NCAA Tournament Seeding: How do the Hoos get to Raleigh?

USA TODAY Sports

Apparently if you're not a beggar, you CAN be a chooser!

This is something new to UVA fans. In past years (is that plural even okay?), we are so thankful to hear our names called on Selection Sunday that the location of Virginia's NCAA Tournament games are all but an afterthought. But now, with the Hoos projected as a number 2 or 3 seed in most brackets, we could start looking for some preferential seeding treatment that could allow fans an easier trip to the team's NCAA games.

The round of 64 and round of 32 (which the NCAA insists on calling the "second" and "third" rounds, so I'll do that here) will take place at 8 different sites around the country. Each site is responsible for hosting two 4-team "pods." For example, the 1 vs. 16 game and 8 vs. 9 game in the same region are a pod. Same with the 2 vs. 15 and 7 vs. 10 games, etc. (Looking at a bracket should explain why).

This year, the second and third round hosts are (in order of proximity to Charlottesville): Raleigh, Buffalo, St. Louis, Orlando, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Spokane, and San Diego.

The take-away there is that we want the Hoos to play in Raleigh, a 3.5 hour drive away from Cville, rather than one of the other, more remote locations. It would allow a pretty good contingent of Wahoo fans to make the trip, and a little home-court advantage for the team.

How does UVA earn a spot in Raleigh? To answer this, we have to look at how the Committee places teams in the bracket. The full explanation could be found in the 2013-2014 Bracketing Principles and Procedures. Basically, the Selection Committee will first work to create a full 68-team seed list, ranking teams 1 through 68. Next, it places teams into bracket groups (i.e. 1 vs. 16 and 8 vs. 9), ensuring that there aren't rematches, that teams aren't from the same conference, and that there's no terrible inequality in competitiveness.

Finally, it assigns the 16 bracket groups to the 8 above locations; it doesn't matter which two groups are at each location. The committee will take the first #1 seed, say Arizona, and place them at the closest available spot, San Diego. Then, the next #1 seed, Florida, will go the closest available spot (Orlando). If the closest host location is full, the Committee will move to next next closest available location.

Note that, while these have been short of hard-and-fast rules in the past, the NCAA emphasized last season that they no longer used an exact "S-curve," where the top #1 seed would play the weakest #2 seed, etc. Instead, they'll emphasize limiting travel for top seeds, as seen in this excerpt from the NCAA's Bracketing Principles:

"Teams will remain in or as close to their areas of natural interest as possible. A team moved out of its natural area will be placed in the next closest region to the extent possible. If two teams from the same natural region are in contention for the same bracket position, the team ranked higher in the seed list shall remain in its natural region."

So, while the NCAA has deviated a bit from this emphasis on geography in the past, it's the general policy that the Committee will use. Here's how the process would go, based on the Bracket Matrix's current seed list (yes, Syracuse and Duke lost and will likely bump down; it was updated last on Tuesday evening):

Team Location Notes
1- Arizona San Diego Closest location
1- Florida Orlando Closest location
1- Wichita State St. Louis Closest location
1- Kansas St. Louis Closest location
2 - Syracuse Buffalo Closest location
2 - Villanova Buffalo Closest location
2 - Wisconsin Milwaukee Closest location
2 - Duke Raleigh Closest location
3 - Virginia Raleigh Closest location
3- Michigan Milwaukee Closest location
3 - Creighton San Antonio Because St. Louis & Milwaukee are full. (SA is closer than Raleigh and Spokane)
3 - Iowa State San Antonio Because St. Louis & Milwaukee are full. (SA is 9 miles closer than Raleigh)
4 - San Diego St. Spokane Not allowed to play on home court in San Diego
4 - Cincinnati Orlando (Only Orando/Spokane/San Diego remain)
4 - Michigan State Spokane (Only Spokane/San Diego remain)
4 - North Carolina San Diego (Last remaining)

(#5 teams are St. Louis, Louisville, Oklahoma, and UCLA).

That all works out pretty nicely. Teams go to their closest location, until we get to Creighton. Milwaukee and St. Louis are both full, so they get sent down to San Antonio. A similar process happens with Iowa State. San Diego State University is hosting a pod, and by NCAA rules the team can't be on their home floor, so they go to Spokane. Cincinnati, MSU, and UNC get whatever's left.

Overall, things are obviously quite fluid, but Virginia is in good shape to play in the Raleigh pod. Here are a couple easy-to-imagine scenarios where we would get bumped away from it:

1) Duke and UNC both finish ahead of UVA on the NCAA's seed list- they'd both be the top-dogs in Raleigh, and UVA could get sent somewhere like Orlando, Spokane, or San Diego.

2) Enough midwestern teams pass UVA on the seed list that Raleigh becomes the closest remaining site for those guys. For example, if UVA fell behind Creighton, Iowa State, and Cincinnati, then 2 of those teams would take San Antonio, and the third would end up in Raleigh.

How does this affect who we root for? First of all, if UVA just wins games, it's all moot - Raleigh it is! In the unlikely event that the Hoos fall somewhere, to Maryland or in the ACC Tourney, there's some chance that other teams can take our spot. Again, the clearest way that could happen is if UNC beats Duke on Saturday, and then both make strong showings in the ACC Tournament, leaving them ahead of us on the NCAA seed list.

Looking a little further ahead....

This year's regional locations are (in order of proximity to Charlottesville): New York City, Indianapolis, Memphis, and Anaheim.

The #1 seeds are the only group with leeway over Sweet 16 / Elite 8 geography. Beyond that, it gets pretty unpredictable.

It's almost assured that Arizona will end up playing in the Anaheim regional, and that Florida will be in the Memphis regional. Kansas and Wichita State are the other two projected #1 seeds; both would have priority at Indianapolis (if both KU and WSU finished as #1s, the higher #1 seed would get to play in Indy). Thus, if UVA did manage to win out and nab a #1 seed, the most likely regional location would be Madison Square Garden. I'll take it!

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