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2016 NCAA Tournament Bracket Analysis

There is a clear divide between the halves of the field.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 NCAA Tournament bracket is out! Here is a link to a printable one if you need one.

Before delving into individual regions and draws, here is a basic overview of the whole thing.

A Tale of Two Halves

The selection committee did not do a good job of balancing the regions this year if you go by the KenPom ratings (which I do). If these were balanced in the RPI, well, they're not if you look at a metric that is actually useful.

The South and Midwest regions are more difficult than the East and West regions. The average KenPom rating of the 1-seed through 14-seed teams in the South is 38.4, and it's a little higher than that in the Midwest at 37.0. In the East region it's only 40.2, while in the West it's even lower at 41.2.

Another way to look at it is the rank among the seeds. Take the 1-seeds, for instance. Kansas is No. 1 in the KenPom ratings, Virginia is No. 2, UNC is No. 4, and Oregon is No. 9. Kansas would be the best ranked (1), then Virginia (2), then North Carolina (3), and then Oregon (4).

The average rank among seed for the 1-seed through 14-seed in the South region is 2.2, meaning the average team there is the second best among teams with the same seed. The Midwest's average rank among seed is nearly the same at 2.3. In the East and West regions, the average rank among seed is 3.0 in each.

There is a definite divide between the South and Midwest versus the East and West. For what it's worth, the South champ and West champ will play in the Final Four, while the Midwest and East champs will go at it. At least they're not paired up as South-Midwest and East-West, since that would create a clear easier path and a harder path to the title game.

The Closest Games

The design of the tournament seeding is for some first round games to be closer than others. The committee actually got this part mostly right. Here are games where the difference in KenPom ranks between the teams is no greater than 15.

Matchup Region Difference
6 Seton Hall vs. 11 Gonzaga Midwest 2
8 Texas Tech vs. 9 Butler Midwest 2
11 Michigan vs. 11 Tulsa East 2
8 USC vs. 9 Providence East 3
6 Arizona vs. 11 Wichita State South 4
8 St. Joseph's vs. 9 Cincinnati West 6
6 Arizona vs. 11 Vanderbilt South 11
7 Dayton vs. 10 Syracuse Midwest 13
7 Wisconsin vs. 10 Pitt East 13
5 Baylor vs. 12 Yale West 14
11 Vanderbilt vs. 11 Wichita State South 15

Both First Four games between teams bearing the same seed show up here. Three of the 8/9 games do too, as do two each of the 7/10 matchups and 6/11 matchups. You'll see three 6/11 games in the table, but that's because I included both possible matchups for Arizona depending on whether Vanderbilt or Wichita State wins their First Four game.

The lopsided 8/9 game pits 9-seed No. 25 UConn against 8-seed No. 55 Colorado in the South. The unbalanced 7/10 games are 10-seed No. 35 VCU against 7-seed No. 60 Oregon State in the West and 7-seed No. 20 Iowa against 10-seed No. 86 Temple in the South.

The only 6/11 game that is really unbalanced is 6-seed No. 30 Texas taking on 11-seed No. 76 Northern Iowa in the West. The other is going to be in the East with 6-seed No. 39 Notre Dame facing either No. 56 Michigan or No. 58 Tulsa. The difference will either be 17 or 19, which just missed my arbitrary 15-spot cutoff.

The only real outlier on the table is 5-seed Baylor and 12-seed Yale in the West. That game was probably already going to be a fashionable 5/12 upset pick anyway because a lot of people don't think highly of Scott Drew as a coach, but it's easily the closest 5/12 matchup in team quality. The next closest one is the 37-spot difference between 5-seed No. 10 Purdue and 12-seed No. 47 UALR in the Midwest.

Unbalanced Seeding

Not all seed lines were created equal.

There is a bit of disparity among the 1-seeds, with Oregon's No. 9 rating in KenPom suggesting that the Ducks might have been more of a 3-seed in terms of quality. That's pretty small, though.

Setting aside the enormous gap between the best 16-seed, No. 174 Florida Gulf Coast, and the worst, No. 286 Holy Cross—because none of them are likely to beat a 1-seed—here are some large differences in team quality within individual seed lines.

  • 1-seed and 2-seed: There aren't any significant gaps from one team to the next. On the 1-seed line, the largest is a gap of five between No. 4 UNC and No. 9 Oregon. On the 2-seed line, it's a gap of eight between No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 15 Xavier. These are pretty minor. The overall spread on 1-seeds is eight spots; on 2-seeds, it's 12 spots (No. 3 Michigan State to Xavier).
  • 3-seed: Here is the first individual gap of more than ten, with twelve rank spots separating No. 17 Texas A&M and No. 29 Utah. The overall spread is 23 from No. 6 West Virginia down to Utah.
  • 4-seed: These are more bunched up than the 3-seeds. The biggest gap ten between No. 8 Kentucky and No. 18 Iowa State. The overall spread is just 14, from UK to No. 22 Duke.
  • 5-seed: These teams are even closer than the 4-seeds. The biggest gap is nine from No. 14 Indiana to No. 23 Maryland, and the spread is 14 from No. 10 Purdue to No. 24 Baylor.
  • 6-seed: The largest gap here is ten from No. 16 Arizona to No. 26 Seton Hall, but the spread ties the 3-seeds for largest yet at 23 from Arizona to No. 39 Notre Dame.
  • 7-seed: This is where it starts to really get out of whack. There is a gap of 22 from No. 32 Wisconsin to No. 54 Dayton, and the spread is 40 from No. 20 Iowa to No. 60 Oregon State.
  • 8-seed: The crazy reigns in here with the largest gap being just seven from No. 42 Texas Tech to No. 49 USC. The spread is just 18 from No. 37 St. Joseph's to No. 55 Colorado.
  • 9-seed: The largest gap is 11 from No. 31 Cincinnati to No. 46 Providence, and the spread is 21 from No. 25 UConn to No. 46 Providence. The 9-seeds actually have an average rank that is ten better than the 8-seeds (35.5 to 45.8), and the 9-seed has a better KenPom rating than the 8-seed in every matchup.
  • 10-seed: One of these teams is not like the others. VCU is 35th, Syracuse is 41st, and Pitt is 45th. Temple? It's 86th. That's a gap of 41 from the Panthers to Owls and a spread of 51 from the Rams to Owls.
  • 11-seed: Let's go bigger. The largest gap may only be 28 from No. 28 Gonzaga to No. 56 Michigan, but the spread is 64 from No. 12 Wichita State to No. 76 Northern Iowa.
  • 12-seed: This seed is split in half. Yale is 38th and UALR is 47th, but then there's a 33-spot gap to No. 80 South Dakota State. The spread is 69 from Yale to No. 107 Chattanooga.
  • 13-seed: Things calm down here a bit. No. 61 Hawaii is 13 spots better than No. 74 UNC-Wilmington and 30 spots ahead of Stony Brook.
  • 14-seed: This is the most unbalanced seed line. Stephen F. Austin is 33rd, but the next highest team is 72 spots down at No. 105 Fresno State. The spread is 96 from SFA to No. 131 Buffalo. That's even greater than the 94-spot spread between FGCU and Holy Cross on the 16 line.
  • 15-seed: This one is back to being reasonable. It's a 16-spot gap from No. 116 UNC-Asheville to No. 132 Weber State, and the spread is 37 from No. 95 Cal State Bakersfield to Weber State.