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NCAA Tournament S-curve, explained: How March Madness selection committee will shape the 2021 bracket


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March Madness in 2021 could also be the most precisely bracketed match in latest reminiscence.

Maybe ever.

That’s as a result of geography, in 2021 a minimum of, will not be a figuring out consider how the selection committee locations groups in particular areas; since COVID-19 has compelled the whole NCAA Tournament to happen in Indiana, the committee will now rely totally on the S-curve to give you its 68-team bracket.

The NCAA defined its determination to make use of the methodology in a Jan. 15 news release.

“As the committee discussed this topic, it became clear that the S-curve bracketing option makes the most sense, given the unique circumstances with which this tournament will be played,” mentioned Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vp of basketball. “In a normal year, bracketing is done with consideration given to keeping as many teams as close to their campus as possible, reducing team travel and providing as many fans as possible an opportunity to watch their favorite teams participate in The Big Dance. But this year only, with the entire tournament being played in Indiana, the committee believes this different approach is optimal.”

But what precisely is the S-curve? Sporting News has you coated on the way it works and why it hasn’t been the main instrument for the selection committee in recent times:

MORE: NCAA selection committee has no excuse to botch 2021 bracket over geography

What is the S-curve in the NCAA Tournament?

The S-curve is a bracketing methodology that ranks each NCAA Tournament staff, numbered one by means of 68, and orders them in a method that rewards the finest groups alongside a specific seed line.

The 4 1-seeds are ranked first, second, third and fourth; the 4 2-seeds are ranked fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth and so forth by means of the 16-seeds. The groups are then ordered and positioned of their particular area utilizing a snaking sample — consider a snake draft in fantasy soccer — making certain the high staff in a specific seed line performs the lowest-ranked staff from one other seed line.

For instance, the high 1-seed (No. 1 total) would play the worst-ranked 16-seed (No. 64) in the opening spherical, whereas the lowest-ranked 1-seed (No. 4 total) would face the strongest 16-seed (No. 61). That methodology won’t matter in the earlier rounds when there is a extra pronounced disparity in expertise, nevertheless it turns into extra prevalent as the match progresses and that divide narrows.


Here’s how it might search for a whole match, not accounting for First Four video games. (For the functions of this text, areas will be lettered A, B, C and D; the official area names have but to be launched).

  Region A Region B Region C Region D
1-seeds 1 2 3 4
2-seeds 8 7 6 5
3-seeds 9 10 11 12
4-seeds 16 15 14 13
5-seeds 17 18 19 20
6-seeds 24 23 22 21
7-seeds 25 26 27 28
8-seeds 32 31 30 29
9-seeds 33 34 35 36
10-seeds 40 39 38 37
11-seeds 41 42 43 44
12-seeds 48 47 46 45
13-seeds 49 50 51 52
14-seeds 56 55 54 53
15-seeds 57 58 59 60
16-seeds 64 63 62 61

This methodology is not only for the 1-seeds, both. It ensures each staff with a shot at profitable the nationwide championship has an appropriately tough path to the last, primarily based on its rating. In the Elite Eight, for instance, it is the distinction in a 2-seed having to face the high total seed vs. the fourth-best staff.

Assuming chalk gained out by means of the first two rounds of the match, here is what every area would appear like heading into the Sweet 16:

Region A

  • No. 1 total seed (1-seed line)
  • No. 8 total seed (2-seed line)
  • No. 9 total seed (3-seed line)
  • No. 16 total seed (4-seed line)

Region B

  • No. 2 total seed (1-seed line)
  • No. 7 total seed (2-seed line)
  • No. 10 total seed (3-seed line)
  • No. 15 total seed (4-seed line)

Region C

  • No. 3 total seed (1-seed line)
  • No. 6 total seed (2-seed line)
  • No. 11 total seed (3-seed line)
  • No. 14 total seed (4-seed line)

Region D

  • No. 4 total seed (1-seed line)
  • No. 5 total seed (2-seed line)
  • No. 12 total seed (3-seed line)
  • No. 13 total seed (4-seed line)

Why would not the selection committee all the time use the S-curve?

The selection committee does use the S-curve yearly. But, as Gavitt famous in the NCAA’s Jan. 15 information launch, it is not the final consider how groups are bracketed; that distinction falls to geography. If the selection committee feels a staff would journey an unfair distance to play in a sure regional host metropolis — as is the case in most years — it will transfer mentioned staff alongside the seed line to verify it has a extra acceptable distance to journey.

A very egregious instance of this occurred in 2019, when Michigan State — the second-strongest 2-seed, ranked sixth total — was moved from the Midwest Region to the East Region. The motive? The Spartans would have needed to journey 711 miles from East Lansing, Mich., to Kansas City, Mo., had it stayed in the Midwest; by shifting to the East Region, the staff had solely to journey 591 miles to Washington, D.C.


The committee saved Michigan State from flying an extra 120 miles. It additionally compelled the Spartans to face high total seed Duke in the Elite Eight.

The transfer gave each groups a tougher matchup earlier in the match, when their match rankings ought to have resulted in an “easier” regional last. It value followers the likelihood to see each groups face off in the Final Four and, since Michigan State gained, eliminated Duke freshman Zion Williamson — by far the match’s largest attraction — from the discipline.

That won’t be an issue in 2021. The whole match will happen in Indiana, with the majority of video games unfolding in Indianapolis.

Exceptions to the S-curve

The S-curve will be the main bracketing methodology for the 2021 NCAA Tournament, however the selection committee will take a number of elements under consideration to scale back the variety of regular-season rematches.

From the NCAA:

  • Each of the high 4 groups chosen from a convention shall be positioned in several areas if they’re seeded on the first 4 traces.
  • Teams from the identical convention shall not meet earlier than the regional last in the event that they performed one another three or extra instances throughout the common season, to incorporate the convention match.
  • Teams from the identical convention shall not meet earlier than the regional semifinals in the event that they performed one another twice throughout the common season, to incorporate the convention match.
  • Teams from the identical convention could play one another as early as the second spherical in the event that they performed not more than as soon as throughout the common season, to incorporate the convention match.
  • If doable, rematches of nonconference regular-season video games must be prevented in the First Four and first spherical.



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