Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Annual Mock Media Bracket

The NCAA has done a good job making the NCAA selection process more transparent, and I think the media mock bracket has cleared up a number of misconceptions over time. For example, I think people have a much better understanding how the RPI numbers are used to sort opponents, how conference affiliation does not enter directly into the discussion, and how the committee does not look to schedule fun match-ups. (Those happen naturally.)

I’ve also seen a lot of criticism of this year’s media mock bracket. But hold off on your criticism until you read about the process. For example, Georgetown was projected into the field, but the mock committee was given the mock scenario where Georgetown went on a run to the Big East Tournament title game. Thus the media may have had a reason for putting the Hoyas in the field, even if it doesn’t make sense based on the real numbers. (Please excuse me now while I celebrate my team’s mock tournament run.)

I think the absolute must-read story was written by Kyle Whelliston.

At 2:10pm, he shows a great picture of the team sheet for St. Joseph’s. Seth Davis has posted these previously on This is basically why we all want to look at the Nitty Gritty (Last 12, vs RPI 1-50, home/away, NCSOS, ect.)

But I think the best part of Whelliston’s article was the tagline. “The biggest takeaway from the 11 hours detailed above is that selection, seeding and bracketing is a team event, subject to the laws and policies of any flawed clusterhump groupthink. It's definitely not a sudoku puzzle. In order to properly replicate the process, the prospective bracketologist is invited to find nine other like-minded people and spend five days locked in a room hashing it all out (daily ice cream deliveries optional).”

At the end of the day, every decision not only has to survive the numbers, it has to survive the argument test. It has to survive someone saying, “Minnesota beat Louisville, but we all know that wasn’t the same Louisville team we see today, and the rest of the Gophers non-conference schedule was terrible.” It has to survive someone saying “I’m not sure Missouri should be that far behind Kansas. They’ve beaten them head-to-head and look pretty similar overall.” It has to survive someone saying, “Have you looked at LSU’s non-conference schedule? I’m not even sure this team should be in the field?” And if you can replicate all these arguments in your head, you are to be admired.

Maybe the bracket project does the best job, because it summarizes collective group think, but two things bother me. 1) How many brackets are influenced by the opinions of other brackets? 2) Can we really conclude that the average of a group of people would be the same as a collective voted decision?

And that’s why I don’t project a bracket. I have my own back-of-the-envelope formula that I use to give myself a rough sense of where teams stand, but at the end of the day, I provide the Nitty Gritty Numbers and let people make their own arguments.

More Mock Media Links

NCAA Official Blog. For people like Seth Davis, this is old hat, but for people like Greg Anthony, who recently joined CBS as a college basketball analyst, I think this is a very valuable process.
Seth Davis, SI. Nice to hear Seth Davis echo my feelings on Utah St.’s resume.
Mike DeCourcy, Sporting News
Jeff Goodman, Fox Sports
Tim Gardner, USA Today