Last week’s bad news concerning the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament will be felt for some time to come.

While the NCAA canceled its remaining winter and spring championships with the threat of the COVID-19 virus (aka coronavirus), there will be no highly-anticipated tournament this year.

There will be no Cinderella teams playing above their seeds. There will be nobody cutting down nets at regional or national sites.

Instead, we’re left with a what-if scenario, one which should bring debate among basketball fans.

With the help of the Avalon Hill “March Madness” game, we’re going to attempt to provide some closure to the 2019-20 season.

This isn’t the first time the 1990 box game has been used to determine the winner here. Many years ago, we ran the tournament with the board and dice game.

While the game didn’t predict the correct winner, it did a credible job of making picks.

While there is an advanced game to play out every game (and formulas to rate teams to keep the game current), the basic game is being used for this project.

Scores might seem to be a little low, but that’s how the game works.

The plan is to run this project in four parts:

• Part 1 (this one) — Explaining the concept, selecting the teams, and the First Four;

• Part 2 — First two rounds;

• Part 3 — Sweet 16 and Elite Eight; and

• Part 4 — Final Four and championship.

Setting the Field

Fortunately, there was much already in place to set up this year’s tournament. Some conferences completed their postseason tournaments. Others had designated their automatic bid winner.

A total of 32 conferences have automatic bids for conference champions. That leaves 36 at-large bids. The at-large bids are granted through a number of factors with the NCAA Men’s Basketball NET Rankings being a main factor. The NET Rankings combine several factors to determine daily rankings.  

For the purposes of this simulation, the NET Rankings have been used as the sole factor in selecting at-large teams.

Selection Show

Gonzaga (31-2) was named the top overall seed. The West Coast Conference team was ranked first in the NET Rankings.

The other No. 1 seeds Kansas (27-3) of the Big 12, Dayton (29-2) of the Atlantic 10 and San Diego State (29-2) of the Mountain West.

The ACC had two of the No. 2 seeds with Duke and Louisville joining Baylor and Michigan State.

No. 3 seeds were Brigham Young University, Florida State, Creighton and Oregon.

Seeded fourth were Villanova, Arizona, Seton Hall and Oregon State. 

Fifth seeds were West Virginia, Maryland, Butler and Houston.

Seeded sixth were Kentucky, Texas Tech, Wisconsin and Michigan.

No. 7 seeds were Colorado, Marquette, Auburn and LSU.

The eighth seeds were Florida, Rutgers, St. Mary’s and Purdue.

Leading off the bottom half of the brackets were the ninth seeds, Stanford, Iowa, Penn State and East Tennessee State.

The 10th seeds were Providence, Richmond, Illinois and Utah State.

Seeded 11th were Wichita State, Minnesota, Cincinnati and Liberty. Minnesota was the lone team picked with a losing record (15-16).

Things get interesting with the 12 seeds. There are six teams with Arkansas, Virginia, USC, Oklahoma, Yale and Akron receiving those spots.

Arkansas, Virginia, USC and Oklahoma are involved with the First Four program as the four lowest at-large teams. The winners of the Arkansas-Oklahoma and Virginia-USC games receive a 12th seed.

Yale and Akron get automatic slots in the main bracket.

Automatic bid teams got the rest of the spots, starting with 13th seeds Stephen F. Austin, Vermont, North Texas and Belmont.

Seeded 14th were Bradley, New Mexico State, UC Irvine and Hofstra.

The 15th seeds were North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Little Rock and Winthrop.

There were six teams for the 16th seeds with the four lowest-ranked automatic bids facing off for two spots in the main field.

Northern Kentucky and Siena went into the regular field. They’ll be joined by the winners of the First Four game between Boston University-North Carolina Central and a contest between Prairie View A&M and Robert Morris.

First Four

The First Four started as just one play-in game, but has grown to four annually in Dayton, just prior to the start of the main tournament.

After the Mountain West Conference was formed after a split, another automatic bid was added for the tournament. Instead of cutting off an at-large bid, a play-in game for the 64th seed (16th in a bracket opposite the overall top seed) took place between the two lowest-ranked automatic bid teams.

That was the format through the 2010 season. After that, the current format was adopted.

To date, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is the only team to have advanced to the Final Four after winning a First Four game. VCU did that in 2011.

Playing for the right to be the 16th seed opposite of Gonzaga, Prairie View A&M of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) advanced with a 64-53 win over Robert Morris of the Northeast Conference.

Prairie View was ranked 201st in the NET Rankings while Robert Morris was 203rd.

In the other play-in game for a 16th seed, Boston University of the Patriot League defeated North Carolina Central of the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference, 64-58. Boston University moved to face Kansas in a first-round game.

The other two games were between the bottom four at-large teams for 12th seeds. There was one close game and one not-so-close game.

USC, 45th in the NET Rankings, eliminated Virginia (44th in the NET Rankings) in a first-round game, 61-49. USC moved into the bracket to face Houston in the first round.

In the other game, Oklahoma (46th in the NET Rankings) held on in the second half to edge neighbor Arkansas (43rd in NET Rankings), 54-52.

With the completion of those games, the full first round was set. Results from the first two rounds will be in next Wednesday’s Missourian.