Sunday, March 15, 2015

How the Bracket Was Built, Part Two

In Part One, we looked at how the top four seeds in each region were placed and discussed how the committee tries to balance the regions and assign the pods. Today, we'll go through the rest of the field, to give you an idea what the committee might have been thinking when placing the teams in once the pods have been set.

As a refresher, here is the seed list from the NCAA.

Now we're at the 5 seeds. It's not a written rule at this point, but the committee does seem to try to keep them top teams in each conference separated, so Utah was kept out of the West Region, where Arizona is. Plus with Houston fairly close and the pod being Portland, it makes sense to place the Utes in the South Region anyway, rather than send them out to Jacksonville if they were to be kept in the West. Next was Arkansas. Again, likely due to keeping them away from Kentucky, it was pretty much Seattle/Syracuse or Jacksonville/Los Angeles for the Razorbacks. Likely due to both cities being southern, the Jacksonville/LA track was chosen, hence Arkansas in the West.

Then with two pods remaining, the Columbus/Cleveland track is more sensible for West Virginia over Seattle/Syracuse. So the Mountaineers head to the Midwest, leaving the East Region and opening in Seattle for Northern Iowa.

On to the sixes. With the opening pod in Louisville, keeping SMU in the South became a no-brainer. They don't have to travel too far on the opening weekend and if they make it to the second weekend, they would play in their home state of Texas, going from Dallas to Houston. For Providence, the East is obviously the natural region and the pod starts in Columbus. Plus, there is no conflict with Villanova, so the spot is fair game for the Friars.

In fact, we have three Big East teams on line six, as Butler and Xavier round out the 6 seeds. Butler is next and obviously favor a Pittsburgh/Cleveland track over a Jacksonville/Los Angeles track, so it's the Midwest for the Bulldogs, leaving the West Region for the Musketeers.

As we move to the 7 seeds and start with Michigan State, you can argue Omaha/Cleveland is closer than Charlotte/Syracuse for the Spartans, but the committee placed them in the East, setting up a possible Sweet 16 rematch with Virginia in the Round of 32. It ends up being Wichita State getting the spot in the Midwest, allowing for Wichita State-Kansas to possibly happen over the weekend.

For Iowa, it pretty much came down to the fact that Houston is closer than LA, because the first-weekend pods available are Portland and Seattle. So it's the South for Iowa and the West for VCU.

Wrapping up the top half of the bracket with the 8 seeds, next on the list is Cincinnati and being a Midwestern school, the Bearcats geographically favor a Louisville/Cleveland track. It's just too bad that track feeds to a date with Kentucky on Saturday if Cincy wins. Same with the West for Oregon, as Omaha/Los Angeles is easily the closest as a group than either Pittsburgh/Syracuse or Charlotte/Houston.

The committee had no choice but to place NC State in the East. They could not be placed in the South because, due to having played them twice during the regular season and ACC Tournament, the Wolfpack could not meet Duke until the Sweet 16, so they cannot be the Blue Devils' 8 seed. Therefore, it's the East to possibly meet Villanova. That leaves the South for the last 8 seed, San Diego State.

Onto the 9s, where first up is St. John's. The East is out because they can't be bracketed with Villanova this early. Likely due to Charlotte being a bit closer than Louisville, plus the fact that the committee could matchup the teams ranked 32 and 33 on the seed list, the Johnnies were placed in the South and paired with San Diego State to start. Remember, there is no rule saying regular season rematches cannot happen in the Round of 32. Just the First Four and Round of 64. So Duke-St. John's in the third round is allowed. Then we look at Oklahoma State and see that Omaha/Los Angeles is pretty close in distance to Louisville/Cleveland. Since Omaha is closest, that's likely why the Cowboys were sent west to face Oregon on Friday.

More likely due to keeping them away from Kentucky, even though they had only met once this season, LSU was put in the East Region and matched with the Wolfpack, which left Purdue to meet Cincinnati with Kentucky lurking ahead. Have fun, Bearcats and Boilermakers.

Indiana led off the 10 seeds and two regions are already removed from consideration. They can't be paired with Michigan State or Iowa in the Round of 64, for obvious reasons. And of the two pod possibilities, Omaha/Cleveland is the easy choice over Portland/Los Angeles. So that gives us Wichita State-Indiana to start. Davidson could not head west (not that they wanted to, anyway), because VCU was sitting at that region's No. 7 seed. Interesting, though, that Davidson was sent to the Seattle/Houston track over Charlotte/Syracuse. They did play Virginia during the regular season, but that would be in the third round. Nonetheless, the Wildcats were put in the South to play Iowa with the winner likely meeting Gonzaga in a pseudo-road game.

No matchup with Michigan State to start, so Ohio State is sent out West where they'll see VCU, leaving Georgia to deal with Sparty in the East Region.

Texas is the first 11 seed to be placed and our decision is easy. We only have one. Texas cannot play any Big 12 team in the Round of 32, thanks to the double-round robin league play, so the East (Oklahoma), South (Iowa State) and West (Baylor) are all out because a Big 12 team sits as the 3 seed. So it's the Midwest and a date with Butler for the Longhorns. UCLA is pretty much splitting the difference getting the Louisville/Houston track over the Jacksonville/Los Angeles track. They get SMU to kick off their run.

Now we get to the last four at-large teams, Ole Miss, BYU, Boise State and Dayton. The pairings are usually Nos. 33 and 34 among the at-larges facing each other in one game, and 35 and 36 in the other. So that gives us Ole Miss vs. BYU and Boise State vs. Dayton. And just to clarify, the exception to the rule about a team not being allowed to play on their home floor during the tournament is if Dayton is among the last four in and sent to the First Four.

So we start with the Ole Miss/BYU game. We also have to keep in mind that BYU cannot play on a Sunday. Well, the committee caught a huge break here, as the Jacksonville/Los Angeles track means BYU avoids playing on a Sunday. In fact, I wouldn't doubt it if the committee were going to put UCLA in the West, then switched out to put Ole Miss/BYU in that slot. That leaves the East and Columbus for the Boise State/Dayton game, which means things work out because we have a game on Tuesday (Ole Miss/BYU) and a game on Wednesday (Boise State/Dayton), those feeding into one each of the Thursday/Saturday and Friday/Sunday regions in the first weekend.

Now we have the teams everyone will be looking at first for their big upsets, the 12 seeds. Since the first pod is in Seattle, despite being in the East, the committee sent Wyoming to that region, giving us Wyoming vs. Northern Iowa. Buffalo is next and they'll take the Columbus/Cleveland track, matching them up with West Virginia in Kentucky's region.

Going out to Portland but possibly playing in their home state likely took precedence as the committee bracketed Stephen F. Austin in the South Region, where they'll open against Utah, leaving the West No. 12 and a date with Arkansas to the Terriers of Wofford.

Valparaiso is a Midwest school and as the first of the 13s to be put into the field, Columbus/Cleveland is easily the choice, drawing Maryland to start. The committee then likely decided to give Harvard the Jacksonville/Los Angeles track instead of Seattle/Syracuse so that the Crimson wouldn't have to travel cross-country two years in a row to begin the tournament, as last year they opened their tournament run in Spokane. Harvard will take on UNC.

Now we're left with an Eastern Washington team to be paired with an eastern school at a western site. There was likely no way would the committee force Louisville to have to face the Eagles in Seattle, so EWU is sent to the Portland/Houston track, giving them a first game against Georgetown. That means Louisville gets the last remaining 13 seed, UC Irvine.

Starting with Georgia State for the 14 seeds, the South Region was out because Georgia State played Iowa State during the regular season, so the committee likely felt Jacksonville is pretty close to the school, even if it means playing in the West Region, therefore the Panthers go west and draw Baylor in the second round. And with Pittsburgh/Cleveland and Columbus/Syracuse fairly close in total distance, the Pittsburgh/Cleveland track wins out for Northeastern, as they are closest to Pittsburgh among the first-weekend sites. The Huskies will face Notre Dame.

The southern track of Louisville/Houston is preferred over Columbus/Syracuse for the Blazers of UAB, putting them up against Iowa State. That means Albany gets the last spot among the 14s, going to the East and facing Oklahoma.

The Aggies of New Mexico State ranked as the strongest 15 seed, and they were sent to the first-weekend pod closest to them, Omaha. So they're in the Midwest, facing Kansas in their opener. And it would have been a long opening ride for Belmont to go to either Portland or Seattle, so it's East Bound and down to Charlotte for the Bruins, pairing them with Virginia.

Texas Southern, who is giving the SWAC a rare 15 seed, had only one choice, because they had played Gonzaga in the regular season, so they're sent to the West Region against Arizona. That leaves North Dakota State to square off with Gonzaga out in Seattle in the South Region.

Finally, the 16 seeds, starting with two that go directly to the Round of 64, Lafayette and Coastal Carolina. The Leopards are easily sent to the Pittsburgh/Syracuse track, letting them stay in-state for the first weekend and face Villanova. For Coastal Carolina, we can't put them against Duke because we have to save that spot for a First Four game, because it's the only remaining Friday/Sunday pod of the three available. And the committee usually gives the No. 1 overall seed one of the First Four winners, and let's face it, Kentucky earned the right to get a First Four winner. So we land on the West Region for the Chanticleers and a Round of 64 game against Wisconsin.

Last, but not least, the last four automatic qualifiers heading to the First Four. Just like the at-larges, it's the bottom two against each other and then the next bottom two. Or if we're using the seed list rankings, 65 vs. 66 and 67 vs. 68. That means North Florida gets Robert Morris and Manhattan takes on Hampton. Neither matchup is a regular season rematch and none of these four faced Kentucky or Duke. So we can simply give Kentucky the bottom two and Duke the other matchup. So Duke gets the winner of North Florida/Robert Morris and Kentucky draws either Manhattan or Hampton.

And there you have it. There's your look, at least as best as I can put it, at how all 68 teams were placed into the field. I hope this at least helps you somewhat understand a little bit better how the bracket is put together. It really is like putting together a 68-piece jigsaw puzzle. Enjoy the tournament, everyone. And may your brackets at least survive the first weekend.

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