LITTLE ROCK -- Just one more day until that whole Mock Selection
thing, and we're still chewing over this wonderful binder
full of information. After decades of hearing this or that from NCAA representatives every March, it's nice to see this stuff printed in black and white.
From a 7,000-foot perspective, there are three primary phases in bracket selection, and they're done in strict order. First, selection
of the 34 best at-large teams, seeding
of the 65 schools, then placement
of the teams into the championship bracket. There are four general principles of this process: the first is that committee members "shall not be present during discussions regarding the selection or seeding of a team the individual represents as an athletics director or commissioner." Having heard this stated for years, I'm looking forward to seeing how this is handled. Committee members can't vote for those teams, but are "permitted to answer general, factual questions" about them. Finally, everything is done by secret ballot.
Here's a segment from the section on RPI (emphasis included): "The RPI is intended to be used as one of many resources/tools available to the committee in the selection, seeding and bracketing process. Computer models cannot accurately evaluate qualitative factors such as games missed by key players or coaches, travel difficulties, a team's performance in the last 12 games, the emotional effects of specific games, etc."
This is an interesting paragraph to me. For one thing, I know of a computer model that weights recent results and local conference games, so SkyNet is ahead of the humans on that one. But using the word "emotional" is a gateway into the wonderful world of subjectivity and the "gut factor." Besides, if school and conference representatives can only respond factually about their teams, how are committee members informed about these emotions? Do they imagine them?
There was a news item yesterday about how budgets won't impact travel assignments, and indeed there's nothing in these rules about sending teams across the country that can't afford it (how many times have I mentioned that this revenue/expense stuff was important?). Supplement No. 10 details the "bracketing safety net" vis-a-vis the placement process. Most of the five principles presented have to do with properly managing the first and second round pods.
Principles1. Conference teams, same region.Got all that? I spent an hour perusing bracketology sites last night, just for kicks, and found that many of their projections broke one or more of the above rules, if they even considered location at all. I've said it before, but it's easy to pick at-large teams and put them in a bracket -- the difficult part, and I'm pretty sure this is the NCAA's point in conducting this exercise, is that the hardest is that third phase: cramming all of this into a huge country full of venues, not a PlayStation 3.
a. Colors. No more than two conference teams may be assigned to one region. These two teams must not be seeded together in seed Nos. 1-4-5-8-9-12-13-16 or in seed Nos. 2-3-6-7-10-11-14-15. 2. Separate first three teams from conference. Assign the first three teams selected from a conference to separate regions.
b. Groups of four. No more than one team from a conference may be seeded in the same grouping of four (in line Nos. 1-4 and 13-16) in a region, except when five teams from a conference are seeded in the top 16.
3. Balance. Monitor the calculation of true seed numbers for the top and bottom groupings of four and the seed lines of the middle groups, to ensure as much balance as possible.
4. Home courts. A team may not play on a court where it played more than three regular-season games.
5. Sunday assignments. A team may not be assigned to a Sunday site if it has notified the NCAA that it cannot do so for religious reasons.
Moving teams from s-curve seeds. An institution should not be moved more than one line from its true s-curve seed.
Top five seeds' geographic location. Do not place teams on the first five lines at a potential "home-crowd disadvantage" in the first round.
Areas of natural interest. Examine geography for possible switches to place institutions as close to home as possible, but within the governing guidelines. A team moved out of its natural area will be placed in the next closest region when possible.
Out-of-region assignments. Examine previous years' out-of-region assignments to attempt to prevent any team or conference from being moved an inordinate number of times.
Regular-season rematches. Review regular-season schedules to avoid rematches in the first two rounds.
Rematches of previous tournament games. Examine the past two tournament brackets in an attempt to avoid rematches of previous tournament games in the first and second rounds, if possible.
So if you fancy yourself an M.D. in bracketology, consider the big picture when putting together your projections. At the very least, assign teams to regions and pods and not just throw them on a blank bracket. When I go to the hospital, I don't want two-thirds of a diagnosis, would anyone?
Mid-American: We got a message into Party Central last night, "The MAC is bad," it said. "How bad? Kent and NIU go to double-OT, and manage to only score three FG total amongst both teams in the ten minutes. One of them was a half-court buzzer-beater to force the double OT." Well, I guess that still qualifies as a "thriller"... the Golden Flashes' 86-83 win brought Kent up to 6-4 and the official thick of the East division. All Eastern teams are above .500 due to continual thumping of the weak West, but there are exceptions, like formerly surging Miami's 57-55 thud at Central Michigan. The RedHawks fell to 7-3, now two games back in the loss column to Buffalo (8-1), which has a two-game western swing in Eastern Michigan and Ball State this weekend.
U'useless Stat of the Day
On Mock Selection Eve, just a quick little rant about the standard statistics that will likely be thrown around the room tomorrow. A low number of points allowed per game doesn't mean that it's a good team -- witness the Division I leader in that category, Washington State, which gives up 54.5 per game but is only 4-7 in its Pacific 10 conference and will get less at-large consideration than Vacation Bible School. The Cougars play at the nation's second-slowest pace (59.5 possessions per game) and obviously can't score worth a damn. Texas State scores 84.4 PA, third in the country, but is 3-6 in the Southland. Same principles apply in reverse.
I mention this because the team sheets that Selection Committee look at are covered with game scores (and I'll get you a copy of one, just as soon as I can get to a Kinko's, or whatever those are called now). There's nothing about pace, or points per possession, or anything like that. The revolution hasn't exactly reached the gates yet.
One of the factors our Basketball State ratings weights heavily is the difference between points per possession and points allowed per defensive chance, which is calculated on a per-game basis and multiplied by a number reflecting the opponents' relative strength. That's how we get neato, normalized single-game team performance scores like this. The key principle behind all this is that the fundamental cubit of basketball is the possession, not the game. And anybody who judges basketball teams based on a few minutes of scores and stops knows this with their heart, if not their head.
So the teams that are efficient with their possessions, as relative to creating inefficiency with those of their opponents', are rewarded in our setup, and not surprisingly the teams that have a wide spread are the ones that are winning craploads of games and are featured prominently in the national popularity contest. Connecticut scores 1.134 points per possession, and gives up only .872, and is a really good basketball team. North Carolina, Duke and Pittsburgh are right behind.
But it's not all just power-conference teams up there. Davidson is 12th nationally in efficiency margin, scoring 1.103 per possession and allowing .906. As mentioned yesterday, it appears that Charleston defeated the Wildcats in the SoCon title game in our model, and now we're going to have to decide on Davidson's at-large candicacy. Along with a Top 50 victory (something the Fightin' McKillops didn't have last year), I'm putting this forward as proof they should be in.