January 19, 2021 

NCAA Bracketology: January 19

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Where it all NETs out early on

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Tag yourself: I’m 3-seed UConn.

This bracket projection, which accounts for games through Sunday (Jan. 17), is ridiculous, and it’s a product of having so few teams that have put together true NCAA Tournament résumés. Thanks, COVID-19.

When the final bracket is ultimately unveiled in March, UConn will almost definitely be a 1-seed. The only thing that can stop that is another COVID pause, which already robbed the Huskies of games against Louisville and Baylor. The Bears will also be better than a 3-seed and, unfortunately, South Dakota State will fall at least one seed line.

For now, it’s all about the résumés that teams have had the opportunity to build. The Jackrabbits are 3-0 in Quad 1 games (that’s a thing now! The women’s committee now uses the NET instead of the wildly flawed RPI. Yay!). That includes wins over Iowa State (7-seed), Missouri State (6-seed), and Gonzaga (10-seed). Meanwhile, the Huskies, who, to their credit, have comfortably won every game they’ve played, have just two Quad 1 wins and only one victory against a team in the current field (DePaul). Again, that’s going to change.

So, what can you take from a bracket in mid-January that provides an incomplete picture, at best? Well, the changes to this year’s bracket methodology is fully on display.

No geography

I’ve written in the past about how reliant the women’s basketball committee is on geography. Virtually every placement in the bracket is influenced by travel. With the entire tournament in one city this year, that goes out the window. There are no longer host teams or regionals named after cities. More importantly, it allows placement to be based more on the S-Curve, which the men’s committee announced last week that it would use this season. Expect the women to follow suit.

Weirdly, placing teams in this particular field was still a pain in the neck. I’m operating under the assumption that the committee is still going to avoid conference matchups in the first two rounds and only allow teams from the same conference to meet in the Sweet 16 if they played fewer than three times in the regular season. The top four teams in each region also need to be from different conferences. Try to keep all those rules in place with the SEC, Big Ten, and ACC all getting eight teams into the field. After the first few seed lines, I nearly abandoned the S-Curve completely and just placed teams to maintain seed balance.

The mid-majors get screwed

We knew this might happen and now we’re seeing it. Even with an extra at-large bid due to the Ivy League’s cancellation, no team outside of the traditional college power structure (Power 5, Big East, AAC) placed multiple teams in the field. The good news is that the MAC, Summit, and MVC are all multi-bid candidates, regardless of whether the conference favorites earn the automatic bid. And keep an eye on Drake for now. The Bulldogs got off to a dreadful start and lost every chance they had at a quality win in the non-conference. Since then, however, they are 5-1 in the Valley with a win against Bradley (NET 69).

The NET

I’m trying not to lean on the NET as heavily as the committee traditionally leaned on the RPI. At least, not for now. The NET will be more accurate but right now does not have a ton of sample size. Case in point: Bucknell is ranked 32nd with a 6-0 record and only one game played in the first two quadrants (a win at Lehigh). Then there’s Syracuse, which has also played just six times and jumped 19 spots in the NET with a home win over Miami (NET 79) on Sunday.

That said, you can’t ignore the NET completely. Take a look at Indiana. The Hoosiers are 8-3 but have just one win over a team with a winning record. They’re also 8 in the NET and that matters. If we were looking at RPI, where they are 38, there’s a good chance they’re not in the field at all. Yet. Each of their next five games are against projected tournament teams.

Projecting the auto-bids

Usually by mid-January, the standard bracketology practice is to take the first-place team and assume they get the automatic bid. It’s tough to do that right now when some teams in a given conference have played six league games and others have only played two. Again, COVID disrupting things. So, I made my own rules. Deal with it. For now, the projected automatic bid is going to the team highest in the NET from that conference, unless they are more than half a game out of first place and have played close to the same number of games as the first-place team. Don’t like it? I’ll probably change my mind by next week, anyway.

The nitty-gritty

Bids by conference:

ACC: 8
Big Ten: 8
SEC: 8
Pac-12: 6
Big 12: 5
Big East: 3
American: 2

Last Four In:

Notre Dame
Wake Forest
Syracuse
Marquette

First Four Out:

North Carolina
Villanova
USC
Miami (FL)

Next Four Out:

Bradley
Central Michigan
Houston
Drake

Next update: 1/25

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