Even as the final bracket projection was put together this weekend, some of the questions that popped up throughout the season still lingered. How the selection committee answers them will go a long way toward determining what the NCAA tournament bracket looks like when it's unveiled on Selection Monday (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET, with continued coverage on ESPNU at 8 p.m. ET).
Here are the questions I'm most anxious to see answered Monday night.
Does Notre Dame end up in Columbus?
This has been the fulcrum of building the bracket for a month now. As I've detailed here over the past two weeks, it appears Columbus will be the only truly neutral site. The Irish are the No. 2 overall team on the board but also the only No. 1 seed not serving as a host for the early rounds. The selection committee is likely to attempt to put Notre Dame in Columbus.
Though No. 1 seeds have played second-round games on the road before, I put the Irish in Columbus. That, of course, impacts the entire rest of the bracket. One of the teams directly implicated is
How will Maryland be seeded?
In pouring over this a number of different ways, I have yet to find a way to keep Maryland on its true seed line of a No. 3. The Terps come in at No. 11 overall on the board, which naturally makes them a 3-seed. However, placing Maryland on that line sets up a situation where Columbus would have to be used for another pod other than Notre Dame's. So it had to be one or the other. I chose to keep Notre Dame in Columbus and then shifted Maryland to the No. 4 line, swapping seeds with Nebraska, which is No. 13 on the board. (In order to adhere to the rules and procedures of placing teams in the bracket, the committee allows itself the ability to move a team one seed line. The selection chair of the men's committee on Sunday said his group did the exact same thing with Oregon).
This moving of teams one seed line happens every year and has happened numerous times in my bracket projection. It has to. This year's Bracketology has more of those bumps than usual because there are host schools at 15 of the 16 sites. That, plus making sure conference foes don't meet before the Elite Eight, has created little to no flexibility without that concession. It just doesn't usually happen this high on the board.
How will the Pac-12 teams be placed?
Does California or UCLA go geographically into the same region as Stanford? As the committee begins to place teams in the bracket, it has said that geographical preference is given to teams as they come up for placement based on their S-curve ranking. During previous years that has, at times, resulted in teams from the same league being placed together in the same region as either Nos. 1 and 2 seeds or Nos. 1 and 3 seeds. It hasn't been consistent, however.
So this becomes a big question: How will it be interpreted this year? If going strictly by geography, Stanford would be the No. 1 seed and Cal would be the No. 2 in the Spokane Regional. Typically, when that has happened in the past (such as Baylor-Texas A&M in 2011 and Connecticut-Rutgers in 2008), there was outcry and such placement was simply avoided the following year. In 2012, Baylor and Texas A&M, by geography, should have been placed together in Des Moines as the Nos. 1 and 3 seeds, but it didn't happen. Will those same considerations be applied Monday? It has been a bracketing conundrum all season.
How will Michigan State be placed?
The Spartans provide a lesson in just how fragile this process can be. Michigan State comes in at 25th on the overall board, with some real consideration as perhaps being No. 24. Just that seemingly innocuous adjustment -- 24 or 25 -- is the difference between being a No. 6 or a No. 7 seeds. That's it.
Due to conflicts with other Big Ten teams in the bracket, Michigan State needed a procedural bump: The Spartans were moved to the No. 8 line. Without it, a bracketing rule is broken. So Michigan State went from a No. 7, borderline No. 6, to a No. 8. It seems unfortunate, but that's just how it has to work sometimes.
Who are the last teams in the field?
Of course, this is the topic debated for weeks. I have gone back and forth. I'm going with Creighton and Duquesne as the last two teams in, but I'm not in love with those choices. Frankly, the profiles of the final four to six at-large teams in and those of the first few teams out aren't very good. It's selecting among teams who have actually done little to prove their worthiness in the field. While a number of factors go into evaluating all of these teams, I have to use past precedent, at least partially, to get a feel for what the thought process in the committee room might be. Ultimately, the inclusion of Creighton and Duquesne came down to percentages. Their RPI falls on a level that usually means inclusion.
However, it does not mean that committee would put those two in the bracket merely because of their RPI, which is mainly just an organizing tool. But it has worked out that way -- schools in the mid-30s range getting bids -- many more times than not.
History also played a role in my decision for not including the likes of San Diego State, Charlotte and Toledo. While each had good records and solid seasons overall, their success came against weak overall schedules. The Aztecs had the best SOS in the group at 123; Charlotte's is 165, Toledo's 226. The inclusion of a mid-major at-large with SOS rankings that low would be unprecedented. But given the weakness of the bubble, this could be their year.
To fully evaluate how Bracketology was put together, here is the full S-curve. Keep in mind, though, that the committee no longer places team in the bracket based on this data. Rather, geographical consideration is given to the higher teams as they are placed on the bracket, which would explain, for instance, why Notre Dame and Duke ended up in the same region (teams in all CAPS indicate conference tournament champions that received automatic NCAA bids; Princeton advanced as champion of the Ivy League, which does not hold a conference tournament).
A LOOK AT THE S-CURVE
Teams 1-33 have at least a 75 percent chance of making the field through games as of Feb. 10. Teams 40-43 are the last four teams in the field. Teams 65-68 are the first four out. Teams 69-72 are the next four out.