It’s safe to say there have been some interesting conversations any time the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program has been brought up by the NCAA tournament selection committee.
Figuring out where to slot a team with the Badgers’ profile has to be a challenge for a group deciding the 68-team field that will be revealed Sunday evening.
NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said Saturday on CBS that sorting through the second tier of teams in the field — those which fall between the Nos. 17 and 36 overall seeds — has been difficult.
That’s a group that likely includes the Badgers, who will carry a 17-12 record into the NCAA tournament after their Big Ten Conference tournament stay ended Friday night with a 62-57 loss to Iowa in a quarterfinal at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
If two of the more popular bracketology experts are any indication, opinions on UW vary significantly. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had the Badgers as a No. 6 seed as of Saturday, while Jerry Palm of CBS had them as a No. 9 seed.
UW was No. 27 in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings as of Saturday, with a 5-10 record in Quad 1 games and a 6-2 record in Quad 2 games.
The loss to Iowa dropped the Badgers to 0-9 against teams that finished above them in the Big Ten standings. That’s a group of opponents that includes two projected No. 1 seeds, Illinois and Michigan; a pair of projected No. 2 seeds, Iowa and Ohio State; and Purdue, a projected No. 4 seed.
UW’s three best wins in Big Ten play all came on the road: at Michigan State in December, at Rutgers in mid-January and at Maryland in late January.
The Badgers also have two non-conference home wins from the same week in mid-December that carry weight: over Loyola Chicago and against Louisville, a 37-point thrashing that came with the Cardinals coming off a COVID-19 pause and missing their best player, Carlik Jones.
UW’s other three defeats have come against teams that are Nos. 33 (Maryland), 42 (Penn State) and 92 (Marquette) in the NET rankings. The Marquette game counts as a Quad 2 loss, as does the one against Maryland because it was at home.
Even some key advanced metrics bring up some diverse data on the Badgers.
They’re No. 11 in the Ken Pomeroy ratings — the only team in the Top 30 with more than 10 losses — and No. 15 in the Sagarin ratings.
ESPN’s College Basketball Power Index, billed as “a measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of performance going forward,” has UW at No. 21. ESPN’s Strength of Record (SOR), which measures a team’s “accomplishment based on how difficult a team’s (win-loss) record is to achieve,” has the Badgers at No. 28.
The Kevin Pauga Index, meanwhile, has UW at No. 58. The KPI rankings compare teams’ resumes on a game-to-game basis, ranging from plus-1.0 to minus-1.0: For example, the high game for the Badgers was their win over Loyola Chicago (0.76) while the low game was the loss at Marquette (minus-0.14).
Where does all this leave the Badgers? Probably as a No. 7 or 8 seed, splitting the difference between the Saturday bracket predictions offered by Lunardi and Palm.
“We’ve been through the grinder, the ringer, the gauntlet, so to speak,” UW coach Greg Gard said after the loss to Iowa, which was the Badgers’ 11th Quad 1 opportunity over a span of 14 games. “So now we’ve got to turn the page and use this next week to try to clean up some of the things that have hurt us against the best teams and get ready because no matter who we get assigned, the 68 that are going to be left, we’re all going to be good and they’re all going to have had good years.”
The field will be announced Sunday at 5 p.m. on CBS. Here’s a primer heading into an NCAA tournament that will look much different because of the pandemic.
The state of Indiana will host the entire tournament, with most of the games being held at four sites in Indianapolis: Lucas Oil Stadium (two courts), Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse and Indiana Farmers Coliseum. Purdue’s Mackey Arena in West Lafayette and Indiana’s Assembly Hall in Bloomington also will host games.
The schedule also has changed. The First Four play-in games will be held on Thursday, with first-round games being played on Friday and Saturday followed by second-round games on March 21 and 22.
Sweet 16 games will be held on March 27 and 28, with the Elite Eight to follow on March 29 and 30 (yes, that’s a Monday and Tuesday).
Lucas Oil Stadium will host the national semifinals on April 3 and championship game on April 5.
Seeding and restrictions
Typically, teams’ geographic proximity to the sites hosting preliminary rounds drives the bracketing decisions by the selection committee. That won’t be the case in 2021 with the entire event being held in Indiana.
The bracket mostly will be determined by the overall seed list, with teams being ranked No. 1 through No. 68. This method — called the S-curve — would have the overall No. 4 seed being placed in the same region as the No. 5 seed; No. 3 with No. 6; No. 2 with No. 7;and No. 1 with No. 8, with the next step being to place the No. 9 seed in that same region.
While the committee will try to remain true to the S-curve, there are some principles it must follow that may require it to adjust accordingly.
For example, teams from the same conference will not meet before the Elite Eight if they played each other three or more times during the regular season. If Illinois is a No. 1 seed and Ohio State is a No. 2 seed, as expected, the Buckeyes and Fighting Illini can’t be in the same region because the Big Ten tournament title game will be their third meeting.
Another principle: Teams from the same conference can play each other as early as the second round if they played no more than once during the regular season. So if Ohio State is a No. 2 seed and UW a No. 7 seed, the Buckeyes and Badgers could be placed in the same region because they only played once.
Finding a fill-in
Teams such as Kansas and Virginia were forced to drop out of their respective conference tournaments due to positive COVID-19 tests. If that happens between the time the bracket is revealed Sunday and the start of the tournament on Thursday, the NCAA has a contingency plan.
The last four teams not selected as at-large teams for the original field will be designated as replacement teams and ranked 1-4. The replacement team will be placed in the position left vacant by the team that withdrew from the tournament.
An extreme example: Gonzaga, the likely No. 1 overall seed, is forced to withdraw due to positive COVID-19 tests. The replacement team — say, a bubble team such as Seton Hall — would take the Bulldogs’ place as a No. 1 seed.
Once the tournament has begun, however, a team that has a COVID-19 issue and can no longer participate in the tournament will not be replaced. Its opponent would advance to the next round via the no-contest rule.