A 68-Team NCAA Tournament Primer

With three more teams in the field and a new "First Round" in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, I figured it would be a good idea to review some of the procedures, new and old, that will go into the selection and seeding process for the first 68-team tournament.

Though a few things will change about the Tournament, particularly during the first week, most things will remain the same. More details follow after the jump.

The Basics

The field will consist of 68 teams divided into four, 17-team regions. (Yes, the aim is for each region to have a First Round game.)

The "Opening Round" is now the "First Round" or "First Four" for marketing purposes. That means first weekend pods are now the Second and Third Round, instead of First and Second Round ones.

Of the 68 entrants, 31 will be automatically qualifying conference champions. Four of these teams will play in Dayton for two spots on the 16 line.

The other 37 teams will be selected by the Division I Men's Basketball Committee. For the first time, ever the "Last Four In" will be easy to figure out, as these teams will pair off to play--also in Dayton--for two spots in the bracket, likely on the 11, 12, or 13 lines.

With the addition of three teams, there will be an affect on the bracket's S-curve. For example, you can bet that pairs of 3 and 4 seeds will face stiffer Second Round (former First Round) tests, as two 13 seeds are liable to be teams that would have been 12s in the past, with the same going for two 14s in relation to the 13 line. This ripple effect will continue down the bracket.

Intraconference Matchups

This is a new point of emphasis for me after a couple of choices the Committee made last season.

Teams from the same conference may meet as soon as the Third Round (former Second Round). Up until 2010, every effort was made to ensure teams from the same league met no sooner than a Regional Final. Last March, this all changed, and the Regional Semifinals became the new limit. It was possible for Marquette and West Virginia to have met in the East semis and Notre Dame and Villanova to have met at the same stage in the South. However, as both the Golden Eagles and Fighting Irish both fell in at the first hurdle, this possibility never came to pass.

With the addition of another round, you can imagine that intraconference matchups will be a hot topic in the Committee room this season. If we apply this season's format to last year's bracket, it's likely Utah State, the 12 seed in the South would have been a candidate for a First Four game. One of their possible opponents would have been Virginia Tech. Even though Duke was the 1 seed in the South, the Hokies could have been slotted here because the earliest they could have met the Blue Devils was the Regional Semis (since the Big East examples above set the precedent).

Additionally, Duke and Virginia Tech met only once during the regular season. The fact Marquette-West Virginia and Notre Dame-Villanova only played once during the Big East slate was a main reason why those teams were placed in the same Regional Semifinal grouping. So, keep an eye out for teams who only meet once during the season in every BCS league, except for the Pac-10, which plays its final true round-robin this season.

The Committee

Speaking of the Committee room, you can't have a Tournament without 10 people, more properly known as the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee, selecting the at-large teams and seeding and bracketing the entire field.

Here is the Committee roster for 2010-11:

  • Gene Smith, Ohio State AD (chair)
  • Scott Barnes, Utah State AD (new in 2010)
  • Dan Beebe, Big 12 Conference commissioner
  • Mike Bobinski, Xavier AD
  • Doug Fullerton, Big Sky Conference commissioner
  • Jeff Hathaway, Connecticut AD (chair for 2011-12)
  • Lynn Hickey, Texas-San Antonio AD
  • Stan Morrison, UC Riverside AD
  • Steve Orsini, SMU AD (new in 2010)
  • Ron Wellman, Wake Forest AD

For comparison, here's Bracketography's bios of last year's Committee members, UCLA AD Dan Guerrero and Kent State AD Laing Kennedy are the two members whose terms expired.

Per the NCAA's Bracketing Principles and Procedures document, there are limits on what members of the committee can do when it comes to the teams they represent, either as an individual school's AD or conference's commissioner. However, even if member's can't vote for their particular teams, you can bet their influence is felt strongly.

That doesn't mean, Mississippi State and Virginia Tech fans, that you can blame Scott Barnes for Utah State's inclusion in last year's field or Steve Orsini for Conference USA's two bids, since they weren't yet on the Committee. However, it's possible Dan Guerrero's influence led to Cal's (eventually justified) seeding despite producing an unimpressive resume in a down Pac-10.

So remember the members' schools and conferences when making and analyzing projections--and the final field---this season.

Sites

The Regionals will be different this year, East, Southeast, Southwest, and West, as opposed to the usual East, Midwest, South, and West. Those four regions return next year.

The following schools will host regionals, so if they make the field, they'll find themselves in another quadrant of the bracket:

  • Seton Hall (East in Newark)
  • Tulane (Southeast in New Orleans)
  • UT San Antonio (Southwest in San Antonio)

On the other hand, the Big West Conference as a whole hosts the West Regional in Anaheim. That means there's no issue with a team from that conference being placed in that quadrant.

Interestingly, this is the second of three consecutive years that New Orleans will be hosting Tournament games. Last season, the city hosted the opening weekend at the New Orleans Arena. Next season, the Final Four returns to the Superdome for the first time since 2003, and Hurricane Katrina.

As I stated earlier, the First Round or "First Four" will be in Dayton on Tuesday, March 15 and Wednesday, March 16. It's not clear if the Flyers will be allowed to play on their homecourt if they're a contender for the at-large doubleheader. My guess is that they'll swap seed lines with another team if this is the case.

The plan is to have each doubleheader feature an at-large matchup and an automatic qualifier one. With the way sites are distributed this season, this could be problematic in terms of travel. In the mock NCAA bracket I prepared last week, the most common outcome was to have 1 seeds playing almost exclusively on Friday and 4s on Thursday. The at-large First Round games were for spots on the 12 and 13 line, creating issues, especially when trying to follow bracketing principles.

Rounds Two and Three will follow, with four sites in action on Thursday, March 17 and Saturday, March 19, and four others on Friday, March 18 and Sunday, March 20. The following schools won't be able to play in pods in their home arenas for the first weekend.

On Thursday and Saturday:

  • Georgetown (Washington)
  • Arizona (Tucson)
  • South Florida (Tampa)

The Mountain West hosts in Denver, making this site an option for teams like San Diego State and BYU.

On Friday and Sunday:

  • Cleveland State (Cleveland, for the first time at Quicken Loans Arena, not at the Wolstein Center on CSU's campus)
  • Charlotte (Charlotte)
  • Tulsa (Tulsa, also for the first time in that city's new building)

The Big Ten is the host in Chicago, and it's a safe bet that two teams from that conference will play at the United Center.

The other major consideration relates to one team and one specific day of the week. BYU, who doesn't play on Sundays for religious regions, cannot be placed in the East or Southwest Regions, nor may the Cougars be placed in a pod in Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, or Tulsa. The 2003 Selection Committee got the first requirement wrong, placing BYU in the Friday/Sunday South Region, despite placing them in a Thursday/Saturday site. You can bet the same mistake won't be made again.

Of course, the final destination for everyone is Houston, home of the Final Four on April 2nd and 4th, hosted by Houston and Rice. Naturally, the host school(s) can play on the final weekend, (Can you imagine last year without Butler?) but the Cougars and Owls are serious longshots to make it home.

But who knows what will happen between now and mid-March.

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