Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Anatomy of the Bracket

By Nate Noy

Come Sunday night, fans everywhere will be dissecting and filling out their NCAA Tournament brackets. However, some of us can’t wait until then and have been projecting what the bracket will look like. Below is my projection of what the final bracket will entail, along with an explanation of the process I went through to create the bracket.
To project a bracket, a fan should try to “get inside the head of the Committee”. This can be done by looking back at previous brackets and uncovering trends in how the Committee puts together the bracket.
The first step in projecting a bracket is to establish who the #1 seeds are and assign them to the various regions. Next you need to project the #1, 2, 3 and 4 seeds and assign them to the various sub-regions. Keep in mind that the process the committee uses is to take the top team overall and assign it to the region closest to its home, then the next best team and assign it to the closest location not yet assigned, etc, etc.
The #1 overall seed will either be Ohio State or Kansas. As of today it is likely OSU, with Kansas a close 2nd. Both these teams WILL be #1 seeds regardless of what happens in the conference tournaments. The four regions this year are: Newark, San Antonio, Anaheim, and New Orleans.
As of today, I would place Pitt and Notre Dame as the other two #1 seeds. If Duke wins the ACC, it could replace Pitt or Notre Dame. It should be noted that as I write this Pitt just lost to U Conn, however last year Syracuse went 15-3 in the regular season in the Big East and lost in its first game of the conference tournament, yet retained the last #1 seed. (Which is exactly what Pitt did this year).
It should also be noted that the Committee, in theory, places the 1 and 2 seeds in serpentine order, with the best #2 seed being placed with the worst #1, however location still comes into play. Also, remember that the #1 overall matches up with the 4th #1 seed and the 2nd and 3rd #1 seeds match up.
Here is how I project it as of today:
#1 overall: Ohio State, Newark; next #1 Kansas, San Antonio, third #1 Notre Dame (assuming a Big East tourney win), New Orleans; last #1 Pitt, Anaheim. Newark v Anaheim and San Antonio v New Orleans.
The #2 seeds are Duke, San Diego State, Purdue, and Syracuse. I think the Committee will keep San Diego State close to home and place them in Anaheim. Duke to New Orleans, Purdue to San Antonio, and Syracuse to Newark. San Diego State could end up in Anaheim as the #3 seed, and placing but if the win the MWC they will likely get a #2, this breaks the serpentine rule, but SDST does have the #3 overall RPI as of today.
My #3 seeds are: Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Louisville. The #4 seeds are: BYU, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Arizona.
The sub-regions look like this: (Note a team cannot play on its home court or in the city which it is the “host” until the Final-4 i.e., Arizona cannot play in Tucson. Also note that BYU cannot play on a Sunday, so they must be placed in Thursday/ Saturday regions and sub-regions).
Ohio State: Cleveland
Kansas: Tulsa
Notre Dame: Chicago
Pitt: Cleveland
Duke: Charlotte
Purdue: Chicago
San Diego State: Tucson
Syracuse: DC
Texas: Tulsa
Florida: Tampa
UNC: Charlotte
Louisville: Tucson
BYU: Denver
Wisconsin: DC
Kentucky: Tampa
Arizona: Denver
In terms of the regional breakdown I project:
#1 Ohio State
#4 Arizona
#2 Syracuse
#3 Florida
#1 Pitt
#4 Wisconsin
#2 San Diego St
#3 Texas
San Antonio
#1 Kansas
#4 Kentucky
#2 Purdue
#3 UNC
New Orleans
#1 Notre Dame
#4 BYU
#2 Duke
#3 Louisville
Once you have your top 16 seeds established and placed in sub-regions, then it is time to tackle the remainder of the bracket.
Keep in mind that while the Committee does not want to place more than one team from any individual conference in the same group of 8 teams, they will certainly have to break that rule this year with the Big East getting 10 or 11 teams, but I think they will try to adhere to that rule for the first 8 Big East teams slotted, meaning that exactly four Big East teams will be seeded 1, 4 or 5 and exactly four will be seeded 2,3 or 6. So far from the Big East I have:
#1 Notre Dame; #1 Pitt; with zero #4 seeds (meaning I will seed two Big East teams #5) and #2 Syracuse, #3 Louisville, (meaning I will seed two Big East teams #6).
To seed the remainder of the field you should next establish the hierarchy by team of the multi-bid conferences. Keep in mind that the Committee relies heavily on RPI and Strength of Schedule (SOS). You should also establish a line within each conference, teams above the line are highly likely to make the tournament, teams below it are under consideration.
Before getting into the at-large selections, I generally establish the 13, 14, 15, and 16 seeds at this point. To accomplish this you take the bottom 18 automatic qualifiers and rank them 1-18 to establish their seeds (yes a weak team could take an auto-bid from a major conference and end up on the 13 line like Georgia did a few years ago, but for now we assume that will not happen.)
The best way to rank these 18 teams is by RPI, which is the most important factor at the bottom of the bracket for the Committee. I usually start from the bottom, with the team ranked 15 playing 18 in the play-in round and the 16 v 17. Below are the bottom 18 teams with applicable RPI and my placeholder seeds, note that seven of these teams still have to complete conference tournaments and could be replaced by weaker teams, which could impact the bottom seeds up or down by a line:
Note for now these are placeholders, when I make my final bracket I compare the teams up or down a line for things like quality wins and SOS, but the placeholder for today looks like this:
RPI Team Seed
34 Harvard 13
52 Oakland 13
53 Belmont 13
77 Long Island 13
78 Morehead State 14
81 Bucknell 14
84 Indiana State 14
85 Kent State 14
89 Long Beach State 15
95 St Peters 15
99 Northern Colorado 15
110 Wofford 15
134 Boston U 16
146 UNC Asheville 16
156 McNeese State PI
166 Hampton PI
176 Texas Southern PI
192 Ark LR PI

I will complete the process with you tomorrow and make any necessary adjustments to my 1-4 seeds based on what happens tonight, giving you a projected look at the entire 68-team field.

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