This Week's Bracket
College basketball season is here and the march to Houston for the 2016 Final Four is on the mind of every college basketball fan. It is never too early to start thinking about who might be cutting down the nets this April, so here is this year’s first installment of Scout.com Bracketology.
North Carolina leads the way as the number one overall seed in the preseason field of 68. They are followed by Maryland, Kentucky and Virginia. 2015 national runner-up Wisconsin opens on the five seed line. The ACC leads the way with eight bids, and nine conferences have multiple bids.
My preseason bracket projection is based on predicted conference winners from multiple outlets, preseason conference coaches’ polls and preseason top 25 polls. The preseason is the only time I use the top 25 rankings as a reference for my projection. During the season, these polls are extremely reactive to recent performance, whereas the bracket projection is based on a team’s comprehensive body of work. To identify my automatic bid teams during the season, I use the current leader from each conference.
Additionally, once we get well into December the bracket projection becomes reflective of “if the tournament started today”, whereas it is based on teams’ projected performance early in the season. By the time conference play begins, the projection is entirely based on teams’ résumés to date and nothing else.
Unlike top 25 polls, the bracket projection is wiped clean for each installment. Where a team was in a previous projection holds no bearing on where they will be slotted next time.
How the bracket works
The NCAA tournament field is made up of 68 teams. Thirty-two of these teams get into the field by virtue of winning their conference tournaments (with the exception of the Ivy League, who sends their regular season champion). The remaining 36 bids go to the most deserving teams that did not win their conference tournament. These teams are selected on the basis of strength of schedule, quality wins, RPI, and several other criteria. Once the 32 automatic qualifiers and 36 at-large teams have been identified, they are ranked 1-68. To get the field from 68 to 64 teams, the four lowest automatic bid teams and four lowest at-large teams play the “First Four” games, essentially playing off for the final two automatic bids and final two at-large spots. The resulting field of 64 features 30 automatic qualifiers and 34 at-large teams.
Two major changes to the seeding process were implemented for the 2016 tournament. The first change affects how the First Four participants are selected. In the past, the selection committee simply sent the last four teams they placed in the field to Dayton. Starting this year, the committee will reorder the field once all at-large teams have been selected. This means the last at-large teams selected are no longer locked into the First Four spots. The goal with this change is to ensure the “worst” four at-large teams are the ones playing off for the final two at-large spots.
The second change has to do with geography. In the past, the committee tried as hard as possible to send teams to their “natural region," basically keeping teams as close to home as possible. This emphasis skewed the seeding process because the bracket was not actually seeded in a true 1-68 manner. This year, the committee is devaluing location and trying harder to stick to the true seed list. This change is mostly in response to last season, when the committee very nearly had to send both Wisconsin and Kentucky to the Midwest region, the “natural” region for both teams. This would have meant two of the top four or five teams in college basketball would have met in the Elite Eight. If such a scenario arises this year, the top overall two seed will be bracketed to the region of the lowest overall one seed, regardless of location. When Wisconsin eventually moved up to the one seed line, the committee was able to avoid this scenario. This resulted in an instant classic at the 2015 Final Four when Wisconsin knocked off previously unbeaten Kentucky.
The following teams are ineligible for the 2016 NCAA Tournament: Alcorn State, Florida A&M, SMU, Stetson and Central Arkansas. If any of these teams win their conference tournament, the NCAA Tournament automatic bid will go to the farthest-advancing eligible team in that conference’s tournament.
Last year I correctly predicted 65 of the 68 teams in the field and in 2014 I predicted 67 of 68. This year my goal is perfection.