De’Andre Hunter and Virginia back in the same region as Michigan State? Don’t freak out just yet, Cavs fans. (Lee Luther Jr./USA Today Sports)

The task of trying to figure out the NCAA tournament’s field of 68 is going to be different this year. Maybe.

Perhaps the decision for the 10-person selection committee to place greater emphasis on road and neutral-court victories starting this season will make a massive difference in how it makes its choices. But it’s also possible the differences will be minute.

This bracket projection (and every subsequent version in the weeks to come), then, is an attempt to guess how the committee will make its choices.
In one way, this isn’t different from any other year. It is a guessing game. It’s just more of an educated guessing game when there are past choices to study. For example, by last year it was clear the committee’s shift in 2015 toward rewarding quantity of noteworthy victories, no matter how many opportunities a team enjoyed, wasn’t an aberration. (It was also clearly a boost for power-conference schools.)

There’s no track record to account for the latest tweaks. So while a borderline tournament team with strong road results like Louisiana State should, in theory, benefit from this year’s changes, no one will know for sure until March 11.

EAST REGION
Pittsburgh
(1) BIG EAST/Villanova vs. (16) SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC/Jackson State-IVY/Penn
(8) Texas Christian vs. (9) Florida State

Boise, Idaho
(5) Cincinnati vs. (12) SUMMIT/South Dakota State
(4) Tennessee vs. (13) COLONIAL/William & Mary

Nashville
(3) North Carolina vs. (14) METRO ATLANTIC/Iona
(6) Ohio State vs. (11) Alabama

Pittsburgh
(7) MOUNTAIN WEST/Nevada vs. (10) UCLA
(2) West Virginia vs. (15) BIG SOUTH/Radford

A Big Five game in the ‘Burgh? Sounds like as compelling a potential 1-16 matchup as anyone could hope for. … Jamie Dixon taking TCU back to his old stomping grounds would be a wonderful subplot (and was entirely unintentional in this exercise). … It’d be just William & Mary’s luck to finally make the NCAA tournament and have to go all the way to Boise to play. …

It’s possible North Carolina gets crowded out of the Charlotte subregional. For the moment, top seeds Virginia and Duke are ticketed to anchor that site. … In a perfect world, Nevada vs. UCLA would be played a little closer to the West Coast. The placement in Pittsburgh is a function of following bracketing rules. … The best home-court advantage in this bracket is either West Virginia, Kansas (Wichita) or Michigan State (Detroit).

SOUTH REGION
Charlotte
(1) ATLANTIC COAST/Virginia vs. (16) ATLANTIC SUN/Florida Gulf Coast-NORTHEAST/Robert Morris
(8) Creighton vs. (9) Texas

San Diego
(5) Gonzaga vs. (12) MID-AMERICAN/Buffalo
(4) SOUTHEASTERN/Auburn vs. (13) SOUTHERN/East Tennessee State

Detroit
(3) Michigan State vs. (14) OHIO VALLEY/Belmont
(6) Louisville vs. (11) Houston

Wichita
(7) Florida vs. (10) Southern California
(2) Kansas vs. (15) BIG WEST/Cal State Fullerton

Yes, Virginia fans, Michigan State is in your quadrant of this bracket projection. It’s also Jan. 16. Chill. … Creighton vs. Texas would be a wonderful offense-defense contrast. … Gonzaga’s seeding is going to be a curiosity this season, especially if it plows through the West Coast Conference. The Bulldogs are well-regarded by KenPom.com, not so much by the Ratings Percentage Index. …

Why is Wichita hosting a New Year’s Six game (FloridaSouthern Cal)? … Stop if you’ve heard this one before: The edge of the field isn’t so great. Houston has strength-of-schedule issues and a dreadful loss (Drexel), but it narrowly avoids a play-in game. … Kansas jumped a line after last night’s victory at West Virginia. The profiles put together by the top four teams in the Big 12 are incredibly stout.

MIDWEST REGION
Detroit
(1) BIG TEN/Purdue vs. (16) BIG SKY/Montana
(8) Notre Dame vs. (9) Saint Mary’s

Boise, Idaho
(5) Seton Hall vs. (12) WESTERN ATHLETIC/New Mexico State
(4) Kentucky vs. (13) HORIZON/Wright State

Wichita
(3) Clemson vs. (14) MISSOURI VALLEY/Drake
(6) Arizona State vs. (11) Boise State/Marquette

Dallas
(7) ATLANTIC 10/Rhode Island vs. (10) CONFERENCE USA/Middle Tennessee
(2) Texas Tech vs. (15) SOUTHLAND/Stephen F. Austin

Purdue’s profile is exceptional, with four top-50 victories away from home and another two (over Maryland and Minnesota) in the top 70 at the moment. Its biggest problem is this year’s Big Ten doesn’t provide many chances at high-end victories. … Bonzie Colson’s injury has the potential to make Notre Dame a Selection Sunday wild card. If it struggles without him, then he gets back for a couple weeks and the Irish look strong, good luck figuring out the seeding. …

With all respect to the underrated Brad Brownell and his tough, veteran-laden Clemson team, seeing the Tigers seeded ahead of Kentucky in the same bracket just looks weird. Clemson will try to end its 0-for-forever drought at North Carolina on Tuesday night. … Texas Tech as a No. 2 seed seems equally odd, but the Red Raiders are for real. They’ve already won at Kansas for the first time and edged West Virginia.

WEST REGION
Charlotte
(1) Duke vs. (16) MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC/North Carolina A&T
(8) Arkansas vs. (9) Butler

San Diego
(5) PAC-12/Arizona vs. (12) Louisiana State/Syracuse
(4) AMERICAN/Wichita State vs. (13) AMERICA EAST/Vermont

Nashville
(3) Xavier vs. (14) SUN BELT/UL Lafayette
(6) Michigan vs. (11) St. Bonaventure

Dallas
(7) Miami vs. (10) Texas A&M
(2) BIG 12/Oklahoma vs. (15) PATRIOT/Bucknell

It’s early, of course, but North Carolina A&T making the tournament a season after winning just three games would be a great story. … Arkansas has lost in the round of 32 to North Carolina in its last three NCAA tournament trips. Getting put in the same pod as Duke isn’t exactly an upgrade. … Getting a few Western teams to the No. 4 line or better would be a help to the committee. Arizona looks like it’s on its way. …

LSU owns a surprisingly good profile. Wins at Arkansas and Texas A&M and a defeat of Michigan in the Maui Invitational nudge the Tigers in as the last team into the field. … St. Bonaventure’s at-large fate is probably tied to its victories over Maryland and Syracuse holding up for another two months. That’s not ideal. … Texas A&M is 0-5 in the SEC, but its strong nonconference work more than outweighs a few crummy weeks in January — for now. The Aggies need to turn things around quickly.

Last four included: Boise State, Syracuse, Marquette, LSU
First four on the outside: Providence, Missouri, Georgia, Maryland
Next four on the outside: Central Florida, Southern Methodist, N.C. State, Oregon

Conference call: Atlantic Coast (9), Southeastern (8), Big East (6), Big 12 (6), Big Ten (4), Pac-12 (4), American Athletic (3), Atlantic 10 (2), Mountain West (2), West Coast (2)

*****

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