- Joe Lunardi, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
It has been four months since our first 2013 NCAA tournament bracket was released, and it's just two months until Midnight Madness in October.
So you might ask, with no games played during that span, how can any bracket projection change? Let us count the ways. For a reference point, you can open the new bracket here.
1) Movement among the favorites
Starting at the top, we see changes in the No. 1 overall seed (Louisville Cardinals replace the Indiana Hoosiers) as well as within the full group of No. 1 seeds (UCLA Bruins up, Kansas Jayhawks down). The truth, as outlined in April, is that we're looking at a very weak collection of potential top seeds in 2013. So a tiny shift -- such as Louisville getting healthier or having a bit more depth than Indiana -- is enough to sway the S-Curve.
UCLA vaults to No. 3 overall following the spring commitments of Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Parker, giving the Bruins the nation's best recruiting class, according to ESPNU. The Kentucky Wildcats stay on the top line with their second-ranked national class, dropping Kansas to No. 5 overall and a No. 2 seed in the bracket.
2) NC State moves up
The somewhat unexpected return of C.J. Leslie lifts the North Carolina State Wolfpack to No. 12 on the S-Curve and to a No. 3 seed. I realize this is still a good bit lower than several other preseason evaluations of the Wolfpack. So while it wouldn't surprise me if NC State is playing in April, it's equally likely the Pack are this year's "we dramatically outperformed our NCAA seed and will be overrated the following season" candidate. Happens all the time, by the way.
3) Feelings have changed
Upon further review, here are some teams I like a good bit more now than at the end of last season: Michigan Wolverines, Gonzaga Bulldogs, Pittsburgh Panthers, Iowa State Cyclones and Florida State Seminoles.
4) New-look conferences
The addition of both the Virginia Commonwealth Rams and Butler Bulldogs to the Atlantic 10 has created a domino effect across three conferences. The Rams will be instant contenders in the A-10 with four starters returning from a 29-win team. The Drexel Dragons become the clear-cut favorite in a weakened Colonial Athletic Association. And the Detroit Titans replace Butler as the preseason choice in the Horizon League.
Overall, the consolidation of power in the A-10 is considerable. With the Temple Owls and Charlotte 49ers not departing until the 2013-14 season, the league boasts more legitimate tourney contenders than ever before. VCU and Butler join an already-deep list of NCAA hopefuls, including the Saint Louis Billikens, Saint Joseph's Hawks, Temple, Massachusetts Minutemen, La Salle Explorers and Xavier Musketeers. When Xavier projects as the seventh- or eighth-best team, that's a pretty good league.
5) Belmont moves to OVC
There was one procedural error in our April bracket. The Belmont Bruins were slotted as the Atlantic Sun automatic qualifier (force of habit, no doubt) when they are, in fact, moving to the Ohio Valley Conference this season. The impending Belmont-Murray State rivalry figures to be a good one, but we have to give the Racers and the electric Isaiah Canaan the edge for the 2013 OVC title.
The immediate beneficiary of Belmont's move is Mercer, which won 27 games last season and returns four starters. The Bears should now be considered the consensus Atlantic Sun favorites and would have challenged the Bruins regardless.
Last but not least, while I have nothing against the Final Four going back to Atlanta, it could end up being the wrong year for that location. If the top seeds from this projection were to hold -- in particular Louisville, Indiana and Kentucky -- doesn't that scream for Indianapolis? It would literally feel like three "home" teams at Lucas Oil Stadium.
College basketball doesn't get much better than that.
An early bubble projection
Off the board: Colorado State, Ole Miss, Belmont, Xavier, Stanford Cardinal, Butler
46dFran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg
99dFran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg
116dFran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg
136dSeth Greenberg and Fran Fraschilla
148dFran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg