Taking too long? Close loading screen.
Connect with us


Bracketologists speak — What NCAA tournament forecasters expect from odd 2020-21 season



The NCAA Division I Council ruled on Wednesday that the 2020-21 college basketball season can begin Nov. 25, but many other details about how the campaign will play out remain up in the air. Primary among those is the nature of the 2021 NCAA tournament, with both the 68-team men’s event and 64-team women’s event subject to alterations in number of teams, sites, selection process and myriad other factors.

From our vantage point in mid-September, we asked ESPN men’s tournament bracketologist Joe Lunardi and his women’s tourney counterpart, Charlie Creme, to weigh in on the biggest issues surrounding the tournament.

The NCAA Division I council voted Wednesday that the men’s and women’s college basketball seasons could start Nov. 25. With nonconference games now a possibility, do you think the men’s and women’s selection committee’s jobs just got easier or harder?

Joe Lunardi: In general terms, more data points are better than fewer. In college basketball, team evaluations will be considerably better if nonconference games are part of the mix. The committee is already making a host of comparisons that are not apples-to-apples. A disparity in the number of nonleague games played per team adds a wrinkle, but it’s far better than having no nonleague games at all. Put me in the camp that the committees will handle these complications appropriately. If not, Charlie and I are just a phone call away!

Charlie Creme: The more games, the easier the evaluation process. An already thankless job would be excruciating if committee members had only conference games to evaluate. The debates already rage about the merits of a 13-3 record in the SEC vs. a 14-4 record in the ACC. Imagine if that’s all there is to scrutinize.

My biggest concern in the past couple of months has been the plight of the mid-major if there are no nonleague games. The Gonzaga women, for example, would be a preseason Top 25 team, but how would the selection committee evaluate the Zags if they had only games against other teams in the WCC? That conference, for the most part, has struggled to keep up with Gonzaga over the past few seasons. Teams from the non-Power 5 leagues would end the regular season with no games against NCAA tournament-caliber competition, thus their seed or even inclusion in the field might be compromised. At least four to six weeks of nonconference games would give them a chance.

The notion of reduced NCAA tournament fields figures to be on the table for months to come, depending on the nation’s handle on the spread of coronavirus and the sport’s ability to adhere to testing and travel protocols. What would the implications be if the tournaments were reduced to, say, 32 teams each?

Lunardi: It seems to me that a 32-team field would be an all-or-nothing proposition. As in, only the current 32 automatic qualifiers make it, or there are no automatic qualifiers and the committee selects what it thinks are the best 32 teams regardless of conference affiliation. The former would completely change the nature of the tournament in the short term, and the latter would accelerate the long-term fear of a Division I divorce in which the power conferences move out.

Creme: I applaud the NCAA for publicly saying and (at least for now) planning on having full 68- and 64-team fields. Any hybrid of the two scenarios Joe laid out above would create a chaotic, confusing mess of a process, leaving those two as the only realistic conclusions to a 32-team-field decision. Neither is good.

Imagine this situation for the women: Each league gets only one representative to the NCAA tournament, and UConn and DePaul tie for the Big East regular-season title, each beating the other for their only losses. A tiebreaker is needed, and way down the list of the Big East’s predetermined tiebreaker guidelines, the Blue Demons earn the title and the conference’s only spot in the NCAA tournament. In other words, the Huskies, who might have dominated every other team they played, don’t make the field.

There figures to be a lot of forthcoming debate about conference tournaments, the need for them and the safety of them. What would the implications be for the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments if there were no conference tourneys?

Lunardi: There used to be a really wild thing in college basketball. Conference champions were determined by the teams that won the most games in the regular season. It was more important to be good for three months than three days. As a bracketologist, I think it wouldn’t be the end of the world if conference tournaments took a year off. Use the extra week or two to bring each conference closer to a true round-robin. But as a fan, I would really miss them!

Creme: Loving college basketball means loving lots and lots of games. The two weeks in which the men’s and women’s conference tournaments are played are a feast of hoops that is the dream of the die-hard. So yes, I would miss them from that standpoint, but for this one unique year, I would be OK with — and even suggest — going without them.

If the country is still dealing with virus-spreading concerns, why add more travel and another layer of stringent testing needs to these already taxed programs? Regular-season championships are really a more legitimate representation of a team’s worthiness, anyway (which takes on even more significance if the tournament fields shrink). Take this opportunity to reward what is earned over the course of the season.

In a year that seems certain to include fewer data points for the committee to rely upon in making selections, would you devise any new guidelines for the committee? Do you think we need “basketball people” on the committees, in addition to the administrators who usually select the field?

Lunardi: There will be more than enough data points in the cases that matter most. For better or worse, schools with resources for testing and private travel are going to play the full allotment of games (or very close to it). Teams in smaller conferences may play fewer games — maybe even far fewer — but those are one-bid leagues to begin with, so building a potential at-large résumé is moot. If the committee can’t make do with a 27-game sample (plus conference tourney) instead of 31-plus, it’s in the wrong business. All it takes are 10 people with common sense.

Creme: Some years I feel as though 10 people in that selection room is already too many. Adding more voices will only muddy the waters. We need clarity, not more scattered opinion. Joe has advocated for years that teams should have to finish above .500 in their conferences to be eligible for at-large selection. This is the year to make that a rule, even if it is just temporary. If just a few or no nonconference games are played, then perhaps this becomes a de facto rule anyway. A team that doesn’t finish above .500 in its league is going to have a tougher time being over .500 overall. So let’s take away any remaining ambiguity and make .500 a requirement.


Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


Continue Reading


Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


Continue Reading


The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast


Continue Reading