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Thursday, January 16
Bracket Banter

Lots and lots of commentary this week (some of it even printable!). Will try to group some of the messages accordingly.

Procedurally Speaking
Is it me or has NCAA Division I ballooned in recent years? I think the increase in teams is great for the little guys who want a chance to prove themselves and get some coverage, but I also think it hurts the rest of the little guys in the long run. An increase in the number of teams making the Dance has not coincided with the increase in number of teams overall. All this has really done is given the major conferences more patsies to pad their schedules. The MACs and MVCs of world suffer despite having teams that deserve to make the tournament because the Selection Committee would rather make sure that the big conferences get their due number of teams. I think adding another full round is overkill, but I do believe that creating one extra play-in game is not nearly enough. I feel that teams like Ball State, Bowling Green, Utah State and Tennessee Tech should (make the tourney).

John Chapman
Johnson City, Tenn.

I'm with you, John.

While not na´ve to the fact that BCS schools from major conferences have the best programs year after year, the current balance between major conference representation and others with quality Division I programs -- given the actual breakdown of DI basketball membership -- seems inherently unfair to me. I have advocated, and will continue to do so, the following "tweaks" to the current NCAA Tournament structure:

1. Teams must be .500 or better in conference play (including conference tournament games) to be eligible for at-large consideration. This would increase interest in the early rounds of major conference tournaments, for one, but would also open 1-2 slots per year for deserving mid-majors. I just don't think the world would stop spinning on its axis if Butler went dancing instead of the seventh Big East team, for instance.

2. There should be four play-in games, not one. While this may seem like a slap at the low-majors, I see it the other way around. Since no No. 16 seed has ever won a tournament game, this would give four low-majors a winning tournament experience, as well as provide their respective conferences the opportunity to play "like vs. like." Three more at-large slots would become available, obviously, while also forcing to the No. 1 seeds to play better first-round opponents.

I think you did well to clarify the reason for doing the weekly brackets. Like the polls (but more important, in my mind), they serve as a weekly barometer of who is where in relation to the ultimate goal, the NCAA Tournament. While you do not try to predict the future, I think a valuable "extra" would be your guess at the chance each team has of making the field of 64. You could express this as a percentage, odds, or even "lock, great, good, bubble, long shot", and base this on:

A) remaining schedule
B) likelihood of moving up or down in RPI
C) current trends
D) Selection Committee history. For example, Notre Dame might be at 90 percent right now, and Kent State at 45 percent. I understand that this would put your neck on the line in some way and force you to do some level of prognosticating, but I think it would be a big hit and spawn some healthy debate. Then again, you may have enough "healthy debate!"

I have been creating brackets from January through Selection Sunday just like you since I was in high school. I have been following your work for several years, and enjoy comparing my weekly work with yours. Last year was the first time I nailed every team. I had to rub my eyes last week when I saw my Notre Dame Fighting Irish listed as a No. 1 seed. I never thought I'd see the day.

Keep up the good work, and I look forward to the coming weeks, especially Championship Week, which might be a better spectacle than the Final Four itself.

Chris McConn

You are a man after my own heart. Excellent point, I have for the past two years been doing exactly as you suggest. The daily conference and team reports at my soon-to-be-defunct bracketology.net web site gave team-by-team "odds" in the following categories:

  • % chance of being NCAA top seed
  • % chance of being "protected" (1-4) seed
  • % chance of NCAA bid
  • % chance of NCAA at-large bid
  • % chance of NIT bid
  • % chance of missing post-season

    These odds were/are based upon pretty much all the criteria you list, as well as my own database of where teams ended up after compiling certain profiles at given points of the season. The bad news is that I am no longer creating these Conference and Teams reports at bracketology.net.

    The GOOD news is that, beginning next week, they will be available right here as part of ESPN.com "Insider" (along with a whole bunch of cool Bracketology "extras"). If you think basic Bracketology is fun, wait until you check out all the supporting data and additional prognosticating that will be included at "Insider."

    What is your criteria for listing teams as "underrated" and "overrated?" Also, I thought the NCAA had a rule preventing rematches of regular season games in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But one of your projected first-round games (Utah-Gonzaga) would be a rematch, as these teams met in the Maui Classic.

    Jeff Haggar

    I list "underrated" teams for the obvious things; they are clubs that, for whatever reason, are better than their "pub" to date. I list "overrated" teams to get a rise out of their fans.

    Just kidding ... what I really do is compare the polls to the RPI. If a team is way high in the voting (polls), but really hasn't beaten anybody, they generally have an unforgiving RPI and are placed among the overrated. The reverse can also be true in the underrate category.

    And you are right about rematches. The selection committee actually tries to avoid them, although they are not obligated to, in the first two rounds. I tend not to worry about that in the early projections, in which placement and seeding are my top priorities. But I do cross-check all the schedules for such potential conflicts come March.

    I noticed in your projected bracket that Oklahoma (No. 4 seed) is playing in Spokane, whereas Texas (No. 3 seed) is in Oklahoma City (only 20 miles from OU). OU is not listed as the Oklahoma City host on your FAQ. Did Texas get the favorable location because they are a higher seed? Is this how the selection committee determines locations also? Just curious.

    Kirk Allen
    Norman, Okla.

    You have it exactly right, Kirk. The geographic preferences are given to the No. 1 seeds, then the No. 2 seeds, and so on. Texas bumped Oklahoma in this week's bracket for that very reason. Worth noting in this second year of so-called "regionalization" is that No. 4 seeds almost can't help but get the short end of the stick. Since the committee is paying more attention to geography, and since there are fewer teams in the West, it is generally the West "quads" which are available when it comes time to place the No. 4 seeds. I would be really surprised, for instance, if Spokane does not have a No. 4 seed (or maybe two) in March.

    If you are the fan of a No. 4 seed, be prepared. And, if you go, try Luigi's downtown or Spencer's Steakhouse at the Doubletree. Either makes the long trip worthwhile.

    P.S.: Where else can you get such vital NCAA travel information?

    Team Talk
    I like your "Banter" and "Bracketology" info. Being over here in Holland, I do not get to see and hear enough of what is going on in the great world of college sports. I have been wondering how my alma mater (Auburn) is doing. They have a good record (yes, I can see against not-so-great opponents), but they seem to be fairly solid. Yet they are not near your bracket. What do you think about them? Yes, you can always give the "we will see how they do against Alabama, Florida and Kentucky," but that doesn't help me.

    John Lyle
    The Netherlands

    The Tigers may be closer than you think. I had them this week as the last team on our "Last Four Out" list. If they can withstand the current four-of-five road stretch, you'll likely see them in a bracket the day after the Super Bowl.

    I noticed you said that (Pacific) may be warranting an at-large bid soon and, as much as I would like to believe that, it just won't happen. Playing in the Big West screws your RPI. They are what, No. 61, now? But once they beat teams like Long Beach and Riverside, their RPI will drop even though they won, and that just doesn't seem right. It is pretty much common knowledge in the Big West, that if your team doesn't win the conference tournament, then their season is over. Even an invite to the NIT is a one-team thing, if that. Sure, I am bias toward U of P, but even when they have a bad year there is always one Big West team that gets booted out of the tournament for, say, a team like Ohio State.

    Now I ask you, what do you feel are the chances of a Big West team actually getting an at-large bid? It seems to me that Utah State, Santa Barbara and U of P could all do some damage in the tournament. It's not like a Big West team ever gets blown out in the tournament. Anyway, it was nice to see U of P on the bracket. And, hopefully, some day there will be two Big West teams up there.

    Daniel Fisher

    While no one is confusing the Big West with the Pac-10, your "woe-is-me" assessment of the conference is not accurate. I believe this is a good, not great, conference which has been treated reasonably fairly by the NCAA Selection Committee. Let's take a look at the final conference ratings for the past five years, as well as the RPI of the "second" Big West team in each of those years:


  • Big West overall RPI, No. 18
  • Big West non-conference RPI, No. 17
  • Utah State, 22-7, No. 60 RPI


  • Big West overall RPI, No. 16
  • Big West non-conference RPI, No. 16
  • UC Irvine, 22-4, No. 71 RPI


  • Big West overall RPI, No. 17
  • Big West non-conference RPI, No. 17
  • New Mexico State, 21-9, No. 65


  • Big West overall RPI, No. 19
  • Big West non-conference RPI, No. 17
  • Boise State, 20-8, No. 75


  • Big West overall RPI, No. 18
  • Big West non-conference RPI, No. 17
  • Pacific, 22-9, No. 78

    As you can see, the conference has been remarkably consistent among its peers. More to the point, the "second-best" team has been just that (close, but never really worthy of an at-large bid). The best profile on this list of potential "snubs" belongs to Utah State, from last season, but the Aggies -- after an early-season win at Utah -- suffered five sub-100 losses (including their final two regular season games). That's just not gonna' get it done in a deeper-every-year at-large pool. The conference could have gotten a second team in 2000, when Utah State was 24-5 (with a No. 27 RPI). But the Aggies won the conference tournament, including a win over Nevada at Nevada, to scuttle those chances.

    What makes Pacific different this year is that "marquee" (at least so far) scalp. Saint Joseph's was the No. 1 RPI team when it lost at Pacific in late December and, even though the Hawks won't likely finish as an RPI Top 10 team due to their own conference schedule, that win was a pretty big feather in the Big West's cap.

    Not surprisingly, I could not find a single instance over the five years in question in which a team from the Big West took down No. 1.

    Since Coastal Carolina used to be a branch of the University of South Carolina (at the time known as USC-Coastal), it chose a derivative of the fighting Gamecocks. A Chanticleer is a type of fighting rooster.

    Kyle Bishop

    Now I can get to sleep, thanks!

    BCS ... Final Thoughts (For This Year!)
    I thought your column on Bracketology vs. BCS was great. I feel the exact same way. I am a die-hard Sooner fan, so maybe this year I feel a bit stronger about it than in 2000. Nonetheless, the BCS is a mess and I would love to see a college football playoff system put in place. Maybe some day soon it will be. Until then, let them envy March Madness, best of all sporting events. Thanks.

    Jonathan Wilkins

    On the other hand, maybe we should keep the honor of "best of all sporting events" to ourselves!

    Joe Lunardi is the resident Bracketologist for ESPN, ESPN.com and ESPN Radio. He may be reached at bracketology@comcast.net.

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