It's well past the onset of puberty, and the "sweet" edition is still a year off... but the Z-Bracket, aka Matt's Little-Known Personal Vanity Project, marks a decade and a half this time around. Just as I have since 2003, I take the opposite approach from that which the Republicans used to craft their Obamacare replacement - that is, transparency and straightforwardness. The latter refers to the selection of the at-large teams by the Z-Ratings as of the conclusion of all conference tournaments, and the former refers to the step-by-step detail that I'll lay out below to place the 68 participants into the bracket.
(Summary of previous brackets | Jump to this year's bracket)
Selecting the field
Step 1: the automatic bids.
With the Ivy League
capitulating adding a conference tournament this year, all leagues now hold one, and the winners of each of those thirty-two events qualify into the field.
||Florida Gulf Coast||Atlantic Sun||108
||Northern Kentucky||Horizon League||121
|Southern Methodist||American Athletic||18||
||Iona||Metro Atlantic Athletic||130
|Iowa State||Big 12||23||
|Wichita State||Missouri Valley||33||
||North Dakota||Big Sky||168
|Middle Tennessee State||Conference USA||55||
|Rhode Island||Atlantic 10||56||
||South Dakota State||Summit League||185
||Jacksonville State||Ohio Valley||190
|UNC Wilmington||Colonial Athletic||61||
||Texas Southern||Southwestern Athletic||194|
||UC - Davis||Big West||199
|East Tennessee State||Southern||80||
||Mount St. Mary's||Northeast||215
|New Mexico State||Western Athletic||82||
||North Carolina Central||Mid-Eastern Athletic||219
Step 2: the at-large bids.
Filling out the field in the Z-Bracket is entirely straightforward - we take the thirty-six highest rated teams who didn't claim automatic berths. There are no exclusions pertaining to eligible teams, so the bids are awarded thusly:
When it comes to matching the selection committee's choices, the Z-Ratings went 34 for 36; italics denote the two teams that were taken here but not into the actual tournament. In their place, Virginia Commonwealth (47) and Vanderbilt (49) are actually dancing in 2017. Both the committee's last four in and its first four out, who will be the number one seeds in the NIT, fully match the way the Z-Ratings handled them. As often seems to be the case, middling teams from power conferences are favored by this system; like Vanderbilt, both Clemson and Indiana ended the regular season with fifteen losses. Two disagreements between the ratings and the committee ties 2003 and 2010 for the second-fewest, only to 2013 when there was only one mismatch.
|St. Mary's - CA||16||
Seeding the teams
The first round
We use the following rules to set up the four games in Dayton that precede the first round. They're the same rules that I've used since 2011, subject to what the NCAA's procedure for building the bracket prescribes.
- The last and next-to-last at-large teams will play in the first round, as will the third-to-last and fourth-to-last at-large teams. The bottom four seeds will be paired 65 v. 66 and 67. v. 68.
- The seed that teams in the "First Four" will play for is determined by the field ranking of the higher-ranked team. That ranking will also determine precedence for the placement of the winners of the first-round games into the "main" 64-team bracket.
- Teams scheduled to play Wednesday, March 15 MUST be assigned to a Friday/Sunday pod for the second and third rounds. Teams playing on Tuesday, March 14 can be sent to either a Thursday/Saturday or Friday/Sunday pod.
Creating the seed list
With the rankings derived from the ratings already available to us, we simply use them to determine the seed for each of the teams in the field. Teams sharing a cell in the table below will face off in the first round.
||13||80||51||East Tennessee State|
||82||52||New Mexico State
||108||56||Florida Gulf Coast
||55||46||Middle Tennessee State||
||16||185||63||South Dakota State
UC - Davis
|16||16||St. Mary's - CA||
|Mount St. Mary's|
North Carolina Central
Rk = overall ranking by the Z-Ratings.
FR = Field ranking - the ranking of the team among the field of 68.
There are only two really big seeding discrepancies in 2017 - from the perspective of the Z-Ratings, the committee overseeded South Carolina and underseeded St. Mary's. The reasons for the latter seem obvious - the West Coast Conference has a perceived marked drop-off in quality below its top two teams. But the Gaels only dropped four games over the course of the season, and notched the only win over top-ranked Gonzaga. As for the Gamecocks, they did rack up losses to both Mississippi and Alabama, falling to the Crimson Tide a second time in the opening round of the SEC Tournament. Apparently that didn't make as much of an impression on the committee members as on the program sitting on my laptop.
Establishing the bracket
In 2017, regionals will be held at the following four sites: New York City (East); Memphis (South); Kansas City (Midwest); and San Jose (West).
As opposed to the selection and seeding, this stage of the process allows for some wiggle room. The NCAA's principles and procedures are our guidebook.No changes to the basic rules from 2016:
- Intraconference matchups are permissible at varying times, depending on how often the teams have played so far this season:
- Three or more times - regional final (round of 8).
- Twice - regional semifinal (round of 16).
- Once or not at all - third round (round of 32).
- The first four teams from a conference go to different regionals, provided they are seeded on the first four lines.
- Teams seeded Nos. 1 thru 4 will not be put at a severe "home-court disadvantage" in the first round (the round of 64).
- A team cannot play in an arena where it has played more than three regular season games, excluding conference tournaments (i.e. any home court).
- A team cannot play at a site where its school is hosting, but can play at a site hosted by its conference. This doesn't pose a problem in the regional phase, while Marquette can't play in its home city on the tournament's first weekend.
- If two teams from the same region are in contention for the same slot, the one with the higher rating remains in its region. (The guidelines say "true seed," formerly "S-Curve"; we instead use our ratings, as they produced our seeds.)
- If necessary, a team's seed can be adjusted up or down one spot to meet the principles; I've never been able to get through a bracket without doing this. As was true since 2013, the committee voted itself the ability to move a team two lines from its true seed in "extraordinary circumstances," which I haven't had to use and don't expect to.
We also adhere to the bracketing procedure outlined in the championship handbook (also at the link just above). As always, the three "additional considerations" listed after the procedure (relating to rematches of games from the regular season and last year's championship, and moving teams out of their natural region an inordinate number of times) and are not used in the construction of the Z-Bracket. Truthfully, the reason why I've discounted those precepts is in the interest of time; I don't have enough of it to take such considerations into account and produce the bracket in a timely fashion.
Step 1: Place the No. 1 seeds, and pair the regional winners for the national semifinals.
Gonzaga to the West; Villanova to the East; Arizona to the Midwest; and UCLA to the South. As a result of this, the matchups of regional winners in the Final Four here would be West vs. South and East vs. Midwest, which isn't the same as what the committee drew up.
Step 2: Place the No. 2 seeds.
Kansas to the Midwest; Kentucky to the South; Duke to the East; and North Carolina to the West. This works out pretty well in terms of keeping the regional finals close to the natural matchups (1 v. 8, etc.)
Step 3: Place the No. 3 seeds.
Oregon to the West; Louisville to the South; and the final two placements on this line are controlled by the placements on the two-seed line, meaning Baylor goes to the East and Florida State to the Midwest.
Step 4: Place the No. 4 seeds.
We've already got our fifth team from the ACC,and so the placement of Notre Dame isn't restricted by that point; they go into the Midwest. Both the Fighting Irish and Purdue are about equidistant from both Memphis and Kansas City, so I sent the Boilermakers to the South. Again, already placed teams constrain us on the rest of this line - Butler heads to the West and Saint Mary's heads to the East.
Step 5: Check for conflicts and balance in the Nos. 1 through 4 seeds.
Summing the "true seeds" - in our case, the field rankings - for the four teams is our measure of balance among the four regions; we don't want these four numbers to vary by more than five. With the placements we have now, the sums are 33, 33, 34, and 36. Pretty balanced.
Step 6: Assign first and second round sites.
Each of the eight first/second round sites gets two of these top 16 teams assigned to it, in order of ranking and subject to any restrictions noted above on schools playing where they are hosting.
Salt Lake City, UT: Gonzaga, Arizona
Buffalo, NY: Villanova, Butler
Sacramento, CA: UCLA, Oregon
Tulsa, OK: Kansas, Baylor
Indianapolis, IN: Kentucky, Louisville
Greenville, SC: Duke, North Carolina
Orlando, FL: Florida State, Saint Mary's
Milwaukee, WI: Notre Dame, Purdue
Step 7: Place the No. 5 through 16 seeds.
Within the limits of the other principles, we use the pods we just assigned to place the remainder of the field into the bracket.
Step 7a: Place the No. 5 seeds. (Buffalo, Milwaukee , Orlando)
Virginia to the South; SMU to the Midwest; those two allow Florida to slide nicely into the East and West Virginia to the West.
Step 7b: Place the No. 6 seeds. (Indianapolis, Orlando, Sacramento, Tulsa)
Creighton to the South; Wisconsin to the Midwest; meaning Cincinnati to the East and leaving Iowa State in the Midwest.
Step 7c: Place the No. 7 seeds. (Greenville , Indianapolis, Tulsa)
Even though Virginia Tech is the last team to be placed on this line, we can already see it'll end up in the Midwest, since the other three teams all hail from the Big Ten. Even though Florida State already occupies the three seed in that region, the Seminoles and Hokies only met once. Among them, Minnesota to the South, Michigan to the East, and Maryland to the West.
Step 7d: Place the No. 8 seeds. (Buffalo, Sacramento, Salt Lake City )
Miami to the East; Seton Hall to the South; Northwestern to the Midwest, and Arkansas to the West.
Step 7e: Place the No. 9 seeds. (Buffalo, Sacramento, Salt Lake City )
Wichita State to the South, Oklahoma State to the East, Southern California to the West, and Xavier to the Midwest, since Big East teams occupy the top halves of the other three regions already.
Step 7f: Place the No. 10 seeds. (Greenville , Indianapolis, Tulsa)
Marquette to the Midwest... which creates a notable problem, with Big Ten teams on the seven line of the other regions, and Michigan State next up to be placed. The solution here is to exercise discretion to bump a team. Such a bump is always done in a manner to send the bumped team to the other half of the bracket - in this case, the Spartans move up from a No. 10 to a No. 9, displacing the lowest true nine seed. That's Xavier, but we can't place Michigan State into that slot with Northwestern as their first-round opponent! A little shuffling solves this problem - slot the Spartans into the East, moving Oklahoma State to the South and Wichita State to the Midwest. Back down on the ten line, Xavier to the East, Wake Forest to the South (only played Louisville once) and Providence to the West.
Step 7g: Place the No. 11 seeds. (Indianapolis, Orlando, Sacramento, Tulsa)
South Carolina to the Midwest. Now we come to the First Four winners, and with the last four at-large teamscoming from four different conferences, the principles can't be relaxed. The Kansas State/Clemson winner will be in the South, as there's no Big 12 team in that bottom half and Clemson only faced Louisville once (potential round of 32 matchup) and Wake Forest twice (potential Sweet Sixteen matchup). The Dayton/Indiana winner heads to the West (the Hoosiers have only faced Maryland once).That leaves Middle Tennessee State in the East.
Step 7h: Place the No. 12 seeds. (Buffalo, Milwaukee , Orlando)
Rhode Island to the West; Nevada to the Midwest; UNC Wilmington to the East; Vermont to the South.
Step 7i: Place the No. 13 seeds. (Buffalo, Milwaukee , Orlando)
East Tennessee State to the East; New Mexico State to the West; Princeton to the Midwest; Winthrop to the South.
Step 7j: Place the No. 14 seeds. (Indianapolis, Orlando, Sacramento, Tulsa)
Bucknell to the South as well; FGCU to the Midwest; Northern Kentucky to the East; and Iona to the West.
Step 7k: Place the No. 15 seeds. (Greenville , Indianapolis, Tulsa)
Kent State to the South; Troy to the East, producing a matchup (against Duke, 2 v. 15 in the East, in Greenville) that exactly matches the real bracket; North Dakota to the Midwest; and New Orleans to the West.
Step 7l: Place the No. 16 seeds. (Buffalo, Sacramento, Salt Lake City )
South Dakota State to the Midwest, and Jacksonville State to the South. Fortunately, I put both the earlier First Four matchups into Friday pods, so both these games can feed into Thursday pods - winner of Texas Southern v. UC - Davis to the West, and winner of Mount St. Mary's vs. North Carolina Central to the East.
Step 8: Re-check the entire bracket for conflicts.
There are four possible intraconference matchups before the Elite Eight among ACC teams, and one between members of the Big Ten. All of them satisfy the criteria. Your 2017 Z-Bracket appears below.
|WEST (SAP Center, San Jose)||EAST (Madison Square Garden, New York City)|
|1||Gonzaga||Vivint Smart Home Arena|
Salt Lake City, UT
|9||Southern California||Michigan State||9|
|5||West Virginia||KeyBank Center|
|12||Rhode Island||UNC Wilmington||12|
|13||New Mexico State||East Tennessee State||13|
|3||Oregon||Golden 1 Center|
|11||Middle Tennessee State||11|
|7||Maryland||Bon Secours Wellness Arena|
|Bon Secours Wellness Arena|
(University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ)
West v. South
East v. Midwest
|SOUTH (FedExForum, Memphis)||MIDWEST (Sprint Center, Kansas City)|
|1||UCLA||Golden 1 Center|
|Vivint Smart Home Arena|
Salt Lake City, UT
|16||Jacksonville State||South Dakota State||16|
|9||Oklahoma State||Wichita State||9|
|3||Louisville||Bankers Life Fieldhouse|
|14||Bucknell||Florida Gulf Coast||14|
|7||Minnesota||Bankers Life Fieldhouse|
|15||Kent State||North Dakota||15|
|FIRST FOUR (UD Arena, Dayton) - Tuesday||FIRST FOUR (UD Arena, Dayton) - Wednesday|
|Kansas State||(to South #11)||(to West #16)||Texas Southern|
|Clemson||UC - Davis|
|Dayton||(to West #11)||(to East #16)||Mount St. Mary's|
|Indiana||North Carolina Central|
The usual course of action here; one million simulations on the probabilities generated from the ratings, propagated through both the Z-Bracket and the NCAA Tournament to be actually played.
My same kind regards as have appeared here over the last several years. Messrs. Butler & Whelan - and I was reminded of the antecedents of the KRACH when I was in Halifax half a year ago. QB64 for allowing me to keep this project going as computer power has advanced over the years. The linchpin of the college basketball version is the comprehensive record of Division I games compiled by Ken Pomeroy.
I hope that this bracket - and this tournament, over the next three weekends - provide the nation (and especially a certain segment of my Twitter timeline) a welcome respite.
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