Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Our Bracket of Death is Deathier Than Your Bracket of Death

I am, at the same time, both (1) thrilled about Calvin’s inclusion in the field of 62 for the NCAA Tournament and (2) not thrilled about their draw. It wasn’t completely unexpected that Calvin would have to start on the road – the writing was on the wall when they were regularly ranked fifth and sixth in the region by the Great Lakes committee – but there was a chance that they’d get a home game, and that, obviously, would have been more pleasant. But even after we look past the home/road decision, we see that Calvin has a tough road ahead.

First of all, let’s reiterate that the tournament timeline is different this year. We typically have Friday-Saturday pods of four teams on the first weekend that get us down to the Sweet Sixteen and then Friday-Saturday sectionals the following week that whittle the field down to the Final Four. This year, however, the tournament is being stretched so that the D-III (and D-II) championship games line up with the D-I Final Four weekend. So here’s our new one-year schedule:

Saturday, March 2: Round of 62 @ campus sites
Saturday, March 9: Round of 32 @campus sites
Saturday, March 16: Sweet Sixteen @campus sites
Friday, March 22: Elite Eight @ Salem, VA
Saturday, March 23: Final Four @ Salem, VA
Sunday, April 7: Championship Game @ Atlanta, GA – (Monday, April 8 should a “we don’t play on Sunday” team such as Calvin make it there)

So we’re usually looking at the four regions of 16 teams each as groups that will have to meet on campus sites until the neutral floor of Salem, VA (the traditional Final Four site), but this year we’re (I’m) more focused on the sub-regions of eight teams that will eventually meet for the Elite Eight round in Salem. This year’s committee was probably more hamstrung with the first three rounds – having to make sure most/all were within 500 miles to avoid the cost of flights – but were more free to move these groups of eight around to balance the bracket. Whatever, I can tell you’re bored.

Anyway, here’s Calvin’s sub-region with Massey Rank noted parenthetically:

Calvin (#8) at Rose-Hulman (#23)
Northwestern (Minn.) (#82) at UW-Stevens Point (#4)

Aurora (#72) at St. Thomas (#1)
St. Norbert (#28) at Wheaton (#10)

That’s four top-10 teams and six top-30 teams. When it comes to the tournament, everyone’s good, but this is a meat grinder. Obviously the national committee isn’t setting out to balance the bracket according to Massey Rating – they’re using the handbook criteria – but it sucks all the same. From the way the criteria looks, the seeding/hosting priority order in this group/region/sectional looks like (in order): St. Thomas, UW-Stevens Point, Wheaton, Rose-Hulman, St. Norbert, Calvin, Northwestern (Minn.), Aurora. So Calvin will likely be needing a major upset or two if they hope to host a future round. Potentially Calvin and St. Norbert could be flipped in the above order.

Just for fun, here’s the sub-region just below Calvin’s (the one that they’ll meet up with in the Elite Eight) looks like this:

Delaware Valley (#120) at Virginia Wesleyan (#16)
Rutgers-Newark (#67) at Christopher Newport (#37)

Wesley (#47) at Williams (#17)
Staten Island (#121) at Catholic (#24)

No top-10 teams and only three top-30 teams. I want to go to there.

The term “bracket of death” has been floated out with respect to the region that includes:

Spalding (#68) at Washington U (#12)
Transylvania (#39) at Illinois Wesleyan (#6)

Dubuque (#36) at UW-Whitewater (#2)
Centre (#61) at North Central (Ill.) (#3)

So yeah, sucks that there’s a possibility for a would-be, could-be Final Four matchup in the second round, but overall this isn’t really any more “bracket of death” than the one Calvin’s in. The two regions look equally difficult – save for the higher Massey-ranked teams all having home games in this second one. We’re talking about seven of Massey’s top-ten teams existing in these two sub-regions (plus the #12). That leaves only three top-tens to be spread across the other six sub-regions. Cool.

So it is, of course, true that “you’ll have to beat these teams sooner or later”, but knowing that Calvin is going to (likely) have to play all road games in perhaps the toughest section of the bracket is not an encouraging thought.

But one can’t think of it like that. We have a full week in between games, so it’s full focus on Rose-Hulman and then we can worry about Stevens Point when we get to that. I’ll break out some numbers on RHIT a bit later.

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