Z-Bracket 2017

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.
GonzagaWest Coast1 PrincetonIvy League91
VillanovaBig East2 WinthropBig South92
ArizonaPacific-123 BucknellPatriot League106
KentuckySoutheastern6 Florida Gulf CoastAtlantic Sun108
DukeAtlantic Coast7 Northern KentuckyHorizon League121
Southern MethodistAmerican Athletic18 IonaMetro Atlantic Athletic130
Iowa StateBig 1223 Kent StateMid-American141
MichiganBig Ten26 TroySun Belt159
Wichita StateMissouri Valley33 North DakotaBig Sky168
Middle Tennessee StateConference USA55 New OrleansSouthland177
Rhode IslandAtlantic 1056 South Dakota StateSummit League185
NevadaMountain West60 Jacksonville StateOhio Valley190
UNC WilmingtonColonial Athletic61 Texas SouthernSouthwestern Athletic194
VermontAmerica East69 UC - DavisBig West199
East Tennessee StateSouthern80 Mount St. Mary'sNortheast215
New Mexico StateWestern Athletic82 North Carolina CentralMid-Eastern Athletic219

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:
UCLA4 Florida19 Oklahoma State34
Kansas5 West Virginia20 Southern California35
North Carolina8 Creighton21 Xavier36
Oregon9 Wisconsin22 Marquette37
Louisville10 Cincinnati24 Michigan State38
Baylor11 Minnesota25 Wake Forest39
Florida State12 Maryland27 Providence40
Notre Dame13 Virginia Tech28 South Carolina41
Purdue14 Miami (FL)29 Kansas State42
Butler15 Seton Hall30 Clemson43
St. Mary's - CA16 Northwestern31 Dayton44
Virginia17 Arkansas32 Indiana45
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.

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.

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.

Seed Rk FR Team Seed Rk FR Team Seed Rk FR Team Seed Rk FR Team
111Gonzaga 51717Virginia 93333Wichita State 138051East Tennessee State
22Villanova 1818Southern Methodist 3434Oklahoma State 8252New Mexico State
33Arizona 1919Florida 3535Southern California 9153Princeton
44UCLA 2020West Virginia 3636Xavier 9254Winthrop
255Kansas 62121Creighton 103737Marquette 1410655Bucknell
66Kentucky 2222Wisconsin 3838Michigan State 10856Florida Gulf Coast
77Duke 2323Iowa State 3939Wake Forest 12157Northern Kentucky
88North Carolina 2424Cincinnati 4040Providence 13058Iona
399Oregon 72525Minnesota 114141South Carolina 1514159Kent State
1010Louisville 2626Michigan 42
Kansas State
1111Baylor 2727Maryland 44
16861North Dakota
1212Florida State 2828Virginia Tech 5546Middle Tennessee State 17762New Orleans
41313Notre Dame 82929Miami (FL) 125647Rhode Island 1618563South Dakota State
1414Purdue 3030Seton Hall 6048Nevada 19064Jacksonville State
1515Butler 3131Northwestern 6149UNC Wilmington 194
Texas Southern
UC - Davis
1616St. Mary's - CA 3232Arkansas 6950Vermont 215
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:

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 [2], 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 [2], 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 [2])

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 [2])

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 [2], 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 [2], 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 [2], 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 [2], 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 [2])

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)
1GonzagaVivint Smart Home Arena
Salt Lake City, UT
KeyBank Center
Buffalo, NY
8ArkansasMiami (FL)8
9Southern CaliforniaMichigan State9
5West VirginiaKeyBank Center
Buffalo, NY
Amway Arena
Orlando, FL
12Rhode IslandUNC Wilmington12
4ButlerSaint Mary's4
13New Mexico StateEast Tennessee State13
3OregonGolden 1 Center
Sacramento, CA
BOK Center
Tulsa, OK
14IonaNorthern Kentucky14
6Iowa StateCincinnati6
11Middle Tennessee State11
7MarylandBon Secours Wellness Arena
Greenville, SC
Bon Secours Wellness Arena
Greenville, SC
2North CarolinaDuke2
15New OrleansTroy15
(University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ)
West v. South
East v. Midwest
SOUTH (FedExForum, Memphis)MIDWEST (Sprint Center, Kansas City)
1UCLAGolden 1 Center
Sacramento, CA
Vivint Smart Home Arena
Salt Lake City, UT
16Jacksonville StateSouth Dakota State16
8Seton HallNorthwestern8
9Oklahoma StateWichita State9
5VirginiaBradley Center
Milwaukee, WI
Bradley Center
Milwaukee, WI
Southern Methodist5
4PurdueNotre Dame4
3LouisvilleBankers Life Fieldhouse
Indianapolis, IN
Amway Arena
Orlando, FL
Florida State3
14BucknellFlorida Gulf Coast14
11South Carolina11
7MinnesotaBankers Life Fieldhouse
Indianapolis, IN
BOK Center
Tulsa, OK
Virginia Tech7
10Wake ForestMarquette10
15Kent StateNorth Dakota15
FIRST FOUR (UD Arena, Dayton) - TuesdayFIRST FOUR (UD Arena, Dayton) - Wednesday
Kansas State(to South #11)(to West #16)Texas Southern
ClemsonUC - Davis
Dayton(to West #11)(to East #16)Mount St. Mary's
IndianaNorth Carolina Central

Bracket simulation

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.

The Z-Ratings Center | Matt's home page