Michigan State's Cassius Winston and Kenny Goins celebrate beating Michigan in the Big Ten tournament final.

About our Bracket Fiasco and the NCAA’s bracket fiasco

If you haven’t entered Bradley’s Bracket Fiasco – now in its 32nd year! – we invite you to do so. You have until Thursday at noon. (The First Four winners are freebies.) If you have already entered, we thank you for your patronage, and here we note the peculiar nature of this bracket itself.

Of the top 16 teams – seeds 1 through 4 – only two won their conference tournament. The two were Duke in the ACC and Michigan State in the Big Ten. Those two are seeded 1-2 in the East Regional, and that’s big-time weird.

It has long been this correspondent’s belief that the NCAA committee put less emphasis on conference tournaments – at least those above the mid-major level; for many mid-majors, the league tournament is everything – than we on periphery believe. This year, however, the committee appears to have ignored the seven biggest tournaments altogether.

Auburn won the SEC and is a No. 5 seed. Iowa State won the Big 12 and is a No. 6. Cincinnati won the American and beat Houston, which is a No. 3 seed, in the final; the Bearcats are a No. 7. Villanova won the Big East and is a No. 6. Oregon won the regrettable Pac-12 – hey, somebody had to do it – and is a No. 12.

In the ACC, Florida State beat Virginia Tech and Virginia, the latter of which was angling to be the NCAA tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, and lost to Duke, which became the No. 1 overall seed. The Seminoles are a No. 4 seed. With the exceptions of Oregon, which had to win the Pac-12 to avoid the NIT, and Florida, which won twice in the SEC tournament, no bubble team appeared to play its way into the field of 68.

And that’s fine. As mentioned last week, there’s no compelling reason for the committee to favor teams from one of the seven big leagues, all of whom have multiple chances to register Quad 1 wins, over mid-majors whose Quad 1 chances essentially boil down to road games played before Christmas. (No big program wants any part of a home-and-home with a Furman or a Lipscomb.) Buffalo is a No. 6 seed and Wofford is a No. 7, for which we say hooray. Belmont gained admission over the middling likes of N.C. State and Clemson and Alabama, which is a most welcome development.

If, however, we check the top of the bracket, we wonder if the committee didn’t sleep through Selection Sunday. The seedings are supposed to work on an S-curve: The No. 1 overall seed is supposed to be paired with the lowest No. 2. And yet: Duke, the No. 1 of No. 1s, has as its No. 2 Michigan State, which won both the Big Ten regular season and the tournament. There seems no way that Michigan State is the worst of the No. 2s, especially when you consider Michigan.

The Wolverines are No. 2 in the West, the province of Gonzaga, the least of the No. 1s. That would mean Michigan is somehow deemed the best of the No. 2s, which defies credulity. Michigan is 0-3 against Michigan State, the most recent defeat coming in the Big Ten title tilt, which ended 15 minutes before CBS began to announce the pairings. You’d that late-breaking development would have been easy for the committee to handle -- Big Ten winner is the top No. 2, Big Ten loser the least -- but it looks as if it got the names wrong.

(Michigan, Michigan State – easy to confuse, right? No?)

Here’s how much that could matter. I picked Michigan to win the West. I did not pick Michigan State to win the East. If you flip those regional assignments, I’d have the Spartans – but not the Wolverines – in my Final Four. Michigan lost the Big Ten tournament and was rewarded by being seeded in Gonzaga’s regional. Michigan State won and got Zion Williamson. Bracket-wise, I’d call this, ahem, a fiasco.

My Final Four, just for the record: Duke, Tennessee, North Carolina and Michigan. My pick to win it all: Duke. My forecast for Georgia State – upset Houston in Round 1, then lose to Iowa State. My track record in these things – terrible. But it’s March and who really cares? We’re all going to fill out a bracket. We here at the ol’ AJC would be mighty obliged if you clicked and filled out ours, and we thank you in advance.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.
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