Bracket analysis: One look at a map spells bad news for Iowa teams' Des Moines chances
The NCAA's selection committee last weekend finally tipped its hand a bit to help us see how they view the nation's premier teams.
And what that look at Saturday's top 16 seeds showed was not promising news for something we've been following for a month: Iowa and Iowa State's roads to first- and second-round games in Des Moines are increasingly narrow.
Pay attention, and we'll explain why.
As part of its process of building the bracket, the NCAA selection committee aims to give these top 16 teams — or the top four seeds in each region — geographical priority for where they'll play those first two games.
There are eight locations where the first weekend of games will unfold: San Jose, California; Salt Lake City; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Des Moines; Columbus, Ohio; Jacksonville, Florida; Columbia, South Carolina; and Hartford, Connecticut.
The way the tournament works, only two of those top 16 seeds can be placed at each of those sites. Once you place one squad there, say a No. 1 seed, then that dictates three other teams that will head to that site along with the heavyweight.
Let's take Duke, for example, the committee's current No. 1 overall seed. The Blue Devils would get assigned to the site closest to their campus in Durham, North Carolina. That means a trip to Columbia, 183 miles away.
Because Duke is there, though, then that means a No. 16, No. 8 and No. 9 seed will also be placed in Columbia to fill out that "pod" of four teams. And now half of the Columbia pod is filled.
Then the committee moves down the list to the No. 2 overall seed, Tennessee. The Volunteers also have Columbia as their closest site (212 miles away). So they, and then another No. 16, No. 8 and No. 9, would be on their way to the Palmetto State.
Voila. One of the sites is booked.
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That's bad luck for North Carolina, the No. 7 overall seed, which would also want to be in Columbia. But the Tar Heels are locked out, and will have to find the next-closest site when it's their turn to be placed.
So one can envision how these dominoes would fall, and eventually affect the Iowa teams. Let's keep going with the remaining No. 1 seeds.
- Third-ranked Virginia's three closest sites: Columbus,
- Overall No. 4 seed Gonzaga: Salt Lake City, San Jose, Des Moines
Gonzaga is no problem here, but Virginia will cause congestion for a bunch of Rust Belt teams that all would want to travel to the same place. You'll see what I mean when we continue this exercise with the No. 2 seeds.
- Kentucky (fifth overall): Columbus, Columbia, Jacksonville
Columbus, Des Moines, Hartford
- North Carolina:
Columbia, Columbus, Jacksonville
- Michigan State:
Columbus, Des Moines, Hartford
Ouch. Michigan, ranked sixth overall, can't go to its closest site (although maybe the Wolverines wouldn't want to go to Buckeyes country, anyway). Roy Williams' bunch is No. 7 and gets relegated to its third option. By the time we're through Michigan State, the two assigned Des Moines slots would be gone.
Even if the NCAA took a rather unprecedented step of sending Virginia a little farther away (say, to Hartford), to try and unclog this mess, at least one of the Des Moines spots would be filled. And the committee won't figuratively punish a No. 1 seed like that.
The problem for a team like Iowa State gets even more complicated with the next batch of seeds.
Columbus, Des Moines, Columbia,Tulsa
Yikes. The Boilermakers, seeded ninth overall, would be locked out of their first three options. So their geographical net gets cast wider: to Tulsa, more than 550 miles away.
- Kansas: Tulsa,
Des Moines, Columbus
Tulsa, Jacksonville, Des Moines
Des Moines, Columbus, Tulsa, Columbia,Hartford
Marquette is just one spot above Iowa State, but it's already being relegated to its fifth geographical choice. Just look at all the Des Moines names on this list. Six of the 12 have Wells Fargo Arena within their top two priority placements, so Iowa State needs to find ways to jump most of these teams between now and Selection Sunday on March 17.
If you're more of a visual type, this map can also show you the congestion in the north central part of the country that leaves the Cyclones (or the Hawkeyes, if they made a small run) on the outside looking in. (First-weekend sites are in blue; regional final sites in green; the Final Four in purple. Teams themselves are numerically ordered in red.)
We'll finish out the placement with the No. 4 seeds:
- Iowa State:
Des Moines, Tulsa, Columbus, Columbia,Salt Lake City
- Nevada: San Jose,
Salt Lake City, Tulsa
- Louisville: At this point, only Hartford and San Jose are in consideration.
- Wisconsin: Forced to know the way to San Jose.
This is all a matter of elementary geography and fitting a small jigsaw puzzle. But until you actually go through the exercise, it's much easier to presume that Iowa State could find its way to Des Moines in what was the 13th position.
That was before the TCU loss, too. So, either Iowa or Iowa State essentially has two paths to Des Moines, the way I see it. One route is to basically win out, or perhaps just lose one game the rest of the way. This is a 1-in-20 type of chance.
Or, you hope for the backdoor I mentioned in the first of these bracket pieces I put together: Drop to around a No. 7 seed, and cross your fingers that the other bracket rules place you in Des Moines by happenstance.
The ultimate moral of this exercise? Without a big winning streak, reality bites.
NET gains and losses
Iowa (19-5 overall, 8-5 Big Ten Conference, NET 29) didn't have much change this past week, to be truthful. The Indiana road win will be a nice addition to the Quadrant 1 ledger. The Northwestern home comeback was thrilling, but a Quadrant 2 home game doesn't really do much to these metrics one way or the other. And the first 35 minutes of that game, in which the Hawkeyes were thoroughly outplayed by an inferior Big Ten team, were real, too.
This is just my opinion, but the eye test still tells me the Hawkeyes are the same team they were several weeks ago. Good. Not great. Not a threat for Des Moines. Destined for a 4-6 seed.
Penn State's dumbfounding upset of Michigan helped get the Nittany Lions (NET 70) back on the right side of Quadrant 1, for the purposes of the Hawkeyes' road win last month.
Iowa State (18-6 overall, 7-4 Big 12 Conference, NET 17) will have its win at Oklahoma stick in Quadrant 1 through March. The TCU loss (NET 24) at Hilton Coliseum is more painful in the Big 12 standings than it is in the metrics.
Of note: The Feb. 2 home win over Texas (NET 32) could sneak into Q1 territory soon. The Jan. 19 win over Oklahoma State (NET 77), though, has taken a dive into Q3 and may not come back.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES
(All rankings and projections as of Wednesday)
NCAA NET: No. 13
Ken Pomeroy: No. 15, 22-9 projected overall record
Jeff Sagarin: No. 18
ESPN BPI: No. 14
USA TODAY Sports projection: South Region, No. 5 seed, vs. Murray State in Hartford
ESPN projection: East Region, No. 5 seed, vs. Play-in winner in Jacksonville
CBS Sports projection: West Region, No. 5 seed, vs. North Carolina State in San Jose
Bracketville projection (the top-rated metric with a history of 10-plus years predicting brackets, according to the Bracket Matrix): East Region, No. 4 seed, vs. Hofstra in San Jose
NCAA NET: No. 29
Ken Pomeroy: No. 25, 23-8 projected overall record
Jeff Sagarin: No. 28
ESPN BPI: No. 29
USA TODAY Sports projection: West Region, No. 6 seed, vs. Arizona State in Jacksonville
ESPN projection: West Region, No. 6 seed, vs. Central Florida in Salt Lake City
CBS Sports projection: Midwest Region, No. 4 seed, vs. UC-Irvine in San Jose
Bracketville projection: West Region, No. 6 seed, vs. Clemson in Tulsa
Lastly, a plea
This is the fifth installment of a weekly bracket analysis series from now through Selection Sunday. I have a couple of future spin-off points to lead other articles, but I want to hear from you. Need parts of bracket math or advanced rankings explained? What have you been curious about regarding how the NCAA Tournament field is selected? The goal is to inform, entertain and maybe even enlighten. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome the feedback.
And thanks for reading.
Sports reporter and producer Danny Lawhon has been at the Register since 2012, working in a variety of sports and news capacities. He writes on the evolving online sports conversation in Iowa and contributes to the editing and social media operation. Follow Danny on Twitter @DannyLawhon.