Bracket beginning to take shape

Seth Greenberg and the Hokies are currently on the outside of the bracket looking in ... again. Bob Donnan/US Presswire

Welcome back to the expanded edition of Joe Lunardi's Rundown. Later this season, this series will feature Tournament Odds, an element that will take you deeper into Bracketology. Bracketology provides a snapshot of how the bracket looks on a specific day, but through the use of Lunardi's extensive database of previous seasons, tournament odds tell you how the bracket likely will look come Selection Sunday. Today's installment marks the second report of the 2011-12 season.

This season's Rundown format is again centered on the NCAA tournament "bubble." Since we're pretty sure the likes of North Carolina and Kentucky will see their names on Selection Sunday, we focus more of our energy on teams fighting simply to make the 68-team field.

Once we get past the basics -- pairing the four regions based on a ranking of the No. 1 seeds as well as an accounting of projected NCAA bids by conference -- the various "Bubble Battles" and eventual Tournament Odds feature (coming in January) are where you should focus.

The "First Four" projected below pairs the last four at-large entries in the NCAA field (for two games) along with the last four automatic qualifiers (for two more games). The winners of these four contests, to be played March 13-14 in Dayton, Ohio, will advance into the standard 64-team bracket on the seed lines indicated.

A new cut line, if you will, has also been created by the adoption of the First Four round. We have the traditional "Last Four In" at-large teams, now slated for the additional games in Dayton, plus a "Next-To-Last Four In" just above them on the S-Curve. There was and will again be heated push (except at VCU, perhaps!) for teams to avoid the First Four and advance directly to the NCAA's opening weekend.

We'll have all that and more to discuss when the weekly Bracketology schedule begins Jan. 2, including the popular "Tournament Odds" report. For now, let's just enjoy this still-early look at the national landscape.