This Week's Bracket
Following a head shaking home loss to Northwestern, Wisconsin fell to a four seed in the latest bracket projection. After the loss to Michigan, I commented on BadgerNation's Kohl Center Message Board saying that it would take "a pretty big meltdown" for the Badgers to drop to a four seed. Well, four losses in five games including an inexcusable home loss to a .500 team were enough to satisfy the "meltdown" criteria. The Badgers now find themselves falling for the third straight week.
The Badgers also relinquished some control of their own seed. Given the recent struggles, Wisconsin will not only need wins, but also losses from the teams in front of them to move back up to the three-seed range. The good news is there is a lot of basketball left to be played, and the Badgers still have plenty of chances for some big wins.
Identifying my one seeds was a challenge again this week. There is a definite gap between my top eight teams and the rest of the field (no three seed is seriously threatening to move up) and only two teams, Arizona and Syracuse, are undisputed ones. The remaining six teams can all make a strong case for one of the two remaining spots.
This week, Michigan State and Florida will get the nod. In spite of the loss to Michigan, Michigan State is playing very good basketball without several key players. Florida has moved to the one line as well. Kansas, despite four losses, is right behind and leads the two seed ranks. Wichita State, San Diego State and Villanova remain right there as well, ready for a jump up should a team in front of them lose a game.
March is approaching quickly and the bracket will begin to solidify. Stay tuned to BadgerNation.com, @TheBadgerNation and @kreichert27 on Twitter for all the latest.
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.
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'll be releasing a bracket every Friday, after the big Thursday games and before the busy weekends.