This Week's Bracket
Despite a lack of in-or-out movement (only two new teams this week), the bracket had plenty of change once again. An observant eye will see there was a lot of movement in the 14-16 seed range, the area traditionally occupied by the low-major one-bid conferences.
Wisconsin fell last week, then fell some more after the Ohio State loss. However the win over Illinois on Tuesday put the brakes on the Badgers' skid and helped them level off at the top of the five line. Many Badgers fans were hitting the panic button recently, even going so far as to suggest that this team might miss the tournament altogether. It should be noted that Wisconsin has an RPI of 11 and one of the strongest schedules in the country.
If recent performance was not part of the process of seeding, the Badgers would likely be a four, possibly even a three. If Wisconsin can put the recent struggles in the past, they can let the RPI number stand for itself and claim a higher seed and more a favorable first round matchup.
The group of eight teams at the top of the bracket, referenced in last week's post, remain in that position, only the order changed. At the moment, Cincinnati is the closest to cracking into that group, and Michigan and Duke remain ready to pounce should a team in front of them fall.
It has been surprising to see this distancing of sorts from the top group. The bracket is very even across the board, the three through six seeds are all very close, as are the at-large teams at the bottom in the 10-12 range. This balance has made this field one of the most difficult to project in recent memory, as differentiating between some of these teams has proven quite challenging.
The field is starting to take its true shape as we enter the heart of conference play. The next few weeks are when teams can play their way in or out for good and make or break their season. BadgerNation will continue to have all the latest as Wisconsin looks to make the most of their upcoming opportunities.
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.