Mocking the Bracket
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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.
The NCAA tried to pull back the curtain a bit with the early release of a top 16 seed list and “bracket”, but despite their best efforts (and pretty thorough description of the process there is still much public confusion about 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.
Kansas played three games at Sprint Center in Kansas City, so they are allowed to play in the Midwest Region. No other team projected in the field played more than two games at any other site.
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)
Buffalo - None
Milwaukee - Marquette
Orlando - UCF, Stetson
Salt Lake City - Utah
Greenville, SC - None
Indianapolis - IUPUI
Tulsa - Tulsa
Sacramento - CSU Sacramento
Region site prohibitions (not comprehensive)
Kansas City - None
San Jose - None
Memphis - Memphis
New York - St. John’s
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. Villanova - East (Buffalo)
Big East Champ and defending national champs Villanova is the consensus #1 overall, and the CTD seeding model agrees. The geography is straightforward as well, with the nearest pod and region sites a short trip from Philadelphia.
2. Kansas - Midwest (Tulsa)
(Edit: Tulsa is closer than either Milwaukee or Indy.)
Despite their early loss in the Big 12 tournament, Kansas still grabs a 1 seed. Kansas City and Tulsa are the clear site choices.
3. Gonzaga - West (Salt Lake City)
While there is still some debate about Gonzaga’s place on the seed line, the CTD model had little debate about their place on the seed list. As the only CTD 1 seed in the West, they’ll get their preferred site placement.
4. North Carolina - South (Greenville)
The Heels tenuously hold on to the last spot on the #1 seed line. Memphis is a little farther from Chapel Hill than New York, but the South is arguably their natural region. Greenville is filling in for Greensboro as a pod site, but it’s still the closest.
The committee will then place the No. 2 seeds in each region in true seed list order.
5. Kentucky - South (Indianapolis)
Memphis is the closest regional site. With the lowest 1 seed in Memphis, there would not be any bracket balance issues adding the highest 2 seed.
6. Oregon - West (Sacramento)
Despite losing in the Pac 12 championship game, the Ducks remain the highest seed from the conference and are rewarded geographically.
7. Duke - East (Greenville)
Duke’s late run lifted them to a higher seed line than would have been expected several weeks ago. They’re also rewarded geographically, though being in the same region as Villanova might not be a reward.
8. Arizona - Midwest (Salt Lake City)
The only region left is Kansas City, but the Pac 12 tournament champs get their closest pod site.
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. Florida St. - Midwest (Orlando)
With North Carolina already assigned to Memphis, the Seminoles can’t get their preferred geographic region. However, they do get to stay close to home for the first round.
10. Louisville - West (Indianapolis)
As the fourth team in the field from the ACC, the Cardinals are left with the geographic leftovers.
11. Florida - East (Orlando)
The Gators would rather be in the South, but Kentucky is already there. They also make Orlando an all-Florida pod.
12. UCLA - South (Sacramento)
The only region left for the Bruins. They get to stay in California for the first two rounds.
The committee will then place the No. 4 seeds in each region in true seed list order.
13. Baylor - South (Tulsa)
At this point, teams start to see fewer options to satisfy their geographic preferences. No Big 12 teams are in Memphis and there is still a slot in Tulsa, so the Bears are the rare 4 seed that is happy with their placement.
14. Butler - Midwest (Milwaukee)
Memphis is already booked on the 4 line, so they’re heading to Kansas City with no Big East teams there yet. Indianapolis is already full, so they’ll make the trip north for the first round.
15. West Virginia - East (Buffalo)
Wow, this is much easier than in previous years.
With three strong west coast teams filling up slots out west, there are more natural slots are available for teams closer to the Atlantic Ocean than normal. The Mountaineers benefit by getting their first choice for the pod and regional site, which is unusual for the 15th overall seed.
16. Purdue - West (Milwaukee)
Despite having to head west for the regional, the Boilermakers get to stay close to home early.
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 issues with balance this year. The Midwest (33) comes in slightly harder than the South (34), East (34), and West (35), but well within the guidelines.
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. Villanova - Buffalo
2. Kansas - Tulsa
3. Gonzaga - Salt Lake City
4. North Carolina - Greenville
5. Kentucky - Indianapolis
6. Oregon - Sacramento
7. Duke - Greenville
8. Arizona - Salt Lake City
9. Florida St. - Orlando
10. Louisville - Indianapolis
11. Florida - Orlando
12. UCLA - Sacramento
13. Baylor - Tulsa
14. Butler - Milwaukee
15. West Virginia - Buffalo
16. Purdue - Milwaukee