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What's the bracket arithmetic this year? A total of 31 Division I conferences will place an automatic qualifier into the 2013 NCAA tournament field. As the tourney now requires 37 at-large selections as part of its expanded 68-team format, there will be four opening-round games -- called the "First Four" -- played Tuesday and Wednesday in advance of the main bracket. These contests, to be held March 19-20 in Dayton, Ohio, will pair the last four at-large selections for two games and the last four automatic qualifiers in two more.
Why is that team listed from such-and-such conference? Teams listed in ALL CAPS followed are the current league or RPI leaders (for the preseason bracket, the consensus postseason champion is listed). Teams from multiple-bid conferences that project to earn an at-large bid regardless of their league position are listed without CAPS.
What is the RPI, anyway? And why do they use it? RPI stands for Ratings Percentage Index, a tool the NCAA uses in assembling championship fields in a host of sports. The RPI essentially combines winning percentage and schedule strength into a single formula to help compare teams from different conferences and regions. It has been used as an aid to the NCAA men's basketball committee since 1981. The formula was adjusted in 2004-05 to diminish the value of home-court victories while emphasizing road performance.
Who can't go where? Georgetown (East), Butler and IUPUI (Midwest), and Pepperdine (West) cannot be placed in their respective geographic regions if they qualify or are selected for the 2013 NCAA field. Each school is hosting regional semifinals and finals this season. Oakland (Auburn Hills), Kentucky (Lexington), Utah (Salt Lake City), Texas (Austin) and Temple (Philadelphia) are subregional hosts and would also be bracketed away from their respective sites. Dayton can play in the "First Four" at the UD Arena, but not subsequent second- or third-round games at that site.
Will teams allegedly play closer to home again this year? For the 12th time, the NCAA men's basketball committee will not predetermine the regional designation of each of the eight sub regional sites (what it calls the "pod" system). This gives the committee increased flexibility to reduce travel for teams and fans, as well as create more local interest at sub regional sites that may not be traditional basketball areas. For example, the sub regional site in Philadelphia could send its winners to Los Angeles (West Regional) instead of, say, the East Regional in Washington, D.C., if the committee thinks it makes more geographic sense for the teams involved.
Didn't they re-seed the field the past few years? And won't that mess up my office pool? Clearly the most important questions of any season, the answers are "not really" and "definitely not." In a practice that began in 2004, the tournament committee makes public its internal ranking of the four No. 1 seeds, and their respective regions are then paired according to those rankings (No. 1 versus No. 4; No. 2 versus No. 3). No longer will the regions be paired in a rotating fashion (e.g., East versus West, South versus Midwest) for the national semifinals. The idea is to prevent a matchup of the nation's two best teams before the national championship game if, as was the case five years ago, all four No. 1 seeds advance to the Final Four. Fortunately, since these determinations are made on Selection Sunday, the bracket -- and thus every "amusement-only" contest in the land -- is unaffected once the 68-team field is announced.
What else is new? Connecticut (Big East) is ineligible for both its conference tournament and the 2013 NCAA tournament. Old Dominion (CAA) and Georgia State (CAA) will play regular-season league schedules, but not participate in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. Both remain eligible for NCAA at-large consideration. Other schools ineligible for the NCAAs in 2013 are Arkansas Pine-Bluff (SWAC), Jacksonville State (OVC), Mississippi Valley State (SWAC), UNC Wilmington (CAA), Texas A&M Corpus Christi (Southland), Toledo (MAC), Towson (CAA) and UC-Riverside (Big West). The five-team Great West Conference does not have an NCAA automatic bid.
Read all 2013 NCAA tournament principles and procedures here.
Joe Lunardi is the resident Bracketologist for ESPN, ESPN.com and ESPN Radio. He also teaches "Fundamentals of Bracketology" online at Saint Joseph's University. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.