Bracketology FAQ -- How the 68 teams are chosen for March Madness

Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 NCAA tournament field will be announced Sunday, March 15, 2020. Here are the principles that will guide the committee -- and ESPN's own Bracketology efforts.

What's the bracket arithmetic this year?

A total of 32 Division I conferences place an automatic qualifier into the 2020 NCAA tournament field. As the tournament requires an additional 36 at-large selections as part of the 68-team format, there are four opening-round games -- the First Four -- played Tuesday and Wednesday in advance of the main bracket. These contests, to be held March 17-18 in Dayton, Ohio, will pair the last four at-large selections for two games and the last four automatic qualifiers in two more.

Why is that team listed from such-and-such conference?

Teams listed in ALL CAPS in ESPN Bracketology are the current league or KenPom leaders (for preseason brackets, the consensus postseason champion is listed). Other teams from multiple-bid conferences that project to earn an at-large bid regardless of their league position are listed without CAPS.

Who can't go where?

St. John's (East), Houston (South), IUPUI (Midwest) and Pepperdine (West) cannot be placed in their respective geographic regions if they qualify or are selected for the 2020 NCAA field. Each school is hosting regional semifinals and finals this season. Creighton, South Florida, Sacramento State, Cleveland State and Idaho are sub-regional hosts and would also be bracketed away from their respective sites. Dayton, as was the case in 2015, can play in the First Four at the UD Arena if the Flyers are among the last four at-large selections.

Will teams allegedly play closer to home again this year?

For the 18th time, the NCAA men's basketball committee will not predetermine the regional designation of each of the eight sub-regional 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 sub-regional sites that might not be traditional basketball areas. For example, the sub-regional site in Tampa could send its winners to Los Angeles (West Regional) instead of, say, the South Regional in Houston, if the Committee thinks it makes more geographic sense for the teams involved.

Didn't they reseed the field the past 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 practice that began in 2004, the tournament committee makes public its internal ranking of the four No. 1 seeds and the respective regions are then paired according to those rankings (No. 1 versus No. 4; No. 2 versus No. 3). No longer are the regions paired in a rotating fashion (e.g., East versus West, South versus Midwest) for the national semifinals. The idea is to prevent a matchup of the nation's two best teams before the national championship game if, as was the case in 2008, all four No. 1 seeds advance to the Final Four. Fortunately, since these determinations are made on Selection Sunday, the bracket -- and thus every "amusement-only" contest in the land -- is unaffected once the 68-team field is announced.

What else is new?

Merrimack College (Northeast Conference) is a new Division I member for the 2019-20 season. As a transitional Division I school, the Warriors are ineligible for post-season play until the 2023-24 season; however, their results will count in the conference standings as well as the new NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET).

Read all NCAA tournament principles and procedures here.