Bracket Assessment: 20 Days left

The bracket is starting to settle into form this late in the season, with minimal day-to-day fluctuation. We can start to draw conclusions on which teams are already in, which are still in contention, and how many bid-stealing conferences are out there. The field is comprised of 32 automatic bids (from conference tournament champions) and 36 at-large bids.

Tournament Locks

The following 25 teams have already done enough to warrant an at-large bid. Even if each of them were to not win again in the regular season, they would still be selected into the field:

1 Villanova Big East
2 Gonzaga West Coast
3 Kansas Big 12
4 Baylor Big 12
5 Oregon Pacific-12
6 Arizona Pacific-12
7 Kentucky Southeastern
8 Louisville Atlantic Coast
9 Florida Southeastern
10 Duke Atlantic Coast
11 Butler Big East
12 North Carolina Atlantic Coast
13 Florida St Atlantic Coast
14 Purdue Big Ten
15 Cincinnati American
16 UCLA Pacific-12
17 Maryland Big Ten
18 Creighton Big East
19 SMU American
20 Wisconsin Big Ten
21 St Mary’s CA West Coast
22 West Virginia Big 12
23 Notre Dame Atlantic Coast
24 Minnesota Big Ten
25 Wichita St Missouri Valley

1 or 2 wins Away

This next group of 8 will be in the field, barring a monumental collapse down the stretch:

26 Virginia Atlantic Coast
27 MTSU Conference USA
28 VA Commonwealth Atlantic 10
29 Xavier Big East
30 South Carolina Southeastern
31 USC Pacific-12
32 Dayton Atlantic 10
33 Northwestern Big Ten

Remaining contenders

This next group is fighting for the few remaining at-large bids and hoping that the teams in the two groups above them grab all 11 auto-bids in their respective conference tournaments. Some of these teams may be able to sneak in with as few as two more wins, but would be well-served to rack up as many as possible down the stretch to avoid reliance on winning the conference tournament:

34 Illinois St Missouri Valley
35 Oklahoma St Big 12
36 Arkansas Southeastern
37 Iowa St Big 12
38 Nevada Mountain West
39 Virginia Tech Atlantic Coast
40 Valparaiso Horizon
41 Michigan Big Ten
42 California Pacific-12
43 Miami FL Atlantic Coast
44 Michigan St Big Ten
45 Akron Mid-American
46 Marquette Big East
47 Kansas St Big 12
48 Houston American
49 Seton Hall Big East
50 UNC Wilmington Colonial
51 Georgetown Big East
52 Tennessee Southeastern
53 Providence Big East
54 Rhode Island Atlantic 10
55 Boise St Mountain West
56 New Mexico St WAC
57 Vanderbilt Southeastern
58 Pittsburgh Atlantic Coast
59 TCU Big 12
60 Clemson Atlantic Coast
61 Illinois Big Ten
62 Georgia Southeastern

Any team not listed as one of the 62 above will need to win their conference tournament in order to make the field.


Some conferences have teams that would qualify for an at-large if they were to miss out on an auto-bid. This includes the following:

1 Big East
2 West Coast
3 Big 12
4 Pacific-12
5 Southeastern
6 Atlantic Coast
7 Big Ten
8 American
9 Missouri Valley
10 Conference USA
11 Atlantic 10

The top 36 teams above should feel pretty safe even if they don’t win their conference tournament, but outside the top 36 and bid-stealing starts to play a factor. The most important conference tournaments to pay attention to are:

West Coast: Gonzaga or St. Mary’s needs to win this auto-bid to avoid a certain stolen bid.

Conference USA: Middle Tennessee must earn the auto-bid; nobody else in the conference is remotely close to an at-large and the Blue Raiders have all but locked up their at-large.

American: It would be helpful for all if SMU or Cincinnati earns this auto-bid. Houston wouldn’t be bad necessarily, but anyone else would be a disaster for bubble teams.

Missouri Valley: Wichita St is definitely in and Illinois St is very likely in; you want one of these two to get the auto-bid if your team is on the bubble.

Atlantic 10: VCU and Dayton are near-locks for an at-large, so it’d be easiest if one of them earns the A10 auto-bid. Rhode Island is close, so it wouldn’t be that bad if they earned it, but nobody else is in contention for an at-large.

The 6 major conference tournaments are important to keep an eye on, but with so many at-large contenders it is much less likely that a bid is stolen from those.


A Closer Look: Georgetown

Previous editions: Creighton, Butler

Only 10 brackets in the Bracket Matrix (including BoW) have Georgetown in the field. Georgetown’s record (14-12) suggests they definitely should not be in the tournament, but looking closer at who they’ve beaten may suggest otherwise. Georgetown has wins over Butler on the road, Oregon at a neutral site, and a 20 point win at home over Creighton. BoW rates their schedule as the 8th toughest in the country, as it includes games against Maryland and Wisconsin in addition to Oregon and their double round robin Big East schedule.

They’ll need a few more wins to maintain their position as a tourney contender, but they have enough signature wins behind them that they’ll be in the conversation the rest of the way.

Top 16 seeds preview

On Saturday the NCAA released their top 16 college basketball teams. The list as it compares to Saturday’s BoW bracket:

NCAA Seed Team BoW Seed
1 Villanova 1
1 Kansas 1
1 Baylor 1
1 Gonzaga 1
2 North Carolina 3
2 Florida St 2
2 Louisville 3
2 Oregon 3
3 Arizona 2
3 Virginia 5
3 Florida 5
3 Kentucky 4
4 Butler 2
4 West Virginia 6
4 UCLA 4
4 Duke 5
Seed BoW Top 16
1 Villanova
1 Gonzaga
1 Kansas
1 Baylor
2 Arizona
2 Florida St
2 Butler
2 Wisconsin
3 Oregon
3 Cincinnati
3 North Carolina
3 Louisville
4 Kentucky
4 Purdue
4 Creighton

No discrepancies are larger than two seed lines, and 12 teams reside in both top 16 lists. The same 4 teams are one seeds in each bracket. The most glaring omission is that the Big Ten is currently shut out of the top 16 by the NCAA. It’s also noteworthy that Gonzaga is the 4th 1 seed, suggesting the NCAA is looking for a reason to drop them from the top line. They likely need to remain undefeated to hold onto a 1 seed.

A Closer Look: Butler

Previous editions: Creighton

The Bracket Matrix on February 9 lists Butler as a 5 seed, whereas BoW lists them as a 2 seed. Initially I suspected my formula was over-valuing the Big East and thus seeding everyone from the conference higher than was warranted. I’ve made a modification in my formula to remove the Conference Strength parameter which seems to have corrected this inconsistency (most notably, Creighton dropped from a 2 seed to a 4 seed after this revision). However, Butler only dropped from a 1 seed to a 2 seed.

Why is Butler rated so highly?

  • A lot of quality wins. Butler has a neutral site win over Arizona and Indiana, home wins over Villanova, Cincinnati, Xavier, and Northwestern, and 2 wins over Marquette.
  • Losses are always close (except against Creighton). Butler’s non-Creighton losses are by 1, 3, and 4 points. There appears to be a match-up problem with Creighton, where Butler has lost by 9 and 11 points in their season series, but it’s easy to look past that when only 1 team on the schedule has given them fits. The Indiana State loss is pretty bad, but it was by 1 on the road in what had to be the Sycamores biggest game of the year.
  • Very strong schedule. BoW rates Butler as the toughest schedule played so far in all of college basketball. A true round robin in a strong conference accompanied by a non-conference slate which included Arizona, Cincinnati, Utah, Northwestern, Indiana, and Vanderbilt; all of which Butler won.

A Closer Look: Creighton

In the final weeks leading up to Selection Sunday, I will profile teams that BoW views differently than the rest of the Bracket Matrix to explain where the discrepancy may be attributed.

First up has to be Creighton. The BoW bracket model has long held Creighton in highest regard, only slipping off the top line to a 2 seed after the conclusion of the February 7 slate of games (in which Creighton did not play, but Butler picked up a road win at Marquette which was just enough to leapfrog the Jays).

Why is Creighton rated so highly?

  • Big wins. Creighton has a road win against Xavier, two wins over Butler, and a home win over Wisconsin at the top of their resume.
  • No bad losses. Granted 3 of their 4 losses are at home, those 3 are all against teams comfortably in the field according to Bracket Matrix, and the 4th loss was on the road against Georgetown, whom the Matrix currently lists in its first four out.
  • Margin of victory. Creighton has the 20th ranked point differential from their opponents, cumulatively outscoring them by 292 points.
  • The Big East is strong and deep. The Matrix has 6 of the 10 Big East teams in the field, with a 7th in their next four out. With such a small conference and only a couple low-quality teams, there’s rarely a night off in the Big East.