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Selection Sunday: Final Bracketology & Villanova’s potential NCAA Tournament opponents

Where will the Wildcats land, and who’s coming with them?

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Villanova vs Butler Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday afternoon update:

Following their Big East Tournament Championship, Villanova is a unanimous pick for a #1 seed according to Bracket Matrix, and will likely be the #2 overall seed behind Virginia.

The first big consideration will be where Virginia selects to play - South (likely) or East - and Villanova will end up in whatever the Hoos’ don’t choose.

If you look at the projected 8 and 9 seeds, Villanova is likely to end up with one of the following teams as their second round opponent:

  • Virginia Tech
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • Kansas State
  • Alabama

Tune in tonight to find out!

Original post:

And then there was one. Villanova has played 33 games this season, and now there’s just one more to play before the “Christmas Morning” of college basketball: Selection Sunday.

The seeding process is already well underway by the selection committee, and there are a few steps they have to get through in order to determine who goes where. But by this evening, just about everything will be in place before the big reveal Sunday afternoon.

But why wait for Sunday? Heck, why even wait for Villanova to play their final game!? We’re going to get way ahead of ourselves and look at all the possibilities of what Nova’s seed will be, which Region they’ll be placed in, and what top teams could end up there with them. We’ll start with the actual seeding process itself.

So How Does This Whole Thing Work Anyway?

The selection process, while ultimately opinion based, has a number of rules and regulations that help determine who gets into the tournament and where they go. There’s actually a seven page document that outlines the entire process, but I’ll do my best to summarize.

There are three steps to creating the NCAA Tournament bracket: Selection, Seeding, and Placement.

First, the field of 68 is “selected”. I say that in quotes because 32 teams receive automatic bids, so the committee is really selecting the 36 “at-large” bids from the remaining eligible teams. This is actually the most complicated part of the process, involving balloting, multiple voting sessions, and a whole ton of data from multiple sources. But eventually, the field of 68 teams is set.

Next, the teams are seeded 1-68. This is known as their “true seed”, and is exactly what it sounds like. The committee ranks all the teams in the field from best to worst. The process for this is multiple rounds of voting where seed lines are built by picking the best teams remaining (8 at a time) and then ranking them 1-8. The four teams that are ranked the highest are the #1 seeds, and the other four teams are added to the next ballot with 8 additional teams. This process is repeated over and over until all the seed lines are filled and the teams are all given their true seed.

Finally, the teams are placed into the bracket. Outside of choosing the field itself, this process often can create the most controversy. While it may make sense to just seed the bracket based on all the true seeds, there are a number of considerations and rules in place that will alter the order in which the teams are seeded. It’s more like a jig-saw puzzle than a true “S-Curve” when it’s all said and done. Many of the rules and principles in this stage will come into play for Nova. We’ll get into them later, but for now just know that while a team’s true seed doesn’t change, its position in the bracket can.

Villanova’s Path Through The Selection Process

Now that we know how the sausage is made, let’s get into the specifics for Villanova.

The first question is do they make the field of 68? Um... yes, they will. If they win the Big East Tournament today it will be automatic as opposed to at-large, but none of that matters when it comes to seeding.

Next question, what is Villanova’s true seed? This is where today’s game, and others, will come into play. First off, I think Villanova is a lock for one of the #1 seeds whether they win or lose the BET. If they win, all of the data indicates that they’ll be the #2 overall seed behind Virginia regardless of what anyone else does.

However, if the Cats lose to Providence it opens up the door for other teams to jump them in the “true seeding”. Kansas would be the most likely candidate, but they would also have to beat West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament. While I personally think it’s unlikely, UNC could also be a candidate if they beat Virginia in the ACC Tournament. Either way, Nova would still end up as one of the Top 4 true seeds, earning them a #1 seed in the tournament.

That brings us to the placement process, and the many principles and procedures that go along with it. Here’s a quick rundown of how some of those “rules” would effect Villanova. All of these scenarios assume a #1 seed for the Wildcats:

  • Each of the first four teams selected from a conference shall be placed in different regions if they are seeded on the first four lines. For Nova, this means that Xavier will not be in their region, even if they’re a #2 seed. The soonest these two could possibly face off would be the Final Four.
  • Teams from the same conference shall not meet prior to the regional semifinals if they played twice during the regular season and conference tournament. They shall not meet prior to the regional finals if they played three times during the regular season and conference tournament. This means that if another Big East team were placed in Villanova’s Region, it wouldn’t be as the 8 or 9 seeds. The Wildcats couldn’t face Xavier, Seton Hall, or Creighton until the Sweet 16 at the earliest. They also couldn’t face Marquette, Butler, or Providence until the Elite 8.
  • The committee will not place teams seeded on the first four lines at a potential “home crowd disadvantage” in the first round. I’ll explain why shortly, but Villanova is a lock to play its first round game in Pittsburgh. This is basically saying they won’t have to worry about playing any Pittsburgh based teams in their first game.
  • Teams will remain in or as close to their areas of natural interest as possible. A team moved out of its natural area will be placed in the next closest region to the extent possible. If two teams from the same natural region are in contention for the same bracket position, the team ranked higher in the seed list shall remain in its natural region. This is going to be VERY important for figuring out who Nova will face. It’s also one of the main reasons teams are moved out of their natural seed position. It basically means that they’re more likely to face teams from their same region than they are from the opposite side of the country, although that’s still a possibility.
  • A team may be moved up or down one (or in extraordinary circumstances) two lines from its true seed line when it is placed in the bracket if necessary to meet the principles. If you’re wondering how Wisconsin was Nova’s 8 seed last season, this is the rule that allowed it. I hate this rule.
  • The overall #1 seed has the opportunity to select its preferred first/second round site and preferred region. For those of us hoping that Villanova ends up in the Boston, this is a very important rule. Virginia will likely be the overall #1, and they’re located smack in the middle of Boston (East Region) and Atlanta (South Region).
  • The committee will place the #2 seeds in each region in true seed order. The committee may relax the principle of keeping teams as close to their area of natural interest. The rule goes on to explain this is to avoid putting the best #2 seed with the best #1 seed. This is also the principle that kept Villanova from being placed in Philadelphia in 2016 to protect UNC. Guess what, it didn’t protect them.
  • After the top four seed lines have been assigned, the committee will add up the “true seed” numbers in each region to determine if any severe numerical imbalance exists. Generally, no more than five points should separate the lowest and highest total. This is the committees attempt to prevent a “Region of Death”. But conveniently, if their seeding is off, then the numbers can work even if the region is completely unbalanced. It’s happened before, it’ll happen again.

Where Will Villanova Land?

I’m 90% sure that no matter what happens today, Villanova will end up as the #1 team in the East Region, played in Boston. If Nova wins, they’ll be the #2 overall seed and will be placed in the region closest to the school (East) after Virginia is placed in the South. If Nova loses, they could be jumped by Kansas. But the Jayhawks would be placed in the MidWest, still leaving the East open for the Wildcats.

There are only two scenarios in that have me 10% unsure of which region Nova ends up in. The first, as I mentioned earlier, is if Virginia chooses to be placed in the East Region. Everything I’ve read puts them in the South, and I’d assume most of their fan base is closer to Atlanta than it is to Boston. But if Virginia picked Boston, Villanova would likely end up in Atlanta (2.5 hour flight).

The worst case scenarios, regardless if Virginia picks Boston or not, can only happen if Nova loses and UNC wins the ACC tournament and somehow jumps Nova in the true seed. I don’t think this would be possible, but we’ve seen the committee do crazier things. In that scenario, if Kansas also lost, UNC would go to Boston or Atlanta (depending on Virginia) and Villanova would land in the MidWest Region in Omaha,NE (4.5 hour flight). The worst outcome for the Wildcats would be if Kansas and UNC both jumped them in the true seeding, and they were forced to ship out to the West Region and play in Los Angeles (6.5 hour flight). Like I said, I don’t think this would happen, but we’re putting all possibilities out there.

As far as the first and second rounds go, Villanova is all but guaranteed to play in Pittsburgh. They’ll be on the one line, and any team that could land ahead of them has closer first round sites that they’d play at. The last time the Wildcats played on the other side of the state was the 2015 tournament that ended with an upset loss to NC State. I’m sure Jay Wright and company will be eager to re-write that unhappy ending.

Who Will Be The Top Seeds In Villanova’s Region?

Villanova will be the #1 Seed wherever they go, and for now we’re going to assume they end up in the East. Before we get into who could join them there, let’s start by identifying the teams that couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be placed in Nova’s region. Xavier is out because they’ll be a Top 4 seed and also in the Big East Conference. That’s it. Tennessee and Gonzaga will likely be seeded too high for it to matter that the teams played in the non-conference. There’s also a rule that repeat match-ups form the past two tournaments should be avoided in the first round, but I don’t think Kansas, UNC, or Miami will be 16 seeds. Maybe Oklahoma.

Villanova’s #2 Seed: UNC or Duke

First let’s eliminate the top line. It’s probably safe to assume that Virginia will be #1 in the South and Kansas will be #1 in the MidWest or West, so they’re out of the running. That likely leaves the West Region’s #1 to either Xavier or UNC, depending on today’s ACC Championship game. There’s arguments for both, but if UNC beats Virginia they would likely get the top seed after the Musketeers early exit.

If Xavier gets the #1 seed, then UNC would likely be the first #2 seed placed into the bracket. They can’t go to the South, their natural region, because Virginia is the #1 overall seed and also in the ACC. The next closest region would be the East, making them the #2 in Villanova’s region.

If UNC gets the #1 seed, Xavier is already not an option for Nova’s region and as the top #2 team couldn’t go with Virginia in the South, so they would land in the Mid-West. That would likely leave Duke as the next #2 seed to be placed in the bracket. Similar to the last scenario, they can’t go to the South Region because of Virginia, so they end up as the #2 seed in the East with Nova.

For those of you wondering if Cincinnati or Purdue would be possibilities, I just don’t see it happening. They’d both have to end up ahead of Duke on the seed line in order for one of them to land in the East. They’re both closer to Atlanta than Boston, so if only one of them finished ahead of Duke they’d be placed in the South Region and the Blue Devils would still end up with Villanova.

Villanova’s #3 Seed: Tennessee, Michigan, Michigan State

With either Duke or UNC likely landing in the East as the #2, that rules the ACC out of the remaining Top 4 Seeds. Based on current projections, the SEC and Big Ten should have a number of #3 Seeds, and they’re the most likely candidates to end up in the East.

Tennessee is still playing in the SEC Tournament, so it’s unclear where they’ll land at this point. The two Michigan schools are a complete toss up because they’re both almost equal distances between Omaha, Atlanta, and Boston. This is where the committee will likely do some shifting around to make their “true seed” math work out more evenly. If that’s the case, the East will probably get one of the lower #3 seeds, but who knows if that’s a good thing. At this point, it’s all about matchups.

Villanova’s #4 Seed: West Virginia, Auburn, Texas Tech, Kentucky

Because I don’t feel like building out a complete working bracket model, let’s assume for now that the #3 seed is from the Big Ten. That makes it almost a lock that the #4 seed would be either from the SEC or Big 12. At this point I doubt you’d see teams like Arizona or Gonzaga get shipped out East. They don’t have enough conference opponents ahead of them to force them that far from their natural region, and the committee really does try to keep teams close to home, even if it means dropping a seed line.

The likely candidates here are all headed in different directions. West Virginia and Kentucky are still playing in their respective tournaments, so they could move around the seed lines still. Auburn and Texas Tech both suffered tough losses, and I personally wouldn’t mind getting either of them in the Sweet 16.

So there you have it. A lot of this could change in the next 24 hours, but it’s a pretty safe bet that the Wildcats will be heading to Boston with their third #1 seed in four seasons.

The pessimists among you will read this article and know for certain that Nova will get paired with #2 Duke, #3 MSU, and #4 Kentucky because the selection committee is out to get them. I say bring it on. Villanova is starting to peak at the right time, and at their best there isn’t a team in the country that can match them.