Pairwise Ranking the NCAA Tournament

Been a while without posting … lot of factors, one of them being examining how the NCAA seeded its men’s tournament in basketball.  Now, nothing needs to be said about the tournament’s quality.  Last Monday’s atrocity notwithstanding, the format is essentially bulletproof.  That said, the controversy comes from the selection and seeding of teams.  So instead, what I tried to do was to use College Hockey’s system to seed the teams.  Unlike the hocus pocus of the tournament committee, college hockey’s tournament committee seems to basically use an objective formula called the Pairwise Ranking Formula.  What this does is takes all of the teams under consideration (basically every team with an RPI rating over .500) and compare each team with each other team in the cohort on a number of measures:

  1. RPI ranking
  2. Record vs >.500 RPI teams (though there has to be at least 10 of these games)
  3. Record vs common opponents
  4. Head to head

The first three categories are worth 1 point each while the fourth category is worth as many wins as you can get – so there is an emphasis on head to head where applicable.  If we applied this to the NCAA tournament field, and compared all teams against each other (not using the smaller cohort described above … we tried this twice, and got similar results), a bracket of pairwise results looks like this (first region listed is the top overall seed, last region fourth overall seed etc – I made some procedural switches where sensible – avoiding


  • (1) Kansas vs (16) Arkansas-Little Rock or Texas Southern – Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • (8) UAB vs (9) Cleveland State – Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • (5) Louisville vs (12) Valparaiso – Denver, Colorado
  • (4) Arizona vs (13) Harvard or Clemson – Denver, Colorado
  • (6) West Virginia vs (11) Belmont – Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • (3) Texas vs (14) Long Beach State – Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • (7) Memphis vs (10) Tennessee – Chicago, Illinois
  • (2) Notre Dame vs (15) Akron – Chicago, Illinois


  • (1) Ohio State vs (16) Hampton or Texas-San Antonio – Cleveland, Ohio
  • (8) Vanderbilt vs (9) Kansas State – Cleveland, Ohio
  • (5) Old Dominion vs (12) Gonzaga – Chicago, Illinois
  • (4) Connecticut vs (13) Penn State or Florida State – Chicago, Illinois
  • (6) Wisconsin vs (11) Princeton – Washington, DC
  • (3) Syracuse vs (14) Indiana State – Washington, DC
  • (7) UNLV vs (10) Saint Mary’s – Charlotte, North Carolina
  • (2) North Carolina vs (15) Northern Colorado – Charlotte, North Carolina


  • (1) San Diego State vs (16) UNC-Asheville – Tucson, Arizona
  • (8) Richmond vs (9) Texas A&M – Tucson, Arizona
  • (5) Georgetown vs (12) VCU – Tucson, Arizona
  • (4) Utah State vs (13) Long Island – Tucson, Arizona
  • (6) George Mason vs (11) Illinois – Tampa, Florida
  • (3) Florida vs (14) Oakland – Tampa, Florida
  • (7) Cincinnati vs (10) Villanova – Washington, DC
  • (2) Pittsburgh vs (15) Saint Peter’s – Washington, DC


  • (1) Duke vs (16) Wofford – Charlotte, North Carolina
  • (8) Temple vs (9) Butler – Charlotte, North Carolina
  • (5) Xavier vs (12) Missouri – Tampa, Florida
  • (4) Kentucky vs (13) Morehead State – Tampa, Florida
  • (6) Washington vs (11) Missouri State – Cleveland, Ohio
  • (3) Purdue vs (14) Bucknell – Cleveland, Ohio
  • (7) Saint John’s vs (10) UCLA – Denver, Colorado
  • (2) Brigham Young vs (15) Boston University – Denver, Colorado

Some other notes about the pairwise comparison rankings:

  • If you thought the ACC was Duke, Carolina and crap – you were right.  Only Duke and Carolina were in the main field
  • The Big East is still treated well with 10 teams (no Marquette), but the smaller conferences did well.  Cleveland State and Saint Mary’s as well as Valpo were all rewarded with nice seasons.  The Big Ten only had 5 entries, and the Big 12 had just 5 either, pointing to a bit of a halo effect with regards to their perception nationally.
  • The committee did a good job – and the seeding could stand to be changed based on current form.  That said, I think the entire body of work (regardless of injury) should be noted when putting a team in the field.

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