Placement, not seeding, is tough part
With many principles to follow, geography can get tricky
The topic comes up year after year, but for good reason. Geographical placement in the bracket is sometimes a complex topic.
Charlie Creme's most recent field of 64, through games as of Sunday night, now includes Stanford as a No. 1 seed. Bracketology
No. 1 seeds: Baylor, UConn, Stanford, Tennessee
Last four in: Arkansas, Boston College, Texas, Purdue
First four out: South Carolina, Dayton, Syracuse, Middle Tennessee
In 2008, it was clear the committee placed the teams into the bracket using the S curve not as a way to get seeds No. 1 and No. 8, and No. 2 and No. 7, etc., into the same region to create what the public sees as balance, but rather as a pecking order in which the higher on the list a team is, the better (or closer to campus) selection of regional geography it gets. After the 2008 season, the committee became more transparent and was very direct in saying this is how the assignments were being made.
And that is the basis to explain why teams ended up where they did in our latest bracket.
The No. 1 seeds -- Connecticut in Philadelphia, Baylor in Dallas, Stanford in Spokane and Tennessee in Dayton -- all make perfect sense. No matter what order they get ranked, each still ends up in these regionals.
It's with the No. 2 seeds that things might get a little more difficult to understand.
To start, here's the S curve for this week's bracket:
6. Texas A&M
9. Notre Dame
12. Michigan State
So Duke gets the first pick, so to speak, on which region it gets placed in. Philadelphia is nearest Durham, so that's where the Blue Devils go. Texas A&M is next and of the remaining regions, Dallas is the closest. However, putting the Aggies there with Baylor as the No. 1 would violate a major principle -- that no more than one team from a conference may be seeded in the same grouping of four in line Nos. 1-4 in a region, unless a conference has five or more teams seeded in line Nos. 1-4. (The committee actually violated this principle in 2008 when it placed UConn and Rutgers as the 1-2 in the same region without there being five teams from the Big East among those top seeds. Following the outcry, that mistake is unlikely to ever happen again.)
Thus, A&M has to go to the next closest regional, which would be Dayton. That leaves Dallas and Spokane left for the next team on the S curve, Xavier. Naturally, the Musketeers would go to Dallas, right? Actually no -- because that would put UCLA in Spokane opposite Pac-10 brethren Stanford. Just as with the Baylor-Texas A&M example, this can't happen. So the Bruins and Xavier must be switched. That is how the Musketeers end up in the Spokane Regional.
Sure, Texas A&M would have a shorter distance to travel to the state of Washington than Xavier would, but the Aggies are higher on the S curve, so they get the priority.
Right away someone might point out that UConn and Duke already played each other this season and Stanford and Xavier met in last year's tournament, so those schools wouldn't be placed together. But that isn't the case. The committee does not attempt to forecast the winners and only obliges itself to avoid rematches from the season or a recent tournament in the first two rounds. Beyond that, the competition must take care of itself.
Let's draw it out a little further to the No. 3 seeds. Notre Dame is next on the S curve and goes to Dayton. That works because the move doesn't violate any principles. DePaul's natural placement would be Philly, but based on the principle above, the Blue Demons would be in conflict with UConn as the No. 1 seed there. So DePaul gets moved to Dallas. Miami is next on the list, but it too has a conflict with Duke in the Philadelphia Regional, so the Hurricanes must go to the only remaining region, Spokane, leaving Philadelphia for Michigan State.
The one apparent violation is that North Carolina and Duke are both among the top four seeds and still in the same region. However, that is allowed since the ACC has five schools within the top 16 (or among the top four seeds in each region) on the S curve.
That brings us to the assignment of first- and second-round cities and the team that will be the thorn in the committee's side -- Ohio State. The Buckeyes' fall from grace creates a not-so-pleasant problem because Columbus is a host site and Ohio State must play there.
As it stands now, the Buckeyes are likely to land anywhere from a No. 7 to a No. 10 seed. However, since so many other prospective No. 1 seeds are also serving as hosts (Connecticut, Baylor, Stanford, Tennessee and Duke), Ohio State cannot be slotted as a No. 8 or No. 9 seed (that's why procedurally OSU was moved from a No. 8 to a No. 7 in this bracket). Since in this case Duke and Xavier are also hosts as No. 2 seeds and Ohio State, by rule, can be moved only one seed line, the Buckeyes have to be placed in the same sub-regional as either Texas A&M or UCLA.
From a distance perspective, A&M would seem the logical choice. However, two other factors are in play. First, as the team higher on the S curve, the Aggies again get geographical preference. And Texas A&M was forced to travel to where another team hosted (Gonzaga in Seattle) for a second-round game just last year. The committee tries extremely hard to avoid doing that to a team in consecutive seasons. So as a result, UCLA gets placed in Columbus with a potential second-round meeting with Ohio State at St. John Arena.
Sometimes this part of creating a bracket doesn't seem fair, or even logical, at first glance. But in fact there is logic, and plenty of it, based on rules and principles already in place. These scenarios are also a prime reason that the committee's job can be such a difficult one.
Charlie Creme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.