Mocking the Bracket
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.
Villanova played only three games at the Wells Fargo Center, the site of the East Regional, so they are not prohibited from being placed there.
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. (They’re not currently projected in the field, so this likely won’t come into play.)
Pod site prohibitions (not comprehensive)
Providence - Providence
Des Moines - Iowa State
Raleigh - North Carolina State
Denver - None
Brooklyn - None
St. Louis - None
Oklahoma City - None
Spokane - Idaho
Region site prohibitions (not comprehensive)
Anaheim - None
Louisville - Louisville (ineligible)
Chicago - None
Philadelphia - LaSalle
Remember, this is not my opinion of how the bracket will look at 5:30 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.
1. Kansas - Midwest (Chicago)
Kansas is the consensus #1 overall, and the CTD seeding model agrees. Lawrence is slightly closer to Chicago than to Louisville, and the Midwest is more the Jayhawk’s natural region than is the South.
2. Virginia - East (Philadelphia)
Easy answer by natural region and distance.
3. North Carolina - South (Louisville)
The closest site for the Heels would be Philly, but Louisville is only slightly farther.
4. Villanova - West (Anaheim)
Staying on the #1 line would be worse for Villanova’s travel plans than falling to the #2 line. The only slot left is in California.
The committee will then place the No. 2 seeds in each region in true seed list order.
One significant procedural change is new this year:
The committee may relax the principle of keeping teams as close to their area of natural interest for seeding teams on the No. 2 line to avoid, for example, the overall No. 5 seed being sent to the same region as the overall No. 1 seed. The committee will not compromise the principle of keeping teams from the same conference in separate regions.
5. Michigan State - South (Louisville)
Regardless of whether Michigan State rises to the 1 seed line in real bracket land, they won’t end up in Chicago with overall #1 Kansas already there. In this case, they’re sent to the next closest site paired with overall #3 and tournament nemesis North Carolina.
6. Oregon - West (Anaheim)
The Ducks get their preferred region.
7. Oklahoma - East (Philadelphia)
Chicago is off limits because fellow Big 12 mate Kansas is already there, and Louisville is already taken by Michigan State.
8. Utah - Midwest (Chicago)
The only site left goes to Utah, and it works better from a bracket balancing standpoint matching the #1 overall with the #8 overall.
The committee will then place the No. 3 seeds in each region in true seed list order.
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.
9. Miami - Midwest (Chicago)
Louisville and Philly are closer, but both already taken by ACC teams.
10. West Virginia - South (Louisville)
Oklahoma is in Philly, so the Mountaineers make the trip to Louisville.
11. Xavier - East (Philadelphia)
Xavier would prefer to make the short drive to Louisville, but West Virginia just snatched it. Chicago is also taken, so the second-best Big East team heads east.
12. Kentucky - West (Anaheim)
SEC champ Kentucky gets the final spot on the 3 line.
The committee will then place the No. 4 seeds in each region in true seed list order.
13. Texas A&M - South (Louisville)
The closest (and natural region) site is available for the Aggies.
14. Purdue - Midwest (Chicago)
In the mock scenario, the Boilermakers have to be pretty happy with this turn of events, aside from being in the same region as overall #1 Kansas.
15. Indiana - West (Anaheim)
Oh, what a difference a single seed makes. Instead of staying near Bloomington, the Hoosiers get shipped out west. There were no conflicts to putting Indiana in Philadelphia, but they were moved here because putting Arizona in Anaheim would have caused a conference conflict, with Oregon already there. The committee has the ability to make these kinds of switches further down the seed list.
16. Arizona - East (Philadelphia)
Arizona also has to travel across the country, but in the opposite direction. As mentioned above, the Wildcats could not have been in Anaheim because Oregon was already there.
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.
We’re on the fringe of imbalance, but for purposes of time, we’ll let it slide. Hopefully the committee won’t use that excuse! South (31), Midwest (32), East (36), and West (37) are within six points.
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 first-/second-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. Kansas - Des Moines
2. Virginia - Raleigh
3. Villanova - Brooklyn
4. North Carolina - Raleigh
5. Michigan State - St. Louis
6. Oklahoma - Oklahoma City
7. Oregon - Spokane
8. Utah - Denver
9. Miami - St. Louis
10. West Virginia - Brooklyn
11. Xavier - Des Moines
12. Kentucky - Providence
13. Texas A&M - Oklahoma City
14. Purdue - Providence
15. Indiana - Denver
16. Arizona - Spokane