NCAA Bracketology Explained

In the US, college basketball, otherwise called the NCAA, is one of the most exciting sporting events in the calendar year. In March and April, the NCAA gets even more thrilling in what is known as March Madness! The competitive tournament that starts with 68 teams keeps you on the edge of your seat as every team scrambles for the precious national championship trophy.  

The fun doesn’t kick off from the first whistle but rather during the selection and pooling process. The teams, fans, and stakeholders burn with excitement and anxiety as they await their fate. This is where the whole idea of bracketology comes into the mix. If bracketology is new to you then you are in the right place. We will tell you everything you need to know about bracketology and the terms that go in tandem.


As mentioned above, there are only 68 teams that participate in the NCAA tournament. These teams are drawn from the 32 Division I basketball conferences. Normally, 32 teams get an automatic qualification while the remaining 36 slots will be decided in the ten-member selection committee. When the 68 teams are finally chosen, they are pooled into four regions namely the west, east, south, and midwest. This process of predicting the selection, fielding, and seeding the 68 teams to participate in the NCAA tournament is regarded as bracketology. The full bracket is released to the public on Selection Sunday. Before then, bracketologists will try to simulate and predict how the bracket will appear on Selection Sunday.  In the 2021 bracketology, there was a slight change as only 31 teams got the automatic qualifications while 37 slots were left in the hands of the selection committee. 


As the name suggests, a resume in bracketology refers to a snapshot of what the team in question has done to either deserve or not deserve a spot in the NCAA tournament. This one-page document is split into four major quadrants to help the selection panel seamlessly pinpoint good wins and bad losses. It has been used for several years and will be used in Bracketology 2022. Since this document is a short summary, you would expect to find parameters like NET ranking, location records, and strength of schedule. Many would expect the conference record to be included in the list but it is not featured in a team’s resume. In 2017-2018 for example, USC had a 12-6 record while Arizona State with 8-10. USC didn’t make it into the tournament whereas Arizona State was seeded No. 9. 

Strength of Schedules

Teams enjoy success or find it difficult to navigate to the top depending on the strength of their opponents. For example, if a team plays 14 games against Quadrant 1 and another one plays 10 against Quadrants 3 and 4, you will see that the former has had a tougher schedule compared to the latter. Simply put, the Strength of Schedules is the way teams are ranked based on the difficulty of the path they have taken. SOS is included in the NET’s team value index and is not a standalone data point. 


NET, an acronym for NCAA Evaluation Tool, is the nerve of bracketology. In the past, the NCAA used the Rating Percentage Index (RPI) as the main metric for ranking teams. However, this metric is dead in the water and was replaced by NET.  While the acronym may look oversimplified, the crux of the matter is that this metric is a combination of several other crucial parameters. These parameters include the team value index, win percentage, net efficiency, and adjusted win percentage. Team value is all about the strength of the opponent, net efficiency which is a modified scoring margin per possession, winning percentage, and the adjusted percentage incorporates where the game was played. The actual insights of the formula are kept secret and cannot be released to the public. The consensus is that NET is superior to RPI on several grounds. 


This a relatively new term yet is important in the overall team ranking and seeding. This term was coined and implemented just before the 2017-2018 season. It replaced the four-bucket idea that flourished with the RPI metric. Each game is placed into one of the four possible quadrants namely quadrants 1, 2, 3, and 4. This classification is arrived at based on the NET ranking of the opponent as well as the location of the game. The good thing about this new system is that it gives better results in the categorization of quality wins and bad losses. 

Automatic and At-Large Bid

The 32 teams that won their respective conferences get an automatic qualification. This is what is referred to as an Automatic Bid. On the other hand, the remaining 36 slots are determined by the selection panel. The 36 teams that finally make it into the NCAA tournament get in via the At-Large Bid. The 2020-2021 season was slightly different. The effects of the coronavirus pandemic were real and even led to the cancellation of the 2020 March Madness.  In the 2021 bracketology, there were 37 at-large bids while 31 teams secured automatic qualifications. 

Wrapping up

NCAA bracketology remains a confusing term for many basketball fans, even the avid ones. We hope our article has expounded more on bracketology as well as other terms that might have been leaving you scratching your head!


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