Thursday, March 13, 2008

"Yes" and "No" to NCAA Tournament Expansion


I’m torn about the idea of expanding the NCAA Tournament. On one hand, adding a few play-in games—or even a half-round—might bring more excitement to March Madness. On the other hand, it’s difficult to find 34 at-large teams that even have a chance of winning a 64-team tournament as it is. Many coaches support expansion but don’t be fooled by their reasoning. Coaches know that job security is tied to “tournament appearances.” So, it would seem that more teams in the tournament would equate to better job security. I don’t necessarily think adding teams to the current 64-team field would take away anything. I just don’t think it adds a whole lot either. Take this year’s “bubble” for example. By most accounts, the following teams are probably not going to make the tournament: Syracuse, Florida, Oregon, Mississippi, Arizona St., VCU, UAB, St. Joe’s, Villanova, Maryland, and Va. Tech. These are the teams that an expansion would be designed to help. But, do we really need a tournament diluted with these sorts of teams? With Syracuse’s loss on Wednesday, there probably won’t be a team in this group with an RPI better than 50. These eleven teams have a combined 26 victories in the RPI 50 and 31 losses outside of the RPI 100. That’s terrible. The NCAA Tournament is fine the way it is. Plus, people already complain that the college basketball regular season doesn’t mean anything which is a notion that I think is bunk. Adding weak teams might actually make that true.


While I don’t have a problem keeping a majority of the bubble teams out of the tournament, there is one thing I’ve always had a problem with. I don’t like the way mid-majors “crash the party” in a bad way seemingly every year. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as it is to keep pretending that the winner of the SWAC should play in the NCAA Tournament over, say, a Mississippi-team that is 5-4 versus the top 50. Granted, I kind of like the whole idea that “even the little guy gets a shot” in the tournament but the little guy never wins. George Mason reached the Final Four in 2006 but it had a pre-tournament RPI of 26 and would’ve received an at-large bid anyway. That’s hardly the definition of “a little guy.” Last year, Belmont, Eastern Kentucky, Weber St., Central Connecticut, Jackson St., and Florida A&M made the tournament with a combined record of 0-23 against the RPI 100. Those teams weren’t just going to miraculously win six consecutive games in a stacked tournament—or even one. Everyone knows that. However, it’s a tradition that I’m willing to live with it.

What I’m not willing to accept is what happened this year with the West Coast Conference. Gonzaga won the WCC regular season championship. St. Mary’s finished one game back and, by most accounts, is a near-lock for the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately for all of the bubble teams out there, San Diego—a team that was definitely not going to receive a bid—won the WCC Tournament. It’s very rare that a team from a major conference that wasn’t already going to receive an at-large bid wins the conference championship. That sort of thing happens quite often in the mid-majors. Last year, it happened in the WAC, A-10, and the Horizon League. Sure, it adds excitement. But, it also adds an element of unfairness. Since Nevada, Xavier, and Butler failed to win their conference tournaments against extremely weak competition, three “deserving” bubble teams were kept out of the tournament. Mid-majors—even the best—cannot be counted on to take advantage of their weak conferences come tournament time. We’ve already seen it happen this year as S. Alabama, Gonzaga and potentially VCU will get at-large bids after getting bounced from their tournaments. That number will likely rise over the next few days. One solution would be to give an exemption each time this happens. For instance, instead of saying, “tough luck” last season to Syracuse, Air Force, and Drexel, the Selection Committee would’ve added those teams to the tournament forming three additional play-in games. Their opponents in these play-in games could go one of two ways. One way to do it would be to pit the three added teams against the three teams who unexpectedly won their conference tournaments. The better way to do it would be to pit the three added teams against the three teams that failed to win their weak mid-major conference tournaments. Either way works better than allowing the mid-majors to squeeze out at-large spots.

Rams "playing possum"?

This wasn’t a good year for the Colorado St. basketball program and I’m not just talking about the men’s team. Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams went 0-16 in conference play. I can’t imagine this has ever happened before. It’s hard enough for one team to go winless in conference play. What do you suppose the odds were that either team would win a game in the Mountain West Conference Tournament? In 32 conference games, these two teams lost 32 times so I’m pretty sure the answer to that is pretty close to nil. What do you suppose the odds were that both teams would win a game in the MWC? Only Rudiger Gamm knows the real answer to that question but I’m pretty sure it was zero percent. Well, not only did both teams win in the MWC Tournament but, thus far, they are a combined 3-0 having beaten teams with a combined 25 conference wins. The CSU Women’s team even beat Utah which was 16-0 (!!!) in the MWC. I’m pretty sure a 0-16 team has never beaten a 16-0 team from the same conference. There are so many amazing aspects to this story that I can’t stop thinking about it. How do men’s and women’s teams from the same school both go 0-16 in conference play? How do both teams then win games in their conference tournament? How does a 0-16 team beat a 16-0 team? Maybe these guys (and girls) took “playing possum” to the ultimate level. Bret “The Hitman” Hart—and of course Gorilla Monsoon—would be proud.

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