It is a question many college basketball fans across the nation likely ask when looking at each year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket.
How do some teams wind up with the seeds they’re given?
It clearly isn’t entirely based on records. Memphis finished with a mark of 30-4 this season and earned a No. 6 seed. That record was the second best in the tournament field.
Butler also landed a No. 6 seed with a final record of 25-8. So how did the Bulldogs grab the same number seed as a team with 30 victories?
A few major factors go into determining each team’s seed in the tournament, not to mention if a team makes the tournament at all.
The NCAA’s 10-person selection committee makes seeding decisions based on these factors. There is no set-in-stone way for a team to earn a specific seed, short of having consistent success throughout the season.
Since about half of any team’s season consists of in-conference contests, the selection committee looks closely at how strong each team’s conference is.
The Atlantic 10 Conference is the seventh strongest of the 33 Division I leagues in the nation.
This statistic is determined by compiling a conference’s overall record against different groups of opposing squads during the season.
Teams are placed in said groups based on their Rating Percentage Index—better known as RPI.
RPI is a measure of a team’s strength of schedule and how the team does against that schedule, according to Yahoo! Sports.
Butler has the nation’s 23rd-best RPI of more than 300 Division I teams. This boded very well for the Bulldogs during the selection committee’s deliberations, as only three teams with a top-50 RPI did not make the tournament this season.
Six of Butler’s eight losses came to squads with a top-50 RPI, and none came to teams with an RPI of worse than 100.
When most of a team’s losses are against strong competition, it boosts that team’s tournament resume and likely ensures a better seed.
Butler’s overall record versus its strength of schedule was another factor the selection committee had to take into consideration.
Butler had the 32nd-strongest schedule in the nation. This means the Bulldogs’ average victory was a lot more difficult to come by than that of a team with the 150th-strongest schedule in the nation.
The selection committee wants to make sure teams that were successful against primarily good opponents make the tournament versus teams that were successful against typically poor competition.
A team that does well despite a difficult schedule is also able to earn key victories that look good on its tournament resume.
For Butler, wins over two No. 1 tournament seeds—Indiana and Gonzaga—certainly helped drive the team up the seeding chart.
So while all of these factors combined didn’t guarantee that Butler would earn a No. 6 seed, it helps explain why they did.