This Week's Bracket
The last bracket projection of February has Wisconsin as a two seed. An unmatched list of quality wins and overall schedule strength lift the Badgers above most of the field. Heading into March, it certainly isn't "madness" to suggest that Wisconsin could be a Final Four contender, and its seed will give them a favorable path to Dallas.
The other top teams in the Big Ten have faded of late, as Michigan State, Iowa and Michigan have all dropped in recent weeks. Minnesota is still hanging on near the bottom of the at-large pool and the Gophers will have a nervous Selection Sunday barring a dramatic stretch of winning at the end.
Nebraska played its way into the bubble conversation but a road loss to Illinois certainly did not help their case for a bid. The Huskers likely need to win out and win at least one Big Ten Tournament game to have a chance.
Much conversation around college basketball has centered on Wichita State, and its worthiness of a one seed. In my opinion, the Shockers will be deserving of a top spot if they can remain perfect through the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. I also believe the selection committee will share this belief and reflect it in the actual bracket.
The main point against Wichita State is its weak schedule. The Missouri Valley is down this year, mostly due to losing perennial conference power Creighton to the new Big East. It is true that it's not Wichita State's fault that its schedule is weaker than others, but that point should not be grounds to give them a free pass for it either.
Three teams that looked as if they had thrown a dagger in its seasons, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Oregon, found its way back into the field this week thanks to some much needed wining and also a large amount of losing from other teams on the bubble.
March is finally here, and conference tournament are starting as soon as the fourth. This is what college basketball is all about and BadgerNation will cover it every step of the way to Selection Sunday.
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.