Bracketology/Bowls Expert

What if we let a computer select the NCAA Tournament field?

Kentucky had a No. 8 seed, but would have been a No. 5 seed using computer formulas. (USATSI)
Kentucky had a No. 8 seed, but would have been a No. 5 seed using computer formulas. (USATSI)

Do you miss the days of the Bowl Championship Series?

College football, through the BCS ratings (Rest in Peace-ish), was one of the few sports that used a rating system to choose its playoff teams, which in this case, was only two.

College hockey uses something called a Pairwise Rating System to pick at-large teams and seed the field. Technically, the NCAA doesn't use that system, but it accurately predicts the field. The NCAA uses the RPI, in different forms for different sports, and with different emphasis, to help select and seed the postseason for several sports.

So we thought it would be fun to see what the bracket would look like if each of a few better-known computer ranking systems had the final say.

RPI

We'll start with the NCAA's own rating system, the RPI. Many people think the committee relies too much on this system because it's not that sophisticated, but the committee doesn't let the RPI do the thinking for it. Otherwise, they wouldn't need five days to create a bracket.

The RPI would have left out ninth-seeded Kansas State as well as First Four participants North Carolina State and Iowa. Instead, Southern Miss makes it as a No. 9 seed, Toledo gets in as a 10, and Missouri is in the First Four.

Oklahoma State and Nebraska would also be in the First Four. Tennessee would still be a No. 11, but not have to play their way into the spot.

The fourth No. 1 seed would have gone to Kansas instead of Virginia. Wichita State is the 4th overall seed, but gets a much easier bracket.

Final Four participant Kentucky is a No. 5 seed, which is may be a bit high, but more accurate than the committee's No. 8.

The RPI also has some love for the west. New Mexico is seeded four spots higher as a No. 3. Both West Coast conference members in the field were overseeded based on their profiles (BYU especially), but the RPI would have them even higher. The Cougars would be up two spots to a No. 8, while Gonzaga would be all the way up to a No. 5.

Men's NCAA Tournament Bracket: RPI

South West
1
16
*Florida
*Cal Poly/*Texas So.
Orlando
Memphis
Anaheim
San Diego
Arizona
*Albany
1
16
8
9
BYU
Southern Miss
Baylor
*N. Dak. St.
8
9
4
13
San Diego St.
*W. Mich.
Spokane
Orlando
VCU
*Delaware
4
13
5
12
*Louisville
*Harvard
Kentucky
Okla. St./Xavier
5
12
2
15
*Virginia
*American
Raleigh
Milwaukee
*Iowa State*Weber St.2
15
7
10
Oklahoma
*Providence
North Carolina
Toledo
7
10
3
14
Michigan
*E. Ky.
Buffalo
San Diego
*New Mexico
*Tulsa
3
14
6
11
UMass
Stanford
Finals
Dallas
Ohio State
Ariz. St.
6
11
1
16
*Wichita St.
*Wofford
St. Louis
N.Y.
Indy
St. Louis
Kansas
*Mt St. Mary's/*Coastal Car.
1
16
8
9
Geo. Wash.
Texas
*Saint Joseph's
Colorado
8
9
4
13
*UCLA
*New Mexico St.
Spokane
San Antonio
Syracuse
*Manhattan
4
13
5
12
*Mich. St.
*S.F. Austin
*Gonzaga
Nebraska/Missouri
5
12
2
15
Villanova
*Milwaukee
Buffalo
Milwaukee
Wisconsin
*NC Central
2
15
7
10
Saint Louis
Memphis
Oregon
Pittsburgh
7
10
3
14
Duke
*Mercer
Raleigh
San Antonio
Creighton
*UL-Lafayette
3
14
6
11
Cincinnati
Tennessee
UConn
Dayton
6
11
East Midwest

* - automatic bid

KenPom

Ken Pomeroy's rankings are virtually deified by just about everyone who follows the sport. I'm an exception to that. I never looked at them before writing this piece. That's not a judgment of that system. They just don't inform my process.

The bracket those ratings generate is pretty interesting, and would have six different teams than the real 68. Among the at-large worth teams in the KenPom ratings are Utah, St. John's and Maryland, which finished 17-15. SMU, Louisiana Tech and Florida State get in as well. UMass, which the committee vastly overseeded as a No. 6 seed, Colorado, BYU, Dayton, Nebraska and North Carolina State are out. The Wolfpack lose out to two other teams from their own conference.

Tennessee and Iowa would not just escape the First Four, they would find themselves in the top half of the bracket. The Hawkeyes are a No. 7 seed in the world according to KenPom, and the Volunteers are a No. 3 seed. Do not adjust your monitor, that Tennessee seed is correct. The Vols, which lost to UTEP, Vanderbilt, and Texas A&M twice, are a top 12 team in those ratings.

Arizona is the overall No. 1 seed, and Louisville is also a No. 1, which many people felt was closer to accurate than the four the Cardinals were given by the committee. Wichita State is a No. 2 seed. Like the RPI, KenPom has Kentucky and Gonzaga as No. 5 seeds, but Pitt too.

KenPom is not impressed by the Atlantic 10. Not only are UMass and Dayton out, but Saint Louis is a No. 9 and George Washington is in the First Four. VCU is the exception as the Rams are a No. 3 seed. Joining GW in Dayton are Kansas State, Memphis and Arizona State.

The bracket works out so that Louisville, Wichita State and Kentucky are still in the Midwest region.

Men's NCAA Tournament Bracket: KenPom

West Midwest
1
16
Arizona
*Albany
San Diego
Anaheim
Indy
St. Louis
*Louisville
*Coastal Car./*Texas So.
1
16
8
9
SMU
*Harvard
Oregon
La. Tech
8
9
4
13
Michigan
*NC Central
San Diego
San Antonio
Syracuse
*Manhattan
4
13
5
12
*Gonzaga
*S.F. Austin
Kentucky
Geo. Wash./Arizona St
5
12
2
15
Creighton
*Weber St.
Milwaukee
St. Louis
*Wichita St.
*Milwaukee
2
15
7
10
UConn
Texas
*New Mexico
*Providence
7
10
3
14
VCU
*Mercer
Orlando
Buffalo
*Mich. St.
*American
3
14
6
11
Okla. St.
Maryland
Finals
Dallas
*Iowa State
Xavier
6
11
1
16
*Virginia
*Cal Poly
Raleigh
N.Y.
Memphis
Orlando
*Florida
*Wofford/*Mt St. Mary's
1
16
8
9
Oklahoma
Utah
Baylor
Saint Louis
8
9
4
13
Tennessee
*Tulsa
Spokane
Spokane
*UCLA
*New Mex. St.
4
13
5
12
Ohio State
*Saint Joseph's
Pittsburgh
*N. Dak. St.
5
12
2
15
Villanova
*E. Ky.
Buffalo
Raleigh
Duke
*UL-Lafayette
2
15
7
10
North Carolina
Stanford
Iowa
St. John's
7
10
3
14
Wisconsin
*Delaware
Milwaukee
San Antonio
Kansas
*W. Mich.
3
14
6
11
San Diego St.
Kansas St./Memphis
Cincinnati
Florida St.
6
11
East South

Sagarin

Jeff Sagarin's ratings have been around for so long that he started calculating them on an abacus. He is one of the pioneers in computer ratings in sports. Like KenPom, his system is also not a fan of the A-10 and didn't much care for the committee's at-large choices.

He also leaves out UMass, Colorado, Dayton, Nebraska and NC State, but instead of BYU, Sagarin's ratings take out George Washington. His ratings favor SMU, Louisiana Tech, Florida St, St. John's, Utah, and the one difference from KenPom, Arkansas.

Arizona is also the overall No. 1 in Sagarin's ratings. Louisville and Villanova are also top seeds, while Virginia is a No. 2 seed, and Wichita State drops all the way to a No. 4 seed.

Some of the big movers in his bracket vs. the committee's are Oklahoma State as a No. 4 seed, Kentucky and Iowa as No. 5 seeds, Tennessee up to a No. 7 and Saint Louis as a No. 10.

Arizona has the good fortune of playing the Wichita State-Kentucky winner in the Sweet 16 in this bracket, and if the Wildcats get past that, a different Big Ten team, Michigan State, in the Elite Eight.

Men's NCAA Tournament Bracket: Sagarin

West Midwest
1
16
Arizona
*Wofford
San Diego
Anaheim
Indy
St. Louis
*Louisville
*Coastal Car./*Texas So.
1
16
8
9
*New Mexico
SMU
Baylor
Ariz. St.
8
9
4
13
*Wichita St.
*Manhattan
San Antonio
San Diego
*UCLA
*NC Central
4
13
5
12
Kentucky
Florida St./St. John's
Iowa
*N. Dak. St.
5
12
2
15
*Mich. St.
*W. Mich.
Milwaukee
St. Louis
Kansas
*Weber St.
2
15
7
10
Oklahoma
Saint Louis
North Carolina
Memphis
7
10
3
14
Creighton
*UL-Lafayette
San Antonio
Buffalo
Michigan
*Delaware
3
14
6
11
UConn
Arkansas
Finals
Dallas
VCU
Utah/Xavier
6
11
1
16
Villanova
*Cal Poly
Buffalo
N.Y.
Memphis
Orlando
*Florida
*Albany/*Mt St. Mary's
1
16
8
9
Stanford
*Harvard
Oregon
La. Tech
8
9
4
13
Okla. St.
*New Mex. St.
Spokane
Spokane
Ohio State
*S.F. Austin
4
13
5
12
Pittsburgh
*Saint Joseph's
Syracuse
*Tulsa
5
12
2
15
Duke
*E. Ky.
Raleigh
Raleigh
*Virginia
*Milwaukee
2
15
7
10
Tennessee
Kansas St.
Cincinnati
Texas
7
10
3
14
Wisconsin
*American
Milwaukee
Orlando
*Iowa State
*Mercer
3
14
6
11
*Gonzaga
*Providence
San Diego St.
BYU
6
11
East South

If you used any of these computer ratings to fill out your bracket for your pool this year, you're probably not doing so great. Each has only Florida left in the Final Four. As you might expect, these systems fill out pretty chalky brackets, and this was not a good year for chalk.

Sagarin has the best score entering this weekend. The bracket filled out with his system has 38 correct picks out of 60 games so far and 64 points total. It had the most Sweet 16 teams right of the three systems with 10. However, his system had Arizona as its champion, so the most points it can score is 80, which happens if Florida advances to the title game.

Brackets filled out based on KenPom have a similar problem. His ratings produced the best first round results and correctly predicted a win by a double-digit seed (Tennessee over UMass). However, it went flat after that and, despite also having 38 correct picks, only has 60 points. Like Sagarin, he has Florida in the championship game, but Arizona winning, so the maximum score in this bracket is 76.

The RPI is the only one of these three that is not designed to be used for predictions, so it's no surprise it has the fewest correct picks with 36, although it has one more point than KenPom with 61. The advantage the RPI has is that Florida is its champion, so if the Gators win it all, the bracket filled out by RPI will score 109 points. That will not be enough to win the experts pool, but it's probably enough to save face.

So, having a selection committee that combs through data and considers things a computer can't measure is the best way to go after all. It won't be perfect, but it's better than the alternative. And I'll fill out my own bracket. It's tough to win a pool with that much chalk.

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