NCAA men's tournament will seed teams using 'S-curve' rather than geographic location

Cassandra Negley
·4 min read

For one year only the NCAA men’s tournament is rolling out the S-curve.

The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee announced Friday it will use a new bracketing method for the 2021 tournament that relies mostly on the overall seeding list. Typically a school’s proximity to a host site is considered for seeding, but since the entire tournament will be held in Indianapolis because of COVID-19 that became unnecessary.

“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,” Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, said in a statement. “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.”

How does the S-curve work in NCAA tournament?

The process will begin as it always does with the committee ranking the 68 teams. It will then place the top four teams on the seed list into four separate regions as per usual.

Here is where the bracket comes into play. Instead of putting the next four teams into a region based on their proximity to the location, the committee will go directly down the list.

The No. 5 seed will be placed in the same region as the No. 4 seed. The No. 6 seed will go with No. 3. The No. 7 will go with No. 2 and the No. 8 will go into the No. 1 region’s bracket so that the top team is facing the lowest-ranked competitor possible.

That process will continue with the next group of four by placing the No. 9 into the region with No. 1 and 8, and so on until all 68 teams are in a region.

It’s called an S-curve because it snakes through the seeding list.

NCAA keeps conference rematch guidelines in place

A basketball sits alone on the court.
The NCAA men's basketball committee will use the S-curve to seed teams in the tournament. (Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The NCAA said that certain principles will remain in place while using the S-curve.

The First Four matchup will remain the same with the No. 65 and No. 66 teams playing each other to get in and the No. 67 and No. 68 teams doing the same.

The following guidelines, most of which apply to conference rematches, will also stay in place:

  • Each of the top four teams in a conference will be put in different regions if they are all within the first top four seeding lines (Seeds 1-16)

  • Teams from the same conference who played each other three or more times in the regular season (including the conference tournament) will not be in a situation where they can meet before the regional final

  • Teams in the same conference who played each other twice (including the tournament) won’t meet before the regional semifinals.

  • Teams in a conference that played once during the regular season cannot play each other in the first round, but can meet in the second

  • Rematches of non-conference regular-season games should be avoided in the First Four and first round.

When is the NCAA tournament?

Selection Sunday is scheduled for March 14 and the men’s Final Four is scheduled for April 3 and 5.

The tournament will all take place in Indiana and will be hosted by Ball State, Butler, the Horizon League, Indiana, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Purdue.

The move was made to keep teams, personnel and staff safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The NCAA said teams will stay at a hotel that’s “within a controlled environment” and there will be “secure transportation” to and from the arenas.

The women’s NCAA tournament will also take place in one city. There are reports it will be in San Antonio, which was already planned to host the 2021 Final Four. The women’s tournament is divided into region, but the first two rounds are typically held at the home arenas of the top 16 teams.

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