With just 19 days left until Selection Sunday, it seems like a good time to clarify a number of bracketing and bubble questions that have been pouring in via e-mail and Twitter.
For the bracket, I had the opportunity to speak with both 2010 Selection Committee chairman Dan Guerrero (UCLA's athletic director) and a former selection committee member who is not on this season's panel. Obviously, neither could address team-specific questions for this season's field, but some of the general tenets they underscored can be mapped onto the current landscape to help refine the developing picture.
RELATED:Andy Glockner's latest Bracket Watch
Add these conversations to others I have had with other committee members over the past six years, and here are educated, interpretive answers to five current bracket questions:
1) Why do you have Kentucky in Milwaukee instead of in New Orleans (SEC country)?
Once seeding is established, the top bracketing priority, especially for the top seeds, is proximity to campus. In Kentucky's case, Milwaukee is much closer to Lexington than any other subregional site.
There is room for consideration for situations that may disadvantage a top seed. That would include trying to avoid situations, if possible based on bracketing procedures, where the high seed could face a second-round game in which it would be at a home-region disadvantage. The committee doesn't "project results," but it also doesn't necessarily want to set up a possible second-rounder like Villanova-Rhode Island in Providence, if it's possible to avoid. In cases like that, though, it would most likely involve sending the lower seed to a different region.
2) Syracuse can't play in the East. If the Orange are a No. 1 seed, why do you send them to the West?
Things can change, but it's very hard to imagine that Kansas and Kentucky won't be 1 seeds. Since there are two Midwest-area regionals (Saint Louis and Houston), it makes more sense not to inconvenience two teams (and two fan bases) by shipping Syracuse to the Midwest or South and sending one of those teams out West. That could change if Syracuse clearly ends up ahead of either team in the curve (which is unlikely), but the best bet is that if 'Cuse is a 1, the Orange will be in the West.
3) What seed does Gonzaga need to land in Spokane and essentially get two home games?
There's no official bar to reach, although it would make things a lot easier for everyone if Gonzaga winds up as a 4 seed or better, so the Bulldogs would be the higher seed in a second-round game.
Bracketing rules only provide for "seed protection" for the top five seeds in each region for the first round only. In theory, a team like Gonzaga (or Rhode Island) could be as low as an 11 seed and still be placed in Spokane (or Providence). In 2007, Louisville was a 6 seed and was slotted into Kentucky's Rupp Arena, putting 3 seed Texas A&M at a distinct locational disadvantage in Round 2. (The Aggies still won.)
What could hurt Gonzaga's hopes if the Zags aren't a top-four seed is their West Coast Conference affiliation. Gonzaga is a much easier team to move to a different region than a team from the Big East or Big 12 that needs to avoid running into higher-seeded league-mates in its half of the bracket.
Globally speaking, the Zags will end up in the most appropriate place given how the bracket shakes out around them, but if they're a 5 seed or lower and end up in Spokane, there's going to be a really ticked-off top-four seed.
4) Will the committee leave BYU in the West with the regional round in Salt Lake City?
This is a big question which is impacted by things like Question No. 1 and complicated by BYU's religious restrictions, which mandate the Cougars be placed into both a Thursday/Saturday subregional and regional. This season, that means BYU has to be in either the East or West region, and the West region would be an enormous home-region advantage.
BYU's situation will be handled similarly to Gonzaga's, with one additional caveat: right now, the Cougars are behind league rival New Mexico on the S-curve. In theory, that would give the Lobos first crack at the West regional and would force the Cougars into the East (because you can't have two of the top three teams from a conference in the same region).
In actuality, the cluster of Big East teams at the top of this week's bracket inadvertently hosed New Mexico, which was a 3 seed. Because Syracuse was the West No. 1, and the Big East also had two 2s (which couldn't be in Syracuse's region) and two 3s (which couldn't be paired in a region with a 2 seed from the conference), bracketing procedure forced the No. 3 seed in the West to be a Big East team. That pushed New Mexico out of the West region and opened the door for BYU to stay.
Bottom line: This situation is a lot more complicated than Gonzaga's, and we'll have to wait until right before Selection Sunday to have a real idea of how likely it will be that BYU gets to stay in the West.
5) In that situation, would the committee make New Mexico a 4 seed and keep them in the West?
It's very unlikely. The committee strongly wants to maintain the integrity of the seeding curve established for the top four seeds. The committee actually has "first quadrant" and "fourth quadrant" subcommittees that spend extra time refining the top four and bottom four seed lines of the bracket. Because most of the top seeds are fairly clear several days in advance and the smaller conference tournament winners also are established early, this work can be done well before the bubble mess in the middle needs to be sorted out.
As such, it would be a strong preference in this case to keep New Mexico as a 3 seed and ship them to another region.
Of course, you can't have a bracket without 65 teams. As they say, you can play your way out of a bad seed, but you can't play your way out of the NIT.
Here are five key selection themes that will bear watching down the stretch:
1) How will the committee evaluate the middle of the ACC?
This week's bracket had no ACC team other than Duke higher than a 7 seed. The new national polls (for entertainment only) concurred, with only the Blue Devils ranked in the Top 25. Still, our bracket had seven ACC teams in it.
Why? The ACC is the No. 3 RPI conference and is ranked No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings, with none of the 12 ACC teams ranked higher than 77th overall.
We only have to look at last season's Big Ten, which was No. 1 in conference RPI (although just No. 5 in Pomeroy's ratings) and got every mid-table team but Penn State into the NCAAs. The league got seven bids in a better bubble year, with four of the teams getting a 10 seed or lower.
Expect the same thing this season in the ACC. Anyone who has a .500 league mark or better is more than likely getting in.
2) If the ACC (and Big East) get credit for depth and competitiveness, will the A-10?
To an extent, yes, although the Atlantic 10 is mapping much more closely to this season's Big Ten, with a clear upper crust, a couple of teams trying to fight their way in, and a murky bottom full of low-quality clubs.
The Big Ten is certain to get four, looks pretty likely to get five and, if Minnesota and Illinois can both keep pushing, could end up with six. The A-10 looks certain to get three, is a fairly good bet to get four, and if everything shakes out the right way, could get five.
3) How will the committee evaluate the Pac-10, and specifically Cal?
Cal could end up being one of the most interesting bubble decisions in recent memory should the Golden Bears not win the Pac-10 tournament.
As mentioned in Monday's Bubble Watch, Jerry Palm noted that only eight teams in the past 16 seasons -- and none in the past three, when a number of current committee members have voted -- have received an at-large berth without a top-50 win. Cal doesn't currently have one, and unless Washington (currently No. 60) is in that category on Selection Sunday, the Golden Bears won't.
On the other hand, the Pac-10 currently sits eighth in conference RPI. Here are the last 10 conferences to finish No. 8 and how many NCAA bids they all received:
2009: Missouri Valley (1, and Creighton may have lost bid when Mississippi State won SEC tourney)2008: Big Ten (4)2007: Mountain West (2)2006: WAC (2)2005: West Coast (2)2004: Pac-10 (3)2003: Mountain West (3)2002: Mountain West (3)2001: Conference USA (2)2000: Atlantic 10 (3)
While teams earn bids, not conferences, we might be one fluke SEC auto-bid away from every No. 8 conference in the last decade getting at least two teams in.
Also, Cal's RPI currently is 23 and collegerpi.com currently projects a final RPI of 21. Here's the best RPI major-conference team that's been left out of the NCAAs in each of the past 10 seasons:
2009: Florida (54)2008: Mississippi (48)2007: Florida State (41)2006: Cincinnati (40)2005: Ohio State (51)2004: LSU (38)2003: Seton Hall (42)2002: Villanova (43)2001: Mississippi State (40)2000: Vanderbilt (38)
If Cal is anywhere in the top 30, it would be utterly unprecedented from an RPI standpoint to see the Golden Bears left out.
Toss in Cal's injury issues from early in the season, when the team played a very rigorous nonleague schedule, the chance that the Golden Bears could win the Pac-10 by multiple games if they beat Arizona State at home this weekend, and the really soft bubble, and the smart money says Cal will be dancing if it mostly takes care of business down the stretch.
If Cal does win the auto-bid? The Pac-10 very likely will make history as the first high-major league not to receive an at-large in the 64/65-team era.
4) Who could be this season's Mississippi State (2009) or Georgia (2008) and come out of nowhere to steal a major-conference auto-bid and knock out an at-large?
Look no further than the SEC (again) and Arkansas. This question actually was Tweeted about several weeks ago and the Hogs were prominently debated at that point. Now they could win the SEC West, get a bye into the quarterfinals and then draw the E4/W5 winner first. Crazier things have happened.
5) What teams are you rooting to win auto-bids if you support an at-large team?
No-doubters: Gonzaga (WCC), Butler (Horizon), Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley).
Better to have them win: Siena (MAAC), Utah State (WAC), Cornell (Ivy), UAB (C-USA), Old Dominion (CAA).
Multi-bid league preferences: Temple/Richmond/Xavier (A-10), New Mexico/BYU/UNLV (Mountain West).