What's the bracket arithmetic this season?
A total of 31 conferences will place an automatic qualifier into the NCAA Tournament field. As the tourney also requires no fewer than 34 at-large selections, there will once again be a "play-in" game between the teams rated No. 64 and No. 65 in the field. That contest will be held March 18 in Dayton, Ohio, with the winner advancing to a Friday-Sunday subregional as a No. 16 seed.
Why is that team listed from such-and-such conference?
Teams listed in ALL CAPS followed by their conference name are the current league or RPI leaders (for the preseason bracket, the consensus postseason champion is listed). Teams from multiple-bid conferences, or who project to earn an at-large bid regardless of their league position, are listed without conference affiliation.
What is the RPI, anyway? And why do they use it?
RPI stands for Ratings Percentage Index, a tool of the NCAA in assembling championship fields in a host of sports. The RPI essentially combines winning percentage and schedule strength into a single formula to help compare teams from different conferences and regions. It has been used as an aid to the NCAA men's basketball committee since 1981. The formula was adjusted in 2004-05 to diminish the value of home court victories while emphasizing road performance.
Who can't go where?
Charlotte (East), Arizona State (West), Detroit Mercy (Midwest), Houston and Rice (South) cannot be placed in their respective regions if they are selected and/or qualify for the 2008 NCAA field. Each school is hosting or co-hosting a regional final this season. Colorado State (Denver), Creighton (Omaha), Georgetown (D.C.), UALR (Little Rock), North Carolina State (Raleigh) and South Florida (Tampa) are subregional hosts and would also be bracketed away from their respective sites.
Are teams allegedly playing closer to home again this year?
For the seventh time, the NCAA men's basketball committee will not pre-determine the regional designation of each of the eight subregional sites (what it calls the "pod" system). This gives the committee increased flexibility to reduce travel for teams and fans, as well as create more local interest at subregional sites that may be non-traditional basketball areas. For example, the subregional site in Little Rock could send its winners to Phoenix (West) (instead of, say, the South in Houston) if the committee thinks that makes more geographic sense to the teams involved.
Aren't there a ton of other bracketing rules to consider?
Yes, and if you have three or four hours and some spare brain cells available, you can read them all in the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship handbook Web site. Otherwise, you'll just have to trust me. One change worth repeating for 2007-08 is that teams from the same conference may now meet as early as the second round of the Tournament if said conference has more than five participants. Previously, teams from the same conference could not meet before a regional final. This provision is only to be utilized if all other bracketing options have been exhausted or if a ninth team is selected from a given conference.
Didn't they re-seed the field the last few years? And won't that mess up my office pool?
Clearly the most important questions of any season. The answers are "not really" and "definitely not." In a new procedure started in 2004, the tournament committee makes public its internal ranking of the four No. 1 seeds and their respective regions are then paired according to those rankings (No. 1 vs. No. 4; No. 2 vs. No. 3). No longer will the regions be paired in a rotating fashion (e.g. East vs. West, Southeast vs. Midwest) for the national semifinals. In 2006, this became a moot point as, for the first time in the 64-team era, not a single No. 1 seed advanced to the Final Four. Should that ever occur, the idea is to prevent a matchup of the nation's two best teams prior to the national championship game. Fortunately, since these determinations are made on Selection Sunday, the bracket -- and thus every "amusement only" contest in the land -- are unaffected once the 65-team field is announced.
Joe Lunardi is the resident bracketologist for ESPN, ESPN.com and ESPN Radio. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.