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Each year for the better part of the last decade, the NCAA has invited a group of media and other folks to Indianapolis to participate in a mock selection committee meeting and report the details of the sausage factory to the masses.

And each year, there is still much public confusion about the process, despite the NCAA’s best efforts (and pretty thorough description of the process). Yes, they leave some parts of the procedure open to interpretation (How do they define “best teams” for at-large selection? Is a team’s “natural area of interest” the closest absolute site, or their most sensible geographic region?), but the process itself is well defined.

While the selection and seeding steps that Crashing the Dance tries to forecast using machine learning are highly subjective, the bracketing step is essentially an algorithm based on the 1-68 seed list and the bracketing rules and principles.

So, I’m going to once again do my part to help y’all understand, as much as I understand it anyway, how the committee does its job when taking the 1-68 list and placing each team into the bracket.

First, let’s identify which teams are prohibited from certain sites based on committee criteria.

A team will not be permitted to play in any facility in which it has played more than three games during its season, not including exhibitions and conference post-season tournaments.

A host institution’s team shall not be permitted to play at the site where the institution is hosting. However, the team may play on the same days when the institution is hosting.

In addition to those criteria, BYU does not play on Sunday for religious reasons, so they cannot be assigned to a pod or region with Sunday games scheduled.

Pod site prohibitions (not comprehensive)

Jacksonville - Jacksonville

Louisville - Louisville

Pittsburgh - Duquesne

Portland - Oregon

Charlotte - UNC-Charlotte, BYU

Columbus - Ohio State, BYU

Omaha - Creighton, BYU

Seattle - Washington, BYU

Region site prohibitions (not comprehensive)

Cleveland - Cleveland State

Los Angeles - Pepperdine

Houston - Rice, Houston, BYU

Syracuse - BYU

Remember, this is not my opinion of how the bracket will look at 6 p.m. on Selection Sunday. It is an exercise in placing teams in the bracket based on the latest 1-68 seed list generated by the CTD seeding model (as of 1 p.m. ET Sunday).

The committee will place the four No. 1 seeded teams 1 through 4 in each of the four regions, thus determining the Final Four semifinals pairings (overall 1 vs. 4; 2 vs. 3).

The main principle when placing teams into the bracket is:

Teams will remain in or as close to their areas of natural interest as possible. A team moved out of its natural area will be placed in the next closest region to the extent possible. If two teams from the same natural region are in contention for the same bracket position, the team ranked higher in the seed list shall remain in its natural region.

There is some debate over what a team’s “natural region” is for the purposes of bracketing the field. It is generally a balance between distance to each site, “fit” (Kentucky was sent to Atlanta over closer St. Louis in 2012 because it was deemed a better fit), and other factors. We’ll consider each application as it comes up.

As usual, I’ll be using the super handy CTD distance chart to find the closest site. Regardless of how the criteria is applied, the NCAA has made very clear that geography trumps just about everything when it comes to building the bracket.

So, without further ado, let’s get started. And it’s a pretty easy start.

1. Kentucky - Midwest (Cleveland)

It is no surprise that Kentucky is the overall #1 seed, and it is no surprise that the Wildcats are sent to the nearest region. Next.

2. Villanova - East (Syracuse)

The other Wildcats are also pretty easy to slot into their natural and closest region.

3. Wisconsin - South (Houston)

While better than being placed as the #2 in Kentucky’s region, the Badgers would have to travel a little more than they’d prefer. Cleveland and Syracuse are each closer to Madison, but they’re already taken. Houston it is.

4. Virginia - West (Los Angeles)

The gap between the Cavs and Duke is so razor thin that they keep flip flopping back and forth in the 4 and 5 spots. Not that they get a say in the matter, but Virginia would probably prefer traveling West for the regional than having to be the 2 seed in Kentucky’s bracket. Los Angeles is obviously farther from Charlottesville than the other three sites, but Hollywood is the only option.

Now that we’re done with the #1 seeds, there are a few other rules that start coming into play.

Each of the first four teams selected from a conference shall be placed in different regions if they are seeded on the first four lines.

5. Arizona - West (Los Angeles)

Arizona would’ve been in the West region if they had moved up to the 1 line, so it probably doesn’t make that much of a difference that they’re a 2. Off to L.A. they go. “S-Curve” advocates would be happy that the best 2 would be paired with the worst 1.

6. Duke - East (Syracuse)

This is where things start to get interesting, and where “natural regions” becomes a little hazy. Durham is closer to Cleveland than to Syracuse, but “Midwest” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about ACC teams, their most recent tournament champ aside.

So, does 100 extra miles trump regional sensibilities? We’ll assume the committee agrees that North Carolina is not in the Midwest and send Duke to Syracuse. Conspiracy theorists will have to wait, unless they think that Virginia was sent west so Duke could stay closer to home.

7. Iowa St. - Midwest (Cleveland)

Straightforward here. The Big 12 champs are sent to their closest and most natural region.

8. Kansas - South (Houston)

While the South isn’t the Jayhawks’ most natural region fit, Houston is the closest site so it’s not a bad compromise.

The committee will then place the No. 3 seeds in each region in true seed list order.

9. Gonzaga - South (Houston)

The fall to the 3 line actually would benefit the Bulldogs geographically, as they stay closer to home than they likely would have if they were a 2 behind Arizona.

(Update: Gonzaga was moved to the South to accommodate the Big 12 conflicts on the 3 seed line. Not so much a geographic benefit after all.)

10. Notre Dame - Midwest (Cleveland)

The ACC tournament champs are a better fit in the Midwest than their conference comrades, and with Cleveland being closest and open on the 3 line, there they would normally go. However…

11. Oklahoma - West (Los Angeles)

12. Baylor - East (Syracuse)

Houston, we have a problem. (Sorry.) The next two teams on the mock seed list are both in the Big 12, and one of the primary bracketing rules is:

Each of the first four teams selected from a conference shall be placed in different regions if they are seeded on the first four lines.

There are only two regional spots left on the 3 seed line, and one of them (South) already has a Big 12 team. That means that neither Oklahoma or Baylor could go to the South region.

Rather than reaching up and shifting teams around on the 2 line, which would unfairly punish teams higher up the list, we’ll have to shuffle teams on the 3 line to make things work. Gonzaga would move to Houston (its next closest site) and Notre Dame would stay in Cleveland.

Oklahoma is marginally closer to L.A. than to Syracuse, to the Sooners go west while Baylor heads east.


The committee will then place the No. 4 seeds in each region in true seed list order.

13. Maryland - East (Syracuse)

14. North Carolina - South (Houston)

15. Arkansas - West (Los Angeles)

16. SMU - Midwest (Cleveland)

North Carolina must go to Houston with the other three regions full of ACC teams. Maryland’s best options are within 50 miles of each other, and I debated whether the Midwest (with Maryland now in the Big 10 and all) or the East (with Maryland being on the east coast and all) is a better fit, but the unofficial bracketing committee decided to put the Terps in Syracuse.

Kentucky is already in Cleveland, so Arkansas has to go west. (It’s possible the committee could consider Maryland and Arkansas together and optimize the total distances by putting Maryland in Cleveland and Arkansas in Syracuse, but that doeesn’t seem to be how they do it.) The final four seed then goes to Cleveland, which will make the “S-Curve” activists happy.

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After the top four seed lines have been assigned, the committee will review the relative strengths of the regions by adding the “true seed” numbers in each region to determine if any severe numerical imbalance exists. Generally, no more than five points should separate the lowest and highest total.

No problem on the balance here. East (33), Midwest (34), South (34), and West (35) are all within two points. “S-Curve” purists, rejoice!

In “true seed” order, the committee then assigns each team (and, therefore, all teams in its bracket group—e.g., seeds 1, 8, 9, 16) to second-/third-round sites.

In other words, take the 16 teams and place them into a pod site to determine where each will play its second-/third-round games. Each of these teams is the highest seeded team in pod of four teams, and the other teams in each pod automatically follow that pod site. This is important when slotting the other teams into the bracket to satisfy other rules.

1. Kentucky - Louisville

2. Villanova - Pittsburgh

3. Wisconsin - Columbus

4. Virginia - Charlotte

5. Arizona - Portland

6. Duke - Charlotte

7. Iowa St. - Omaha

8. Kansas - Omaha

9. Gonzaga - Seattle

10. Notre Dame - Columbus

11. Oklahoma - Louisville

12. Baylor - Jacksonville

13. Maryland - Pittsburgh

14. North Carolina - Jacksonville

15. Arkansas - Portland

16. SMU - Seattle

Wisconsin is almost the same distance from Omaha, Louisville, and Columbus. We’ll take the NCAA at their word about regional “fit” and send them to Columbus. Same with Virginia and Charlotte vs. Pittsburgh. Same with Arizona and Omaha vs. Portland. The rest are relatively straightforward.