"Oh no, not again."
We're betting that might have been the first reaction for many after a quick look at the initial Bracketology for the 2011-12 season.
That's because Baylor and Texas A&M, and Notre Dame and Connecticut, are again Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in the same part of the bracket. Same conference, same region. Sound familiar?
With so much basketball -- practically all of it, in fact -- still in front of us, it seems silly to get too worked up about the possibilities of last season's NCAA tournament bracket scenarios playing out the same way. But let this be a first warning so the uproar of Selection Monday isn't as much of a surprise as last time: It could happen again.
The system by which teams are placed into the bracket should be pretty well known by now. The top teams are placed in the regions closest to their campus, going in order of how the selection committee ranks each team 1-64. The higher the ranking, the higher priority of geographical proximity for placement is given. For example, using this first bracket projection, Miami and Duke are both No. 2 seeds, but the Hurricanes were rated higher than Duke and therefore ended up in the Raleigh Region while the Blue Devils were sent to Fresno.
Top seeds from the same league ending up in the same bracket again is a reality because:
• It's reasonable to assume that teams such as Baylor, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Connecticut will remain near the top of that all-important 1-64 ranking.
• The regional sites for the 2012 NCAA tournament are fairly well spread out.
Although no one seemed to like it much this past March when No. 1 seed Baylor and No. 2 seed Texas A&M met in the Dallas Region final, marking their fourth meeting of the season, it didn't hurt the tournament, which was fantastic from start to finish.
What becomes interesting is the reason this philosophy is in place at all and how that relates to the 2012 tournament.
Cutting down on travel is the basis. The NCAA has said that coaches and players prefer to play closer to home, in front of bigger and more interested crowds. It makes this experience better and is one, if not the chief, explanation for such a fun tournament a year ago.
That brings us to this season and the issue of travel. Since the tournament went back to 16 subregional sites in 2009, each tournament has had four of those sites in the Mountain or Pacific time zones. This season's NCAA tournament has just one -- Spokane, Wash., where Gonzaga is the host. Given that March basketball typically consists of a higher percentage of schools east of the Rockies than west, this anomaly actually could cut down on the overall travel. Or it could force some West-based schools completely out of their comfort zone into some longer plane rides.
Obviously, not every Pac-12 team that reaches the NCAA tournament can play in Spokane. For all those fans who have complained that Stanford always seems to get an advantage of playing so close to, if not at, home in the first two rounds, you might finally be satisfied. One of the safest bets, even this early, is that the Cardinal will be moving two time zones for their first two games of the tournament. In the current bracket, top-seeded Stanford opens in Ames, Iowa, and potentially would play ninth-seeded Iowa State in the second round.
That's another area to watch involving the early-round sites: the always-discussed idea of higher-seeded teams playing potential road games. It could happen a bit more this season. Thirteen of the 16 host schools were in this first projection, but only two were No. 1 or No. 2 seeds. There are no first- or second-round games in Knoxville, Stanford, Durham or Waco this season. Stanford, Kentucky, Duke, Louisville, Georgetown and Penn State are each top-four seeds in this initial bracket, and all have a potential second-round game on a lower-seeded opponents' home court. Not to mention that this many hosts in the field makes bracketing for the committee that much more difficult.
Of course, digest these ideas with a giant grain of salt (and probably a Tums). Little of this is brand-new stuff, and none of it consists of concepts that the games don't eventually help work out.
Consider this an early, small, keep-an-eye-on-the-tournament blueprint of what the season could produce and what its realities might be in four months. Don't lose sleep yet. Save that for Championship Week.
Charlie Creme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.