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There are a lot of misconceptions about making a bracket. Basically, you take the winners of the automatic-bid conferences, then the next best teams that didn’t win their conference and rank them 1-68. Once these rankings are done, the teams are split up at increments of 4 into their seeds. The last 4 at-large teams and the last 4 auto bid teams are seeded in pairs, and represent the new “First Four” model, with play-in games on the first Tuesday and Wednesday of the tournament. Once I break the teams up into seeds, it is easy for me to see where one team maybe should be ahead of another. After teams are seeded, I make note of the “first four out” and “next four out” to keep a full radar of teams that are near tournament contention.
One small change to the bracket this year will be the number of auto bids and at-large bids. The breakup of the original Big East resulted in the creation of the new American Athletic Conference (AAC). Because the AAC meets the criteria for an automatic bid, the number of auto bids rose from 31 to 32. That, in turn, shrunk the number of at-large bids from 37 to 36. This really will not have a large impact on the bracket, as the winners of the new Big East and AAC will likely be teams that would have gotten in if the old conference was still in place. This is the second time that a conference breakup has resulted in an increase in auto bids, the first being the splitting of the WAC into the Mountain West about 10 years ago. That was the beginning of the play-in games, as the NCAA didn’t want to see the number of at-large bids change out of fear of lowering the quality of the tournament. Since then, the play-in games have grown from one to four, so there is no reason to expand the tournament based on the most recent conference expansion.
As far as selecting teams, my process is not complicated. Remember, I am only selecting 36 teams because of the 32 auto bids. During the season, I use the current conference leaders to determine who my auto bids go to. Once I have these teams selected, I rank them 1-32. I then select the remaining 36 teams based on factors like the RPI, with special focus on certain RPI characteristics like quality wins and strength of schedule. The selection committee looks at each team as an independent in their selection in March, so I try not to let conference affiliation affect my seeding. I have a natural bias towards the Big Ten, simply by virtue of seeing so many Big Ten games in person each season. I do my best not to let this bias be a part of my bracket.
For my preseason bracket, I used the predicted conference winners along with my own research about teams. I used the top 25 polls as a reference for who is expected to be good, the only time I will call upon the polls for bracket purposes. I am interested to see how the shift of power towards the major conferences affects seeding. The Horizon League, Conference USA and the Missouri Valley Conference all lost teams to the redistributed Big East and AAC. There were also some shifts among the low-major conferences that will have minor impacts. Bottom line: previous conference reputations will be more irrelevant than ever and there will be a period of feeling-out with the realignment.
In my opinion, the Big Ten returns as the best conference, but the ACC is not far behind. The AAC and new Big East are about equal, the Big 12 is about their level and the SEC and Pac-12 continue to lag slightly behind, despite having some top-level teams at the top of their conferences. The Atlantic-10 continues its rise and the Mountain West will be as competitive as always.
I’m looking to build on a season in which I correctly predicted 66 of the 68 teams in the field, correctly predicted 22 teams’ seeds, got 28 teams predicted within one seed and 12 teams within two seeds.
I usually release my preseason bracket in late October, I update it throughout the nonconference season, releasing one every two weeks or so. When things pick up in January, I release a bracket every Friday, after the big Thursday games and before the busy weekends.
This Week’s Bracket
BadgerNation Bracket - Edition 1
This bracket projection included the most movement among at-large teams to date. Several (Tennessee, Xavier) fell out while others (Boise State, Butler) found their way in. It's still early, but this already looks like a season where there will be a large number of similar teams all looking at the 8-12 range. At this point, any of my projected teams in that range could rise or fall a line or two after a particularly good win or rather poor loss.
How about our Badgers! With Wisconsin off to a 9-0 start, they find themselves at the 3 line - and climbing. With a win over Marquette this weekend, Wisconsin figures to finish the nonconference season with a record of 13-0. That would be enough to get them in serious conversation for a top two seed. Their resume will be one of the strongest of all. The tough nonconference portion will be followed by a very deep Big Ten slate. Not too many teams will end up with as many chances for quality wins as the Badgers will.
Remember at this point the bracket is still, in large part, a projection of what I think will play out over the next three months. Sure, Wisconsin is ahead of Duke in both polls, but they remain seeded a line higher. Therefore, I am projecting that, when all is said and done, Duke will have put themselves in a better position for a higher seed than the Badgers. Of course this can change, and that is what the rest of the season is for. Stay tuned!
One Seeds: Michigan State, Kansas, Kentucky, Arizona
Two Seeds: Oklahoma State, Louisville, Duke, Syracuse
Three Seeds: UConn, Gonzaga, Ohio State and Wisconsin
1, Big Ten (7); 2, ACC (6); 3, AAC (4); 4, Big East (6); 5, Big 12 (4); 6, SEC (3); 7, Pac-12 (5); 8, Atlantic-10 (3); 9, Mountain West (3); 10, WCC (3); 11, Missouri Valley (2).