-all tie with 13:36 before halftime. Pitt then went on a 16-2 run over nearly the next five minutes. Six-different Panthers scored during the run. Nate Santos’ 3-pointer with 9:38 before the break made it 27-16 and Pitt led by double digits the rest of the way. A 47-27 halftime lead turned into a 58-28 margin just 1:59 into the second half.

With the win, the Panthers reached double digits in conference wins for just the second time in 10 ACC seasons. Pitt went 11-7 in its first year in the ACC following its 12-6 campaign in its final year in the Big East in 2012-13.

Louisville will continue its road trip when it takes on No. 19 Miami on Saturday. Pitt travels to face Florida State on Saturday.

Appleby scores 35 as Wake Forest holds off Tar Heels 92-85

William Howard-USA TODAY Sports
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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Tyree Appleby scored a season-high 35 points, 23 coming at the free-throw line, and Wake Forest built a big lead early then held on for a 92-85 victory over North Carolina on Tuesday night.

Appleby was just two points short of his career high while tying his best of 11 assists and sharing the team lead with seven rebounds. Though only 6 of 20 from the floor, he made a career-best 23 of 28 free throws including 13 straight in the final two minutes when the Tar Heels got as close as seven after trailing by 26 early in the second half.

Damari Monsanto had three 3-pointers and 16 points with seven rebounds and Matthew Marsh came off the bench to score 10 points for the Demon Deacons (16-9, 8-6 ACC), who won their second straight after losing four in a row.

Caleb Love made all four of North Carolina’s 3-pointers, including three in the final minute, and finished with 24 points for the Tar Heels (15-9, 7-6), who have lost three straight. Armando Bacot, who played only eight minutes of the second half before fouling out, had 17 points and 11 rebounds. RJ Davis added 16 points and Pete Nance had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

When these teams met on Jan. 4, an 88-79 win for North Carolina, there were 20 lead changes. Tuesday night, there was a lone lead change two minutes into the game as Wake Forest quickly took control and led 47-25 at halftime.

The Tar Heels trailed by 10 with 3 1/2 minutes left in the game not long after Bacot fouled out. They got as close as seven in the final minute thanks to Love but no closer because of Appleby.

Still, it took two from the line by Daivien Williamson with 12 seconds left for a 10-point lead that finally ensured the win before Love hit his final 3-pointer.

In their Jan. 4 game, North Carolina scored 32 points off 15 turnovers. Tuesday, the Deacons committed just five. They finished 33 of 42 at the line to 21 of 26 for the Heels.

North Carolina is home against Clemson and Wake Forest is host to Georgia Tech, both games on Saturday.

Texas A&M beats Auburn 83-78, completes season sweep

Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Wade Taylor IV had 22 points and seven assists, Julius Marble scored a career-high 20 points and Texas A&M beat Auburn 83-78 on Tuesday night to complete a regular-season sweep.

The last of 11 lead changes in the final eight minutes came after Texas A&M made 7 of 9 shots, with three straight makes from Marble, to build a 78-74 lead with 2:09 left.

Auburn guard Wendell Green Jr. was short on a long 3-pointer and Tyrece Radford secured the defensive rebound before being fouled with 24.9 seconds left. Radford made two free throws to extend Texas A&M’s lead to 80-76. Green had a layup roll off the rim and Andersson Garcia went 1 of 2 from the line for a five-point lead before Auburn was short on another 3-pointer with 10.8 left.

Texas A&M was 31 of 39 from the free-throw line compared to 9 of 14 for Auburn.

Garcia added 11 points and Radford scored 10 for Texas A&M (17-7, 9-2 SEC), which also beat then-No. 15 Auburn 79-63 on Jan. 25. The Aggies are off to their best conference start since joining the SEC in 2012.

Green finished with 20 points and six assists for Auburn (17-7, 7-4). Johni Broome had 18 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out late and Jaylin Williams and Allen Flanigan each scored 12 points.

Texas A&M plays at LSU on Saturday. Auburn, which has lost four of its last five games, hosts No. 3 Alabama on Saturday.