Welcome to what figures to be a strange, disjointed, but hopefully complete season of college basketball. And when basketball season is upon us, it is time to create a preseason NCAA Tournament bracket as well.
If I am going to do a bracket though, a prerequisite is that we have to expect to end the season with the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, we were unable to do that last season. This season, the NCAA is taking some steps to try to ensure that we do not have that problem again.
The NCAA announced last week that it intends to host this season's tournament in one metropolitan area, most likely its home city of Indianapolis.
Indy is a perfect location to attempt this. Obviously, the NCAA is familiar with the city since it is based there and Indy was already set to host the 2021 Final Four. There are plenty of places to play games in and around the area, including three legendary college venues, Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse, Assembly Hall at Indiana and Purdue's Mackey Arena.
And if you want to still have the First Four in Dayton, the town of Dayton, Indiana, is just south of Lafayette.
What having the entire tournament in one city means from a bracketing point of view is that geographic considerations are no longer relevant. The committee does not have to worry about keeping western teams out west and things like that. Everyone is in one place.
It also means that it will be easier to balance the bracket. My preseason bracket is largely snaked, which is something I would have never thought to do before. The two biggest impediments to snaking a bracket are geographic concerns, which usually drives the bracketing process for the selection committee, and the rules keeping teams from the same conference apart. Those conference separation rules will still apply and were the only reason I shifted teams out of their snaked spots. There were several of those moves though.
Since the geographic names of the regions are no longer relevant, I am going to guess that they won't be used. Instead, I'm using the names of the arenas where I'm predicting that will host the regionals: Hinkle Fieldhouse (Butler), Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indiana Pacers of the NBA), Assembly Hall (Indiana), and Mackey Arena (Purdue). These decisions are unlikely to be high on the priority list for the committee.
The pandemic is not going to leave college basketball unscathed though. Ten teams have opted out of the basketball season entirely so far. The Ivy League has been joined by MEAC members Bethune Cookman and Maryland Eastern Shore in sitting out this season. The Ivy opting out leaves us with 31 automatic bids and 37 at-large teams. A total of 347 teams will be playing this season.
Impact of shorter schedules
Another consequence of the pandemic is that schedules are shorter and non-conference games are significantly fewer. Some leagues, like the Patriot, are not playing any non-conference games at all.
That has an impact on ranking systems like the NET. The Patriot League has disconnected itself from the rest of college basketball, which means that mathematically speaking, there is no way to compare them to teams from any other league. I assume those teams will be included in the NET rankings and other similar systems, but their rankings are useless. Patriot League teams can only be compared to each other and nobody else.
Non-conference games are what connect all of the different conferences together mathematically, and the more we have, the more valuable ranking systems are. This season, it looks like around 1/3 of the number of non-conference games from a normal season will get played. So, the NET will suffer for that as well.
I cannot ever remember getting this deep into a bracket column without mentioning some of the actual teams involved.
Bracketology top seeds
The Big Ten leads with ten teams in the field in what figures to be another very strong and deep conference this season. The only reason why I do not have a Big Ten team on the top line is that I think they will beat each other up too much to produce a No. 1 seed.
The conference with the next highest number of teams is the ACC with seven.
Stay tuned for further updates, although the next one will likely be at least a month from now. Let's have a safe and exciting season!