Z-Bracket 2014 (XII, if you will)

In the year since I last composed the Z-Bracket, I've made two moves and taken two new jobs, and suffered a very personal loss. I'm on a weird schedule right now that has delayed publication a couple of says. But we're ready to roll now, and by that, I mean we're ready to use this year's Z-Ratings through March 16 as the foundation for figuring out which sixty-eight teams I'd select, and how I'd match them up. (Summary of previous brackets | Jump to this year's bracket)

Selecting the field

Step 1: the automatic bids.

The number of automatic bids rises by one in 2014, thanks to the partition of the Big East into its successor, the American Athletic Conference, and the new Big East (aka the former "Catholic Seven" plus three schools). So we're up to 32, with every school save the Ivy League giving it to the conference tournament champion.
TeamConferenceRankTeamConferenceRank
Wichita StateMissouri Valley1TulsaConference USA99
FloridaSoutheastern2New Mexico StateWestern Athletic104
Iowa StateBig 126DelawareColonial Athletic109
VirginiaAtlantic Coast11North Carolina CentralMid-Eastern Athletic114
Michigan StateBig Ten13MercerAtlantic Sun121
LouisvilleAmerican Athletic15Louisiana - LafayetteSun Belt132
UCLAPacific-1217Eastern KentuckyOhio Valley135
New MexicoMountain West22MilwaukeeHorizon League143
GonzagaWest Coast35Weber StateBig Sky181
ProvidenceBig East38AmericanPatriot League183
Saint Joseph'sAtlantic 1043Cal PolyBig West196
Stephen F. AustinSouthland55WoffordSouthern221
HarvardIvy League62Coastal CarolinaBig South225
North Dakota StateSummit League75Mount St. Mary'sNortheast231
Western MichiganMid-American85AlbanyAmerica East233
ManhattanMetro Atlantic Athletic94Texas SouthernSouthwestern Athletic265

Step 2: the at-large bids.

Since the size of the tournament field is unchanged at 68, one at-large berth goes away, and we thus take the 36 highest rated teams not liated in the previous table, who are:
TeamRankTeamRankTeamRank
Arizona3Baylor20Virginia Commonwealth33
Villanova4Texas21Arizona State34
Syracuse5Ohio State23Kansas State36
Kansas7Pittsburgh24Stanford37
Wisconsin8North Carolina25George Washington39
San Diego State9Oregon26Iowa40
Michigan10Saint Louis27Xavier41
Creighton12Kentucky28Nebraska42
Duke14Colorado29Utah44
Cincinnati16Oklahoma State30Tennessee45
Oklahoma18Massachusetts31St. John's46
Connecticut19Memphis32Minnesota47
The three teams in italics was not selected for the actual tournament field; pretty good, though not as quite as spot on as only missing one last year. The three teams that the real-life committee took and I didn't are North Carolina State (52), Dayton (53), and Brigham Young (59).

Seeding the teams

The first round

There's a slight change to the First Four this year, as the principles for building the bracket specify the way the eight teams are to be paired. Otherwise, we continue with the rules I've been using the last two years:

Creating the seed list

Since we used the Z-Ratings to select the at-large teams, we use the very same ratings to order them for their seeding. Teams listed in the same cell will face off in the first round.

Seed Rk FR Team Seed Rk FR Team Seed Rk FR Team Seed Rk FR Team
111Wichita State 51717UCLA 93333Virginia Commonwealth 138551Western Michigan
22Florida 1818Oklahoma 3434Arizona State 9452Manhattan
33Arizona 1919Connecticut 3535Gonzaga 9953Tulsa
44Villanova 2020Baylor 3636Kansas State 10454New Mexico State
255Syracuse 62121Texas 103737Stanford 1410955Delaware
66Iowa State 2222New Mexico 3838Providence 11456North Carolina Central
77Kansas 2323Ohio State 3939George Washington 12157Mercer
88Wisconsin 2424Pittsburgh 4040Iowa 13258Louisiana - Lafayette
399San Diego State 72525North Carolina 114141Xavier 1513559Eastern Kentucky
1010Michigan 2626Oregon 4242Nebraska 14360Milwaukee
1111Virginia 2727Saint Louis 4343Saint Joseph's 18161Weber State
1212Creighton 2828Kentucky 44
45
44
45
Utah
Tennessee
18362American
41313Michigan State 82929Colorado 1246
47
46
47
St. John's
Minnesota
1619663Cal Poly
1414Duke 3030Oklahoma State 5548Stephen F. Austin 22164Wofford
1515Louisville 3131Massachusetts 6249Harvard 225
231
65
66
Coastal Carolina
Mount St. Mary's
1616Cincinnati 3232Memphis 7550North Dakota State 233
265
67
68
Albany
Texas Southern
Key:
Rk = overall ranking by the Z-Ratings.
FR = Field ranking - the ranking of the team among the field of 68.

Another good year with the seeding, with only two major seeding discrepancies, one in each direction (VCU too high, Pitt too low). Some might have an issue with Wichita State being the top overall seed, given their weak strength of schedule. It's a point well taken this year, due to the shortcoming of the Z-Ratings in handling an undefeated team (the first time I've had to do so since I've been keeping the ratings). I considered moving the γ (weighting of tied games) to a higher figure than the 0.05 I've used in the final weeks of the season, but for the sake of consistency, I'm leaving it there and not making any ad hoc adjustment. WSU is the number three overall in the actual bracket, so it's not like there was a massive gulf between my assessment of the Shockers and that of the committee (as there was with one-loss Murray State two years ago).

Establishing the bracket

Our regionals this year: East (New York City); South (Memphis); Midwest (Indianapolis); and West (Anaheim).

As has always been the case, the bracket is built using the principles established by the selection committee. They've changed a bit this time around, what with all the conference shuffling that transpired in the previous offseason:

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.

Step 1: Place the No. 1 seeds, and pair the regional winners for the national semifinals.

As it happens, we get pretty natural fits with our top four teams - Wichita State to the Midwest, Florida to the South, Arizona to the West, Villanova to the East. Since 2004, we set up the Final Four such that if all four of these teams advance to play under a video board nearly twice as long as the court itself, it's overall 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3. Thus it'll be Midwest v. East, and South v. West.

Step 2: Place the No. 2 seeds.

With Villanova in the East already, we can't place Syra- oh yeah, we totally can, since the Orange are in the ACC now! Iowa State to the Midwest; Kansas to the South; Wisconsin to the West.

Step 3: Place the No. 3 seeds.

San Diego State to the West. Michigan has to be sent to the East because neither Virginia nor Creighton can go there. The Cavaliers head to the South and the Bluejays to the Midwest. Incidentally, this setup helps with our balance.

Step 4: Place the No. 4 seeds.

Michigan State to the Midwest; Duke is constrained to the West with ACC teams already in the East and South; Louisville to the South; Cincinnati to the East.

Step 5: Check for conflicts and balance in the Nos. 1 through 4 seeds.

The balance of the bracket is checked by summing the field rankings of the four teams in each regional. Perfect balance is 34 for each; the lowest and highest should be within five. Those sums are 32, 34, 35, 35 (M, W, E, S, respectively); for the first time in a while, we don't have to consider any changes at this point.

Step 6: Assign first and second round sites.

Going in the same order as they were placed into the bracket, we assign the top 16 to the eight opening weekend sites. St. Louis, MO: Wichita State, Kansas
Orlando, FL: Florida, Michigan State
San Diego, CA: Arizona, Cincinnati
Buffalo, NY: Villanova, Syracuse
Milwaukee, WI: Iowa State, Wisconsin
Spokane, WA: San Diego State, Louisville
Raleigh, NC: Michigan, Virginia
San Antonio, TX: Creighton, Duke

Step 7: Place the No. 5 through 16 seeds.

Based on the seeds, the remaining fifty-two teams aren't expected to be playing beyond the first Sunday of the tournament, so we place them in their natural region to the extent possible, given the other constraints of the bracket and based on the pods we just assigned.

Step 7a: Place the No. 5 seeds. (Available sites: Orlando, San Antonio, San Diego, Spokane)

UCLA to the East. Oklahoma to the West. Connecticut has to go in the Midwest because it has played Louisville three times already, and thus Baylor ends up in the South.

Step 7b: Place the No. 6 seeds. (Available sites: Raleigh [2], San Antonio, Spokane)

Texas to the Midwest, permissible since the Longhorns played Iowa State only twice. New Mexico must go East or South, to Raleigh either way; I'm choosing the East because it helps with the next team, Ohio State. The Buckeyes go to the South and Pittsburgh to the West.

Step 7c: Place the No. 7 seeds. (Available sites: Buffalo [2], Milwaukee, St. Louis)

There's no way to keep North Carolina in its natural region with these pods, so I'm putting them in the Midwest. The rest of the line is unencumbered, so Oregon to the South, Saint Louis to the West, and Kentucky to the East.

Step 7d: Place the No. 8 seeds. (Available sites: Buffalo, Orlando, San Diego, St. Louis)

Colorado to the Midwest; Oklahoma State to the South to enable Massachusetts to be placed in the East; and Memphis to the West.

Step 7e: Place the No. 9 seeds. (Available sites: Buffalo, Orlando, San Diego, St. Louis)

VCU to the South, which means that Arizona State goes to the East. Gonzaga to the West, and Kansas State to the Midwest.

Step 7f: Place the No. 10 seeds. (Available sites: Buffalo [2], Milwaukee, St. Louis)

Stanford to the West; Providence to the East; George Washington to the South; Iowa to the Midwest.

Step 7g: Place the No. 11 seeds. (Available sites: Raleigh [2], San Antonio, Spokane)

Xavier to the East; Nebraska to the West; Saint Joseph's to the Midwest; and the Utah/Tennessee winner to the South.

Step 7h: Place the No. 12 seeds. (Available sites: Orlando, San Antonio, San Diego, Spokane)

The winner of St. John's and Minnesota to the South; Stephen F. Austin to the West; Harvard to the Midwest; and North Dakota State to the East.

Step 7i: Place the No. 13 seeds. (Available sites: Orlando, San Antonio, San Diego, Spokane)

Western Michigan to the West; Manhattan to the Midwest; Tulsa to the South; New Mexico State to the East.

Step 7j: Place the No. 14 seeds. (Available sites: Raleigh [2], San Antonio, Spokane)

Delaware to the East; North Carolina Central to the Midwest (not the South, due to the home-court disadvantage provision); Mercer to the South, and Louisiana-Lafayette to the West.

Step 7k: Place the No. 15 seeds. (Available sites: Buffalo [2], Milwaukee, St. Louis)

Eastern Kentucky to the Midwest; Milwaukee to the South; Weber State to the West; American to the East.

Step 7l: Place the No. 16 seeds. (Available sites: Buffalo, Orlando, San Diego, St. Louis)

Cal Poly to the West; Wofford to the South; the Coastal Carolina v. Mount St. Mary's winner to the Midwest; and the winner of Albany v. Texas Southern to the East.

Step 8: Re-check the entire bracket for conflicts.

There are six possible matchups of teams from the same conference prior to the Elite Eight, all of which are in the Sweet Sixteen. In all six cases, the pairs of teams in question played once or twice this year: The last one was only caught on the final review of the bracket; I'm lucky I didn't have to go through and start changing things around. Having satisfied those conditions, voilà!

MIDWEST (Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis)SOUTH (FedExForum, Memphis)
1Wichita StateScottrade Center
St. Louis, MO
Amway Center
Orlando, FL
Florida1
16Wofford16
8ColoradoOklahoma State8
9Kansas StateVirginia Commonwealth9
5ConnecticutAmway Center
Orlando, FL
Spokane Vet. Mem. Arena
Spokane, WA
Baylor5
12Harvard12
4Michigan StateLouisville4
13ManhattanTulsa13
3CreightonAT&T Center
San Antonio, TX
PNC Center
Raleigh, NC
Virginia3
14North Carolina CentralMercer14
6TexasOhio State6
11Saint Joseph's11
7North CarolinaBMO Harris Bradley Center
Milwaukee, WI
Scottrade Center
St. Louis, MO
Oregon7
10IowaGeorge Washington10
2Iowa StateKansas2
15Eastern KentuckyMilwaukee15
FINAL FOUR
(AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX)
Midwest v. East
South v. West
EAST (Madison Square Garden, New York City)WEST (Honda Center, Anaheim)
1VillanovaFirst Niagara Center
Buffalo, NY
Viejas Arena
San Diego, CA
Arizona1
16Cal Poly16
8MassachusettsMemphis8
9Arizona StateGonzaga9
5UCLAViejas Arena
San Diego, CA
AT&T Center
San Antonio, TX
Oklahoma5
12North Dakota StateStephen F. Austin12
4CincinnatiDuke4
13New Mexico StateWestern Michigan13
3MichiganPNC Center
Raleigh, NC
Spokane Vet. Mem. Arena
Spokane, WA
San Diego State3
14DelawareLouisiana - Lafayette14
6New MexicoPittsburgh6
11XavierNebraska11
7KentuckyFirst Niagara Center
Buffalo, NY
BMO Harris Bradley Center
Milwaukee, WI
Saint Louis7
10ProvidenceStanford10
2SyracuseWisconsin2
15AmericanWeber State15
FIRST ROUND (UD Arena, Dayton) - TuesdayFIRST ROUND (UD Arena, Dayton) - Wednesday
St. John's(to South #12)(to South #11)Utah
MinnesotaTennessee
Albany(to East #16)(to Midwest #16)Coastal Carolina
Texas SouthernMount St. Mary's

Bells and whistles

Earlier, I said that I wasn't adjusting Wichita State's rating or seeding due to its rating. One effect that will have, however, is that I'm forgoing bracket simulations due to the expectation that the results will be skewed in favor of the Shockers. Doing a bracket with a much more significant γ would reorder the teams and change the bracket we've already made.

Acknowledgements

Once again, QB64, which is a light-years ahead of the old MS-DOS interface I'd been working with for so long. Ken Pomeroy, without whose raw data this task would be much harder. Of course, John Whelan and Ken Butler, upon whose shoulders I am merely standing.

That's all for this year - this thing is already late enough as it is. Thanks, and let's hope Cornell gets back on the upswing in 2014-15 (which is almost assured, since the Big Red can't fall much further).

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