Column: Why bracketology and early-season rankings are silly

A sample 2017 March Madness bracket . Our author believes that filling them out pre-March is really dumb. (Courtesy/NCAA)

Have you ever looked at a bracketology report halfway through the college basketball season and wondered what the heck it means come March? Or even a bracketology segment by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi in late February? No matter when you check out the latest tourney projections, they’re usually not right. That should tell you bracketology is perhaps one of the silliest concepts in sports.

The truth is, while bracketology might be a fun way for fans to keep up with teams on the bubble that can make a splash in the NCAA Tournament, it is really a silly concept that isn’t always very accurate. Nobody really knows what the NCAA Tournament selection committee is thinking until after the results come in on Selection Sunday. Even then, bracketologists continue to question the committee’s decision as if their predicted bracket was better.

Perhaps SMU men’s basketball coach Tim Jankovich put it best in the postgame press conference last Saturday.

“The worst thing that’s going on, in my opinion, in college basketball, from my standpoint, is all this bracketology every four and a half seconds,” Jankovich said. “You show who’s in and who’s out, and who’s almost in and who’s almost out and you know what that is? That’s a humongous lie. I mean we’re lying to kids. And they are kids. They’re human too. I pick up [the newspaper] and it says we’re in… we don’t need to worry ‘cause we’re in.”

And this idea of bracketology starts as early as nonconference play. To me, that’s just absolutely ridiculous. Call me old-fashioned, but all these early rankings are almost no indication of how well a team will play in March. All they might do is give false hope and perhaps some overconfidence.

For example, look at our very own UConn Huskies men’s basketball team. The Huskies were ranked as high as No. 18. This ranking, of course, was before all the injuries and before the nation found out that this season’s edition of UConn men’s basketball wasn’t very good. But, naturally we were in all the early bracket projections and rankings. All of it means nothing now, since the Huskies lost their first two games to mediocre teams. The only thing UConn can do to get in the NCAA tourney is play its way in by winning the American Athletic Conference tournament.

If UConn does surprise everyone by winning the conference tournament, like so many other teams can in the mid-major conferences, the entire landscape of the bracket will change. A quarter of the teams that get into the 68-team field could be different than what was predicted in some bracketology segment a week prior. For example, Lunardi has only correctly predicted the entire NCAA tourney field twice in 2008 and 2013, respectively. That is actually pretty impressive, but it is incredibly rare. More often than not, Lunardi and other bracketologists will make several incorrect picks ahead of Selection Sunday.

“You know when I wish the bracketology would take place? When the brackets come out, that’s what I wish. ‘Cause that’s when you’re in and that’s when you’re out, and all the rest of it is complete BS to me,” Jankovich said.

Speaking of Selection Sunday, that is the only day when brackets start to matter, just like Jankovich suggests. That is the case every year. Once each and every conference tournament has concluded and the selection committee has given schools their at-large bids – that is when the madness truly begins. Only then does bracketology matter. Otherwise it’s just silly.


Chris Hanna is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.hanna@uconn.edu. He tweets @realchrishanna.