My first in-season Bracketology bracket projection for 2020-21 is out a bit later than usual due to the shortened schedule caused by the pandemic. Suffice it to say, a lot has happened since the preseason.
For instance, I had Kentucky as a No. 3 seed in my preseason bracket. However, as of Monday, the Wildcats don't even have three wins and are far from making the 68-team field.
Northwestern was not considered even remotely as a factor in a loaded Big Ten. The Wildcats are a No. 6 seed, which is indicative of a borderline top 25 team. The bracket has a whopping 11 teams from the Big Ten in it. That number is likely not sustainable over the course of the season as they beat each other up. However, the Big Ten getting ten teams in the final bracket is not out of reach.
Bracketology top seeds
One thing that did not change much is that top four teams. Gonzaga, Baylor, Villanova and Texas top this bracket. The Longhorns are off to a tremendous start, including an 84-59 win at Kansas on Saturday, and are the new team to the top line, replacing Virginia.
There is still more than the usual of subjectivity in this bracket. That may be the case all season long, not just for people like me who try to predict these things, but for the NCAA selection committee as well.
Computer rankings may not be as reliable as they usually are due to a much smaller and percentage of non-conference games than we typically have. In a normal season, the full schedule would be about 38% non-conference games. This year, we may scrape to 20%. It's not as bad as things were in football, where about half the teams and four conferences played no non-conference games, but it is those games that allow computer rankings to connect all the teams. The more we have, the better the connection and the more reliable the rankings will be.
This bracket did not use the NCAA NET rankings because they were just released Monday morning, after most of my work was completed. All future brackets will use the NET as the committee does, which is an aggregator. NET rankings alone are not a factor in making selection or seeding decision. They are used to determine the tiers for schedule evaluation. Keep in mind that a team's NET ranking is far less important than those of its opponents.
Another thing to keep in mind about the NET is that you will see a lot of counterintuitive rankings. That is typical early in the season and it will normalize as things go on. Right now, there have been about the same number of games as there would be in early December in a normal year.
Also, as a reminder, the NET formula has changed for this season. They did away with the winning percentage bits and the fake capped margin of victory. All that's left now is the Team Value Index and an Adjusted Net Efficiency. The formula is now entirely a secret.
The pandemic has played havoc with the schedule, as expected, and that has made some teams difficult to evaluate. Teams like Duke, Florida and UConn have only played a handful of games. Most of the at-large pool has played about twice as many. All three teams are in the bracket, but may end up going higher as the season goes on if they start picking up the kind of quality wins that would be expected of them.
The pandemic has also caused another team to pack it in for the season. Chicago State canceled the rest of its season last week after an 0-9 start. The Cougars join the Ivy League, Bethune-Cookman and Maryland-Eastern Shore in the group of teams that have decided to sit out this season.