Table of Contents
I started doing my own bracketology in middle school some 15-odd years ago, cobbling together whatever minimal information I could find on the web to piece something together. That’s evolved over time, and this is now my ninth season contributing to the Bracket Matrix. Through my years of bracketology and engaging in online and in-person discourse with college basketball fans, it’s become glaringly obvious that most of you have no idea how any of this works.
That’s okay. No one really explains it, they just put out their entries with little else. I can’t fault the misunderstandings. To clear the air, I’ve created this guide to help fans get a better idea of how bracketology actually works and how to treat these pieces of speculation.
I haven’t covered everything here, but I’ve taken a stab at some of the biggest misconceptions I’ve seen over the years. If you have any more questions, you can DM me angrily.
So, How Does Bracketology Work?
It’s a Prediction, Not an Assertion
First and most importantly – and this is crucial, so listen up – bracketology is the practice of predicting what the selection committee will do, not what the creator thinks it should do. This is a giant distinction and the number one misunderstanding I see from fans.
It’s very possible that a bracketologist will place a team at a certain seed line or in or out of the tournament despite what they would do if they were at the reins. There have been many times when I’ve bumped a team up, pulled one down, or excluded aside from the field, because I’m not on the committee, and what I think they should do is occasionally different from what I think they will do.
For example, the committee has made it very clear over the years that they do not at all care about the conference tournament title games played on Selection Sunday. They barely even care about the ones the day before. The bracket is obviously mostly made by the time that Sunday rolls around with a few contingencies in the event of a bubble buster stealing a bid. So, I don’t change my predictions much, if at all, as a result of those games.
If I were the one responsible for formulating the bracket, this is not how I would do things. I think every game that’s played should matter, especially conference tournament championships. But that’s not how the committee thinks, and my goal is to put together the most accurate prediction possible for what the committee will produce, not assert what my ideal bracket would be. This truth will be in the background of much of the rest of this article.
By all means, criticize someone’s prediction if you believe the logic is faulty. If you don’t think the committee will value one resume over another, that’s a valid argument to have. Attacking it from any other angle is not.
Conference Records Don’t Matter
With the key ingredient out of the way, let’s look under the hood.
The committee does not care about conference records. They do not affect how they evaluate a team, so don’t even bother looking at them when approaching bracketology. Maybe you think they should, and that’s fine. But in the eyes of the committee, they don’t, so don’t expect bracketologists to take them into account when they make their predictions.
All Games Are Treated Equally
Whether a team starts the season poorly and comes hot in March or vice versa doesn’t matter to the committee. It cares about the full body of work and does not put added weight on finishing the season strong. Therefore, neither do bracketologists who know what they’re doing.
Every season, a team rockets up the rankings in early January, then by March, it’s floundering with one win in seven tries, and it’s become clear to everyone that the team will experience a swift exit from the tournament. The inverse also occurs in each campaign. Fans often clamor for teams limping into the postseason to be punished for it, but that doesn’t happen. At least, that doesn’t happen any more than suffering the consequences of bad runs in December or January.
Back in the day, the committee used to take a team’s record in the last 10 games into account, but it’s been a long time since that was done away with. Bracketologists evaluate resumes the same way the committee does, or at least they’re supposed to, so how hot or cold a team is won’t come into play when entries are made.
There’s Nuance in the Quad System
It’s easy to simplify resumes down to quadrant records and dig no deeper. In reality, this is not how the committee evaluates.
Sure, a team’s record in Q1 games is important, but the resumes the committee uses show the location of each matchup and the NET of every opponent. An away win against NET 74 is worth the same amount of Q1 wins as a neutral-site victory over NET 19, but the committee allows that nuance to play a role in its decision-making. A team can’t load up on low-end Q1 wins and coast on them as if they were the same as beating the best teams in the country.
NET Is for Opponent Evaluation
Does a team’s NET matter at all for tournament inclusion and seeding? Yes, some. But the main purpose behind NET is to measure the quality of a win or loss.
A team’s NET ranking does not directly translate to the seed it’ll be awarded. At the time of writing, FAU’s NET is 18. This certainly helps the Owls in their quest for an at-large bid (if it comes to that) and for seeding, but it’s not what will have them in or out of the tournament. More importantly for FAU, conference-mates North Texas and UAB are both in the NET top 60, so games against them count as Q1 and Q2 contests despite neither team having realistic hopes of at-large nods. This is the true use of NET.
A team can have a NET in the 70s but beat a bunch of really good teams and still get in. A team can also have a NET in the 30s, beat nobody, and miss out. Don’t get too hung up on a team’s NET, but do put emphasis on the NET of its opponents.
Sometimes, Bracketologies Are Just for Clicks
This is just the truth. Bracketologies in January and February, especially early February, simply do not matter at all, and anything before those months is a complete waste of everybody’s time. The picture is massively incomplete, and there’s so much left to happen between then and Selection Sunday that a bracketologist can make infinite changes with no penalty come grading time.
The true measure of a bracketologist is how accurate their final bracket is against the committee’s decisions. Not always, but sometimes bracketologists will intentionally put teams higher or lower in their early predictions to drum up conversation. This isn’t something I do, but I have seen it many times. By the time Selection Sunday rolls around, those will be ironed out, because by then it actually matters.
Always take early-season bracketology with a massive grain of salt. It’s all fun and games until Selection Sunday is around the corner. Take them more seriously the closer we move to the tournament.
It’s Not That Hard
No, really, it’s pretty easy. You already know 36 teams that will be in via auto bids, and nearly all of the 32 at-large bids are obvious by the end. Barring super weird years where the committee fools everyone, correctly including fewer than 66 of the 68 teams in the field is bad.
Putting teams on the right seed lines is much more difficult, but it’s still not that tough. So long as you understand the criteria the committee uses, have paid attention to the committee’s historical decision-making trends, and know how to read a resume, you could do bracketology to a decent effect.
I am far from the best bracketologist out there and would never pretend otherwise (I’m ranked No. 56 out of 148, thank you very much). But if I could figure it out as a tween before there was as much information readily available online as now, then it’s not too tough. If a bracketologist acts like this is some kind of supernatural talent that only a select few can handle, don’t take them seriously. It’s not that deep.
See the Resumes for Yourself
There is no better resource for resumes than WarrenNolan.com. It has full resumes, precisely how the committee sees them, for every team that’s remotely relevant to the at-large discussion and then some. If you see a bracketology and can’t figure out why it has a team seeded where it does or why your team isn’t in the field, take a look at its resume and compare it to some others that are predicted around it. It might give you some insight into why that prediction is being made, plus it might help you understand why the committee does what it does. Plus, it gives you accurate ammo for slandering bracketologists online who dare put your team a whole seed line below what you think it deserves.