It is almost championship week, which means it is a week away from Selection Sunday when all the NCAA tournament bracket projections are replaced by the real deal.
I have been doing brackets for 35 years, dating back to the early 80's when my good friend Steve Wieberg of USA Today--he was Stevie Brackets before Joey Brackets was created by ESPN--and I would spend hours on the phone, trying to guess what the NCAA selection committee would do on Sunday.
I also took part in one of the first mock bracket gatherings the NCAA opened to the media, a move made to give a better idea of the process.
Over the years, bracketology has become a cottage industry.
Let's start with some misconceptions.
First of all, picking the field ISN'T all that difficult. Or, at least picking the 68-team field. Anyone with even casual knowledge of college basketball should be able to fill out a bracket that is 95 percent correct--which is roughly 64 of the 68.
Getting the last four teams right can be tricky because you literally have to get into the selection committee's minds to determine which selection criteria is most important.
For example, does the committee value numbers, such as wins and losses in conference, margin of victories, schedule strength or the much talked about Ratings Percentage Index as a tie breaker.
But filling the bracket isn't all that difficult. What is much, much harder is putting together a bracket which is filled with rules and regulations which can cause major angst in not only seeding the teams, but placing them in the proper regions.
Let's take a look at a few of the rules and the major misconceptions.
MISCONCEPTION: The committee considers conferences when it makes its selections.
No it doesn't. Each team is regarded individually. Having been part of a mock selection process, I had no idea of how many ACC or Big East or Big Ten schools were part of the tournament until AFTER the field was picked. After the 32 conference tournament champions earn their automatic bids, the selection process for the 36 at large teams is similar to match play. Teams go head to head against each other on the selection board. The only time conferences are considered is in the strength of the opponent's victories. Perhaps the most important item the committee uses is wins against Top 25, top 50 and Top 100 opponents.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
RULE: The first four teams from the same conference seeded in the Top 4 lines of the draw must be in different regions.
With that rule in place, only one of the top 3 teams in the Pac-12--Arizona, UCLA or Oregon, all of whom should be in the Top 4 lines in the bracket, can play in the West Regional. The other two will be placed in the next closest regions-Midwest and South--when possible.
The same rule will apply to the ACC, which could have as many as 11 teams in the field, but at least four of the teams should be in the top 4 lines of the bracket, which means that teams such as Duke, North Carolina, Florida State and Virginia or Notre Dame, are almost certainly going into be in four different regions.
RULE: Top seeded teams will be kept as close as possible to their campus.
The NCAA isn't kidding with this one, and it is down right anal, using a mapquest calculator to determine distances between the campus and opening round sites. Since there are only 8 spots open in each region, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds get preference.
With that in mind, you can bet the house that: Villanova will open in Buffalo, North Carolina in Greeneville, N.C., Kansas in Tulsa and Gonzaga in Salt Lake City (which is slightly closer to Gonzaga's Spokane, Washington home than Sacramento).
There are other rules in place, which can create havoc with the brackets, such as no teams from the same conference can meet until the regional final if they had played three or more times during the regular season and conference championships.
Which means that if Duke and North Carolina meet again for the ACC conference tournament championship next week and wind up in the same region, they can not meet until the regional final.
MISCONCEPTION: Other than prestige, there is very little difference between the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in competitive edge and there is virtually no difference between the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds and the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds.
The committee has the leeway to move a team as much as two lines from its assigned seed to make the bracket work. The only real difference in that rule is that moving from the No. 8 or No. 9 line can be a huge advantage since the No. 8 vs. 9 winner is bracketed to play the No. 1 seed in its second game.
That became a big issue in 2014 when the committee made Kentucky a No. 8 seed in the Midwest Regional, which was topped by No.1 and unbeaten Wichita. Most critics contended (BEFORE) the game that Kentucky should have been higher than a No. 8. And the Wildcats ended the Shockers dreams with a 78-76 victory.
The biggest glitch in the system happened in 2003 when the committee put BYU in the South Regional, which was a Friday-Sunday bracket. Although there is no rule stating what days teams can compete, BYU, with a Mormon base, had a school policy of not participating in athletic contests on Sunday. The committee was well aware of this and in the past BYU had always been placed in a Thursday-Saturday regional.
But this time no one caught the glitch, which was even more amazing, since the tournament selection committee chairman that year was Jim Livengood, a BYU alumnus. BYU lost before the regional semifinals, so a controversy was avoided.
Former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese still talks with a touch of awe and amazement about what happened in 2001 when he was the Selection Committee Chairman.
"It was Sunday afternoon (before the announcement of the draw) and (former Big East commissioner and founder) Dave Gavitt came into the room as part of the CBS radio team which was allowed in the room to get a quick preview of how the bracket looked. He just kept looking at it, but did't say anything. but when we were leaving the room, he said to me, "You had a real argument about seeding one team didn't you.''
""I said, ""Yes, we did. How could you possibly know that,''' said Tranghese. "But Dave just looked at the lines and saw teams that looked out of place and figured out what would work. It was amazing.""
RULE: The four ""play in"" games on Tuesday and Wednesday are determined by seeds.
Sort of. The last four at-large teams in the field are paired against each other in two games while the bottom four teams in the field are also paired against each other. But here's an unwritten rule the committee follows: You will NEVER see a match up between conference champions of the two traditionally black conferences such as the MEAC and the SWAC.
So keep these tidbits in mind when you watch the brackets--including those from TMGcollegesports, which will come out during championship week, right through the final bracket which will be unveiled on Sunday afternoon after the final conference championship games.[/membership]