With the 2015-16 college basketball season now upon us, it is time for us at HoopsHD to start forecasting what the 2016 NCAA Tournament will look like in March. Our first bracket shows what the field would look like based on the Coaches’ Top 25 Poll along with the projected preseason champions out of the auto-bid leagues. The coaches’ poll here features coaches from all 32 conferences (in many cases, someone else on the coach’s staff will fill out these polls on a weekly basis). This is not to be confused with the NABC rankings that David Griggs will reference on podcasts throughout the season, however. At a later date, we will put together a separate bracket with Chad Sherwood’s preseason picks on the website.
The top seed line features the Top 4 teams in the country – namely #1, Kentucky (South Region), #2 North Carolina (East Region), #3 Maryland (Midwest Region) and #4 Duke (West Region). The next set of 4 teams (the 2-line) features #5 Kansas, #6 Virginia, #7 Iowa State and #8 Oklahoma. This set of 4 teams are seeded according to the S-Curve along with the teams on the 3rd and 4th-seeded lines ranked #9 through #16, respectively. What is remarkable here is that the teams in this bracket can all be seeded in their natural S-Curve positions without having to be moved around due to each region having teams from 4 different conferences. (An exception would arise if, for example, the Big 12 were to have 5 teams in the Top 16.) During the course of the year, the committee will take care to ensure that Louisville (which is hosting the South Regional) is not placed in the South and that Villanova (which has 4 home games at the Wells Fargo Center and is ineligible to play in Philadelphia) is not placed in the East Region. (EDITOR’S NOTE – Thanks to Jason from the Comments section for pointing out that Villanova only has 3 regular-season games scheduled at Wells Fargo Arena – namely Providence, St. John’s and Georgetown. Villanova CAN be considered for the East Region, but for purposes of this exercise I will leave the bracket as is.)
Now that the 1 through 4 seed lines are filled, it is time to look at region balance. If you take the S-Curve rankings and add them up for each region, each region comes out to a point total of 34. The Selection Committee will balance each region within a range of 5 points. (If you remember the 2013 NCAA Tournament, there were questions about why Wichita State was placed in the “Group of Death” – this was because the average S-Curve ranking only took into account the Top 4 seeds for each region, not the whole region).
With each region competitively balanced, it is time to fill in the sub-regional sites. Kentucky will be sent west along I-64 to St. Louis; Duke and North Carolina will be sent to Raleigh (the 3rd point in the Research Triangle). Maryland and Virginia would both be sent to Brooklyn. Iowa State cannot be sent to Des Moines since they are actually the host institution, but will instead go to St. Louis. Kansas goes to Des Moines in their place, and Oklahoma makes the bus ride from Norman to OKC. Villanova goes north to a familiar arena in Providence, Arizona goes to Denver and Gonzaga gets to stay at home in Spokane since Idaho and Washington State are hosting. Gonzaga (unlike Villanova) does not play any “home” games at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, so they get to make the mile-long trip from campus to downtown. Wichita State gets to go south to OKC, and Michigan State will fill the last remaining spot in Des Moines. Indiana fills the last spot in Providence, Cal goes up to Spokane and Utah goes next door to Denver.
Once we get to the 5-seed line, #17 Wisconsin is placed in its natural S-Curve slot in the South Region with Kentucky. #18 Notre Dame would ordinarily be assigned to the East Region in Philadelphia, but they are moved to the Midwest to avoid a potential conflict with North Carolina in the Sweet 16. Instead, #19 LSU goes to the East. #20 Vanderbilt should be the final 5-seed, but they get switched with Baylor to avoid potential matchups between Baylor and other Big 12 teams that would not be permissible in the Sweet 16 should Baylor and any of the Big 12 teams meet a 3rd time during the season. After the Baylor/Vandy flip-flop, all of the other teams are slotted in their natural S-Curve slots with little disruption in regards to potential rematches in early-round matchups. I wanted to have the Tulsa/Dayton winner go to OKC to meet Vandy in the 1st round (which is permissible because the Commodores are not considered a protected seed by the Committee), but since Vandy and Dayton play each other this season, this is not allowed. Marquette and Old Dominion were the last teams to get a vote in the Coaches’ Poll, and since we had one more at-large slot to fill, I added UAB (the actual preseason pick in C-USA) as a team that could potentially be considered as the last team in by the Committee via the at-large route. They will face Marquette in the 2nd play-in game.
After Old Dominion (who will be the C-USA Tournament champion for purposes of this exercise), all the remaining teams on the 12 line were voted preseason champions in their respective conferences. For the most part, they are seeded according to a comprehensive ranking by CBSSports.com of all NCAA teams ranked 1-351. At the time this article is published, only the Southwestern Athletic Conference has not announced a preseason pick to win the conference. Therefore, we will go with last year’s champion, Texas Southern (even if they are not our colleague Chad Sherwood’s pick to win the SWAC). There are no teams listed that missed out on the tournament since there were not enough teams listed in the polls.
In short, I have summarized how bracketing principles would be applied to the teams in the polls and preseason conference champions. But, what makes the season exciting is to see who come out of the weeds into the NCAA Tournament and to see which teams fall short of expectations and are instead relegated to the NIT, CIT or CBI (or more appropriately, turning down a CBI bid). Stay tuned as we count down to the beginning of the season on November 13 when the NCAA starts keeping score.