The Arizona Wildcats could face a Pac-12 team as early as their second game of the NCAA tournament under new bracketing procedures announced Thursday.
Instead of shuffling teams' seed assignments to avoid rematches of regular-season games, the Division I men's basketball committee adopted looser guidelines that should result in teams more often receiving the seed the committee assigns them.
Previous procedures prohibited conference members from meeting before the Elite Eight, creating restrictions that the basketball committee sometimes accommodated by shifting a team's seed. The committee also used to try to avoid pitting teams who faced each other in nonconference play until later in the tournament.
In most cases, NCAA officials said, teams were shifted one "seed line" to avoid potential rematches - but both Marquette and BYU were dropped two seeds in recent tournaments in order to comply with the old rules.
"It was a real struggle because we feel the seed lines are really important to the competitiveness of the tournament," said Wake Forest AD Ron Wellman, chair of the basketball committee.
"There was a great deal of discomfort with what we were doing regarding seeding the last few years."
Wellman said the committee met with the National Association of Basketball Coaches earlier this summer and that the NABC said it was "extremely important" to keep the seeds in order as much as possible.
Here's a look at how it will be done:
How it was: Conference teams were prevented from meeting until the Elite Eight (unless nine or more teams from a conference received bids, which has happened only twice). How it is now: Potential conference matchups will be allowed starting in the third round (the second game for teams not in the "First Four"), depending on how many times they have already played. Those who played once can meet as early as the third round, those who played twice can meet in the Sweet 16, and those who played three times would not be allowed to play until the Elite Eight. Matchups in conference tournament games count toward these totals.
How it was: Although it was never a formal procedure, the committee tried to avoid having teams who met outside of conference play from facing each other until deep in the tournament. How it is now: Teams may face rematches in any round, though the committee will still try to avoid them in the early rounds.
How it was: The top three teams from a conference were assigned to different regions, regardless of their seeding. How it is now: Only conference teams receiving a 1-4 seed will be required to be placed in differing regions (unless there are more than four). Therefore, a third-place team receiving a No. 4 seed could theoretically be placed in the same region as a fourth-place team seeded No. 5. However, that scenario could happen only if the teams did not meet more than once during the season because 4-vs.-5 games within a region are in the third round.
How it was: Even with expanding conference sizes and the addition of a "First Four" featuring eight more NCAA tournament teams, old procedures were kept, necessitating more seed-line movements. How it is now: If a conference has two or more teams among the last four to be selected, and thus in the First Four, all principles involving them can be relaxed.
How it was: Teams would sometimes be moved a seed line for geographical reasons. How it is now: Teams will stick with their assigned seed and could be moved geographically. However, the "pod" system of first-weekend games, which allows for more geographic flexibility, makes it a "long shot" that teams would have to be moved off their seed lines, Wellman said.
Contact Bruce Pascoe at 573-4145 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brucepascoe