It's the middle of March. Sixty-five teams have been inserted into a bracket to play for a national championship. That only means one thing - it's time for me to come up with my own bracket! In my world, the Z-Ratings reign supreme, and will be used to select and seed the teams, and to an extent, bracket them. Through four months and 4,675 games, the ratings look like this.
|Oklahoma State||Big 12||10|
|New Mexico||Mountain West||38|
|Texas - El Paso||Western Athletic||48|
|George Washington||Atlantic 10||60|
|Old Dominion||Colonial Atlantic||63|
|Wisconsin - Milwaukee||Horizon||65|
|Utah State||Big West||78|
|Louisiana - Lafayette||Sun Belt||89|
|Central Florida||Atlantic Sun||148|
|Eastern Kentucky||Ohio Valley||150|
|Niagara||Metro Atlantic Athletic||156|
|Delaware State||Mid-Eastern Athletic||214|
|Alabama A&M||Southwestern Athletic||288|
|North Carolina State||35|
Notre Dame and Indiana, two schools from the capital of basketball, were mentioned in the run-up to the tournament as bubble schools that played their way out. It's much harder to do that in this system, because every game is weighted the same. The Irish went 9-7 in the Big East, and the Hoosiers were 10-6 in the Big Ten; in both cases, just enough to get them into this field. Texas A&M benefits heavily from going undefeated in non-conference play; even a .500 mark in the Big XII and a first-round conference tournament loss didn't overcome that.
The three teams the committee chose over those in the previous paragraph are a fourth from Conference USA, a third from the Missouri Valley, and a second from the West Coast. If the motivation of the committee is to throw a couple of bones to mid-majors, then that isn't such a bad thing. But the Z-Bracket selects strictly by the numbers, and the numbers say the Big XII and Big East each get seven, and the Big Ten gets six. On the other hand, for the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern Conferences, it's a complete reversal from last year's Z-Bracket. Last year's SEC put an astounding nine teams in, and the ACC sent eight - each of these leagues got only five slots this year.
|1||1||1||Illinois||5||17||17||Wisconsin||9||33||33||Mississippi State||13||78||49||Utah State|
|2||2||North Carolina||18||18||Villanova||34||34||Southern Illinois||85||50||Ohio University|
|3||3||Wake Forest||19||19||Florida||35||35||North Carolina State||87||51||Vermont|
|4||4||Duke||20||20||Alabama||36||36||Stanford||89||52||Louisiana - Lafayette|
|6||6||Boston College||22||22||Cincinnati||38||38||New Mexico||121||54||Pennsylvania|
|8||8||Arizona||24||24||Texas Tech||41||40||Notre Dame||145||56||Chattanooga|
|3||9||9||Kansas||7||25||25||Georgia Tech||11||42||41||Iowa State||15||148||57||Central Florida|
|10||10||Oklahoma State||26||26||Pittsburgh||43||42||Nevada||150||58||Eastern Kentucky|
|12||12||Louisville||28||28||West Virginia||48||44||Texas - El Paso||159||60||Southeast Louisiana|
|15||15||Connecticut||31||31||Minnesota||63||47||Old Dominion||208||63||Fairleigh Dickinson|
|16||16||Michigan State||32||32||Louisiana State||65||48||Wisconsin - Milwaukee|
We've reached the point in the process where I talk about why a couple of teams are seeded where they are.
Boston College as a #2. Those who recall (as was stated above) that every game counts the same in the Z-Ratings won't be suprised by the Eagles being a No. 2. Neither the 4-4 end to the season nor their quarterfinal Big East tournament loss deflates the value of having won the Big East regular-season championship, or starting the season with twenty straight wins.
Iowa, UCLA, and Charlotte. These three teams differ by three from the seed given by the selection committee. In these cases, it's mainly a difference in schedule valuation - in other words, the Z-Ratings like the Big Ten and Pac-10, which favor Iowa and UCLA; on the other hand, they don't like Conference USA, which hurts Charlotte.
Oakland as a #16. Just as in 2003, a team with a losing record avoids the play-in game. And just as in 2003, that sub-.500 team played a significantly stronger schedule than the SWAC and MEAC champions (which, for the third straight year, would both be sent to Dayton in my bracket).
Again, we adhere to the bracketing principles established by the committee. The key points to remember are:
We also adhere to the bracketing procedure outlined in the championship handbook. This procedure is unchanged from 2004. Let's go to work.
Worcester, MA: Boston College, Syracuse
Cleveland, OH: Louisville, Connecticut
Charlotte, NC: North Carolina, Wake Forest
Nashville, TN: Duke, Michigan State
Indianapolis, IN: Illinois, Kentucky
Oklahoma City, OK: Kansas, Oklahoma State
Tucson, AZ: Oklahoma, Gonzaga
Boise, ID: Washington, Arizona
Unlike last year, top overall seed Illinois gets the geographic advantage (by playing in Indianapolis, a Thursday/Saturday site) rather than the strict seeding advantage (of playing the opening round winner). This is a purely subjective call - after a 32-1 season, I think that the Illini absolutely deserve to not have to step on a plane to get to any of their games.
Let's put some conference champions in this bracket - we make the 13 through 16 lines next. These teams, and the rest of the teams in the bracket, are placed so that they are as close to home for the first and second round games as possible. Well, at least that's what I try to do.
33 in, and 32 left.
The end of Appendix E of the men's basketball championship handbook (which deals with selection, seeding and placement) is worth quoting at length:
Each committee member independently evaluates a vast pool of information available during the process to develop individual preferences. It is these subjective opinions — developed after many hours of personal observations, discussion with coaches, directors of athletics and commissioners, and review and comparison of objective data — that dictate how each individual ultimately will vote on all issues related to the selection, seeding and bracketing process.
While the various elements of the RPI are important in the evaluation process, the tournament bracket each year is based on the subjectivity of each individual committee member to select the best at-large teams available and to create a nationally balanced championship.
To someone who has come to respect the selection process for the NCAA hockey tournament, this sums up everything wrong with the basketball makes its draw. The use of an objective, statistics-based system for selection ensures that the at-large teams are picked without regard to conference affiliation, regional bias, or reputation, to name a few factors. This might also cause teams to change their scheduling practices, to get tougher teams on their schedule to boost their rating. (Of course, if you don't win any of those games, it'll hurt you come selection time.) The point is that we know how every team got its spot in the Z-Bracket; nobody can really say for sure why Connecticut was given a No. 2, or why Louisville could only get a No. 4. At least my seed for Kansas matched the committee's seed this year.
That's all for this year - enjoy the tournament.