Sunday, March 15, 2015

How the Bracket Was Built, Part One

Now that the Selection Show has come and gone and we've had a chance to dissect the selections, the pairings and the brackets (someone please explain how UCLA got in and Colorado State didn't), I thought it would be fun to go through the seed list and try to break down how the bracket was put together. Part one will take a look at the top four seeds in each region.

As we know, the process begins the Wednesday before Selection Sunday and the committee usually spends Wednesday through Saturday selecting the teams, getting their 68 teams set by Saturday night, save for any potential bid thieves on Sunday as we almost saw with Connecticut.

After all was said and done, this was how the committee ranked the 68 teams that made it to the big dance.

I also highlighted, as I usually do when building my seed list, the last four teams in and the last four byes. So you'll notice the four teams avoiding the First Four were Ohio State, Georgia, Texas and UCLA (seriously, someone tell me how the Bruins got in). And it shows that Ole Miss, BYU, Boise State and Dayton will play in the First Four on Tuesday and Wednesday. We'll get to those teams in part two. But first, let's start at the top and begin building the bracket.

One key piece of information some fans may not realize is that the bracket is completely blank until sometime Sunday afternoon, meaning the committee is just putting the field together literally hours before the Selection Show at 6:00, during these championship games. Sometimes, as they did this year, they build more than one bracket as contingency plans. For the purposes of this article, we'll use the final seed list.

The first thing the committee does is place the top four teams into the bracket and then assign the regions to set up the Final Four pairings. So starting in the top left and working clockwise, we place the teams in order, so we go Kentucky, Villanova, Duke and finally, Wisconsin. From there, we assign the regions based on geography.

So, as the closest site to Lexington, UK is sent to Cleveland for the regional, which means the top left bracket becomes the Midwest Region. Next is Villanova, and clearly, Syracuse is the closest of the three remaining sites, so the Big East champs are assigned to the East Region.

Duke is third, meaning they have one of two sites to be placed in and with Houston closer to Durham than Los Angeles, the Blue Devils headline the South Region. Finally, as the fourth No. 1 seed, Wisconsin gets what is left, which is the West Region. And thus, the region pairings are set. It'll be the Midwest champion vs. the West champion in one national semifinal, while the other matchup will be East vs. South.

So now we have the top seeds set. The next step is to place the rest of the top 16 teams into the bracket in seed list order, taking into account geography, separating same-conference teams and keeping the regions as balanced as possible.

Let's now take the teams that are the No. 2 seeds in each region, Virginia, Arizona, Gonzaga and Kansas and place them into the field. The East is the closest site for Virginia, plus they cannot be placed in the South with Duke, so the Cavaliers join Villanova in the East. Naturally, Arizona would head west and since they are next on the list, that's where they are placed, setting up a potential Elite 8 rematch with Wisconsin. This obviously means Gonzaga cannot be in the West region as Arizona has already taken that spot. So between Houston and Cleveland, the choice is Houston for the Zags, pairing them with Duke. That leaves the Midwest for Kansas and the honor of being the No. 2 seed in Kentucky's region, setting up a possible 2013 championship rematch in the regional final.

Then we go to the three seeds, Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma and Notre Dame. This is where things get interesting because conference opponents on the top four lines have to be separated, meaning we can pretty much assume at this point that Notre Dame will be placed in the Midwest (which they were). So with the Midwest out for the Big 12 teams, we start with the Cyclones and they can easily fit into the South Region. Next is Baylor and it's between the West and the East. LA is a bit closer to Waco than Syracuse is, so the Bears get sent to the West Region. That leaves the East for Oklahoma, because, again, the top four teams in each conference, if they're all on the top four lines, cannot be in the same region. So it's Syracuse for the Sooners, leaving Cleveland for the Irish.

Finally we get to the 4 seeds, North Carolina, Maryland, Louisville and Georgetown. Starting with the Tar Heels, we only have one choice because of the conference rule. With Duke in the South, Virginia in the East and Notre Dame in the Midwest, we have no choice but to put UNC in the West Region. Likely in an effort to balance out the regions, since we have the weakest No. 2 and weakest No. 3 there, Maryland was placed in the Midwest Region, meaning they would run into Kentucky in the Sweet 16, should both teams get there. Louisville was sent to the East, possibly to separate them from Duke (the conference rule is no longer in effect for the ACC because the top four teams have already been bracketed) and possibly for balance. That left the South Region for Georgetown.

After all those teams are placed in the bracket, the committee then adds up the true seed numbers of each team to get a sum for each region. The regions are then compared to each other to see how balanced the regions are. Typically, the committee doesn't like having a gap of more than five points between the strongest and weakest regions. Luckily for the committee here, the region sums were, starting from the Midwest and going clockwise, 35, 33, 35, and 34. That's pretty well-balanced. Once we check the balance and make any necessary changes, the committee then goes ahead and assigns the first-weekend pods to each team, in true seed list order.

Here's where each team was assigned, in seed list order:

Kentucky - Louisville
Villanova - Pittsburgh
Duke - Charlotte
Wisconsin - Omaha

As the No. 1 seeds, these teams have first shot and are almost guaranteed their closest spots. I thought the Badgers would be sent to Columbus, but likely the Midwest factor for Wisconsin helped the committee decide on Omaha.

Virginia - Charlotte
Arizona - Portland
Gonzaga - Seattle
Kansas - Omaha

Again, no surprises here. Charlotte is pretty close and in ACC territory for the Cavs, Portland keeps Arizona on the west coast, Gonzaga doesn't even have to leave their home city and Omaha is the closest for the Jayhawks.

Iowa State - Louisville
Baylor - Jacksonville
Oklahoma - Columbus
Notre Dame - Pittsburgh

With Omaha filled, the Cyclones get their next-best spot in Louisville. Jacksonville looks to be the closest of the remaining pods for Baylor, same for Oklahoma with Columbus. A bit surprising the Irish were sent to Pittsburgh with Columbus still available, but still a close ride for them

North Carolina - Jacksonville
Maryland - Columbus
Louisville - Seattle
Georgetown - Portland

North Carolina stays in the south heading to Jacksonville, while Maryland gets to play in Big Ten territory on the campus of Ohio State. And as it seems to always be the case every year, the last two teams on the top 16 get shipped out west because there aren't enough west coast teams atop the list to fill those pods, so the Cardinals head to Seattle and the Hoyas will open in Portland.

And that's a look at how the top 16 were placed into the field. In part two, we'll dive into the remaining 52 teams, including how the committee likely handled BYU in the First Four once again.

No comments:

Post a Comment