Bracketology 101 for Dummies

It is still a long time until 'Selection Sunday' in mid-March. Which teams are selected, where they are seeded and where they play their games are all decisions made by the NCAA Selection Committee. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive asked Greg Shaheen, the NCAA's senior vice president for basketball, to explain those processes to the media at a luncheon during basketball media day.

"We have a simple goal in mind and that is to select the best teams we can to compete for a national championship," Shaheen said. "When we start the process, every team has an equal shot."

There are three key words that the committee uses as a goal - fairness, consistency and balance.

"When we get to selection weekend, most of the hard work has already been done," Shaheen said. "Our committee members spend most of the season attending games, watching games on TV or looking at game tapes. Last year the committee watched over 1,000 games just to prepare for selection weekend. So even if one team does not get as many televised games as another, the committee balances it out to be sure that everyone receives equitable treatment."

There are 31 automatic bids but the committee must determine 34 additional teams, representing the best available, to round out the field. After the teams are selected, then the committee seeds them from top to bottom before assigning them to play in a specific bracket. The selection process takes most of the time.

"We ask coaches to rank teams in their region at the beginning of January, February and March," Shaheen said. "These rankings are important to the committee so they can evaluate a specific team over the course of the season, even though the last ten game games carry heavier weight. We'll look at where a specific team played (home, away or neutral floor), the RPI of their opponent (top 50, 51-100, 101-200, below 200), common opponents and key injuries that may have affected the outcome of one or even a series of games. These are the types of discussions the committee members have."

Each committee member is responsible for providing in-depth analysis for a conference. At no point may a committee member vote for a team that he represents at an institutional or conference level. As an example, when a SEC teams comes under discussion, Slive, who is in his third year on the committee, must physically leave the room. The only input he can provide about an SEC team is factual information such as an injury or the status of a specific player. This logic holds true for each of the three phases - selection, seeding and bracketing.

"We have the technology to compare any number of teams side-by-side so the committee can look at any aspect possible," Shaheen continued. "Each year the committee gets a lot of questions about why a specific team was or was not included, or the rationale for a specific seeding. This technology helps the committee reach those decisions and be able to defend their decisions."

For all the data the committee has, there are factors they do not consider. These include how a team or a conference performed in a previous season, or 'brag' information prepared by a specific school for the committee's use.

"All the committee considers is what they did from the tip-off of this season until the last game they played," Shaheen stated. "As an example, it was obvious to everyone on the committee that George Mason belonged in the tournament last year. At-large teams mean that a majority of the committee believes they are among the best 34 teams not receiving an automatic bid."

Once the entire field is selected, then the 65 teams are seeded.

"Last year, we began the final seeding process at 4:30 p.m. or about 90 minutes before CBS went on the air with the selection show," Shaheen said. "We began to informally seed teams early Friday to form a consensus. Last year we had a situation in the SEC where we did not know if South Carolina would or would not be in the tournament. But we try to work on informal seeding for a few hours to take a break from the actual selection process."

As a side note, if South Carolina had won the SEC Basketball Tournament and the automatic bid, Alabama would still have received an at-large bid. But as it was, a team from the Midwest benefited with Florida's win.

While the selection and seeding can create controversy, the bracketing is more mechanical. There are a few rules that apply to bracketing.

The first three seeds from each conference are assigned to different regionals. When more than one conference team is in each regional, the goal is to bracket those teams so they do not meet until the regional finals. Additionally, a team cannot play in an arena where they played four or more regular season games or are serving as a host school.

Throughout the presentation, Shaheen reminded the media that the goal is to find the best field available, without regard to conference affiliation.

"With all due respect to the pundits, we often hear comments leading up the selection process that a certain conference will get five or six bids based on what that conference did last year," Shaheen explained. "It doesn't work that way. The committee never worries that a certain conference will get only two teams in or as many as six or seven teams in. The committee has no goal or quota to select a certain number of teams from a specific conference."

There is another popular misconception about the selection process. There is no 20-win rule, or a rule implying that a team which wins half their conference games qualify.

"With the parity that exists today, the committee weighs the winning percentage, who they played, how they played and where they played," Shaheen explained. "We are also mindful of the eligibility and availability issues of student-athletes and coaches relating to injuries."

The process is identical for the NCAA women's tournament with the exception that there are 33 at-large teams and the selections are announced on Monday.

The National Invitational Tournament uses the same logic for selecting their 32-team field, with one basic exception. They award automatic bids to every conference regular season champion that did not make the NCAA field. The NIT selection committee consists of eight retired coaches including C. M. Newton and Dean Smith.

Andy Kalinowski, known on the internet as Andy K, writes about Mississippi State women's basketball for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website. He can be reached by email at

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