This Week's Bracket
College basketball is in its home stretch, and the madness of March is already beginning to appear. The last few weeks have seen more and more top teams fall, and the top of the bracket is as cluttered as ever.
Wisconsin, a three seed at the moment, is in position to continue its climb. If the Badgers beat Iowa on Saturday, they will move up to my two line if Duke or Michigan State lose to Syracuse or Michigan, respectively, over the weekend. Wisconsin's high RPI and Strength of Schedule ratings are, at the moment, being completely ignored in the polls. This is why polls, as reflectors only of recent performance and preconceived notions, are not viable indicators of a team's tournament seed.
One team that has gained some attention, at least in Big Ten circles, is Nebraska. The Huskers are surging at the perfect time, and a favorable remaining schedule might be enough to vault them into the field. If they can go 4-1 the rest of the way and win a game or two in the Big Ten tournament, it will be very hard for the committee to ignore them. The Nebraska/Wisconsin game in Lincoln to wrap up the Big Ten regular season is shaping up to have major tournament implications for the Huskers. If they lose one more game before the matchup with the Badgers, that game will likely be the difference between the NCAA bubble and the NIT.
Oklahoma State is another team receiving attention but for very different reasons. The Cowboys surged to a two seed earlier in the season, but are not completely out of my field. The strong start and suspension of Marcus Smart are two factors that are keeping Oklahoma State in the discussion, but no amount of exceptions can override a 4-9 record in Big 12 play. They still have opportunities to play their way back into the field, but the Cowboys will be on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday if they don't right the ship immediately.
March is coming and it is being rung in by upsets and surprises all around college basketball. Stay locked to BadgerNation to see how everything affects the Badgers.
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.
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.