March Madness: Ranking Each NCAA Tournament Region in 2021
The NCAA Tournament won't be quite the same as usual (but, hey, at least there is one this year!).
One substantial change made to the process is that the entirety of the tournament will take place in Indiana with most of the games taking place in Indianapolis. This is leading to a shift away from geographical-based rankings and more toward a straightforward ranking system for placing teams in each region.
That, in theory, should lead to more balanced regions than usual, but does it?
I wanted to find out where each region stacked up based on our nERD metric, which indicates expected point differential over an average opponent on a neutral floor.
The ultimate rankings are determined by a region's average nERD (with play-in teams receiving an average of their nERDs so as not to count an extra team for any region).
I'll also show some other rankings, such as the region's rank in average nERD when excluding the 1 seed or the lower seeds to see some more granular ranks to consider.
4. Midwest Region
Average nERD (Rank): 9.13 (4th)
1 Seed nERD (Rank): 18.40 (2nd)
Top 4 Seeds Average nERD (Rank): 14.36 (2nd)
Bottom 8 Seeds Average nERD (Rank): 5.27 (4th)
The Midwest doesn't rate best in any of the four categories and sits fourth in two of them. Illinois is our second-ranked team in the country overall, but the bottom of this region weighs it down pretty heavily. Removing each region's 1 seed, the gap widens, and this is pretty easily the worst region.
The Midwest is also the weakest group of 9 through 16 seeds in this year's tournament, though the top 4 seeds are respectable.
Therefore, Illinois has a good draw based on that information, and the chalk could roll in the Midwest.
3. East Region
Average nERD (Rank): 9.31 (3rd)
1 Seed nERD (Rank): 17.39 (3rd)
Top 4 Seeds Average nERD (Rank): 14.25 (4th)
Bottom 8 Seeds Average nERD (Rank): 5.50 (2nd)
The Michigan Wolverines headline the East region as the third-best team in our nERD rankings, but the rest of the region lags behind (which is good news for the Wolverines).
The top 4 seeds combine for the worst nERD among the four regions. In fact, among the 16 teams that comprise the 1 through 4 seeds in each region, the East has two bottom-four teams outright: the Texas Longhorns and Florida State Seminoles.
2. West Region
Average nERD (Rank): 9.54 (2nd)
1 Seed nERD (Rank): 20.79 (1st)
Top 4 Seeds Average nERD (Rank): 15.43 (1st)
Bottom 8 Seeds Average nERD (Rank): 5.30 (3rd)
The undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs give a big boost to the West region this year. They're (understandably) numberFire's best ranked team with a 20.79 nERD, and this region's top four overall -- Gonzaga, Iowa, Kansas, and Virginia -- make up the best top-four in this year's draw. That's despite the Cavaliers rating as the weakest team inside the top 16 seeds overall.
1. South Region
Average nERD (Rank): 9.67 (1st)
1 Seed nERD (Rank): 15.96 (4th)
Top 4 Seeds Average nERD (Rank): 14.35 (3rd)
Bottom 8 Seeds Average nERD (Rank): 6.75 (1st)
Despite having the weakest 1 seed in the tournament -- the Baylor Bears -- the South makes up the toughest region in the tournament (barely) with a strong bottom-half, including the best 9, 13, and 14 seeds in Wisconsin, North Texas, and Colgate, respectively.
Wisconsin comes in as numberFire's 11th ranked team overall but is just a 9 seed in the South. That really impacted the rankings here.
Further, Colgate went 14-1 on the season and is a dangerous team with a solid offense and a high tempo. Their weak schedule makes them hard to judge, but they could make some noise.