Projected men's bracket

In our projection, Brandeis has new life. And a long road trip, but they're accustomed to that.
Brandeis athletics photo 

This is not the year to get a first-round bye in the men's NCAA Tournament, but two teams will and will end up going nearly two weeks between games.

And this year's tournament has a decidedly different look because there are no neutral site games in the first three rounds (NCAA sanctions against New Jersey aside). So this year's bracket projection has some different features, and we hope the NCAA's bracket itself will too.

We began by selecting the lone Pool B team, Centre, and then the process of selecting 19 Pool C teams, the true at-large entrants. Those are, in order:

UW-Stevens Point; Williams; Rochester; Middlebury; Wooster; Virginia Wesleyan; Mary Hardin-Baylor; Illinois Wesleyan; MIT; Wheaton (Ill.); Springfield; Emory; Hampden-Sydney; Wesley; Transylvania; Brandeis; Stevens; Plattsburgh State; Albright.

When we got to the end, UW-Platteville, Tufts, Augustana, NYU, Texas-Dallas, Thomas More and SUNY-Old Westbury were left on the table. We felt Old Westbury, Thomas More and UT-Dallas didn't have a high enough strength of schedule, Tufts hadn't beaten a regionally ranked team, Platteville's and NYU's winning percentage were too low. When down to Albright and Augustana, Albright had a two-and-a-half-game better record and had more wins against regionally ranked teams. Plus, Albright had beaten the No. 1 team in its region, while Augustana had had three shots at the top team in its region (North Central, in our projections) and had lost them all.

That was actually the easy part. The hard part was wedging these teams into a bracket. With a distinct lack of West Region at-large teams, it became increasingly difficult to find opponents for those teams that did qualify.

Download the bracket projection

And here's a little bit about the process. Remember, there are no neutral site games, so we can't pick some middle point for four distant teams to meet. Every game must feature teams within 500 miles of each other or it requires a flight, and the NCAA is loathe to pay for those unless it has to.

Sometimes it does, though. We saved a flight by giving Mary Hardin-Baylor a first-round bye. A Division I fan would look at a team that is probably a No. 4 seed and sneer, but this is what we have to do. On the west coast, Redlands plays at Whitworth. Now, Whitworth would have to fly anywhere it goes, or someone would have to fly to Whitworth. What we did was eliminate some of the east coast logjam by flying it out to Whitworth in the second round. Ithaca can't host any playoff games because of its gym being under renovation and MIT is one of three NEWMAC teams we project to be in the field. What better way to avoid conference rematches by sending the last of the three teams in all the way across the country?

We end up with some not-ideal third-round and sometimes second-round matchups in the Midwest because of the lack of opponents. We wouldn't prefer to have Wash U potentially play UW-Stevens Point in the second round, but we didn't have great alternatives that didn't involve more flights. 

Another source of trickiness: Christopher Newport and Wesley played a lot of regionally ranked teams and therefore, a lot of NCAA Tournament teams. Wesley couldn't be rematched with St. Mary's, Delaware Valley, Christopher Newport, Hampden-Sydney, Virginia Wesleyan or Cabrini. That's why they're playing a team from Boston. Also, since CNU and Virginia Wesleyan couldn't play each other early in the bracket, they end up in a grouping with Cortland State.

All of this leads us to Salem, where, if the "higher seeds" win, we could have an Elite Eight of Cortland or Virginia Wesleyan vs. Wash U/Stevens Point/Whitewater; Williams/Rhode Island College vs. St. Thomas/Wheaton/UMHB; Amherst/Rochester vs. Whitworth/Calvin/North Central; and Ohio Wesleyan/Illinois Wesleyan vs. Middlebury/WPI. 

Not bad if it turns out that way.