March Madness: Let's Make It Better
It’s that time of the year again. The snow has melted here in Chicago and the NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments are set to begin, and selection Sunday is only a week away.
While I have begun to salivate over the anticipation of non-stop drama in the next few weeks, I always feel a little cheated over the quality of the teams in the tournament.
While it may be fun to see teams like Notre Dame, Georgetown, or Virginia Tech win their Conference Tournament and earn their rightful place in the Big Dance, I don’t think it should even be a factor in the decision.
Conference Tourneys are nothing more than a “money grab” for these divisions and should have no relevance whatsoever in NCAA Tournament qualification or seedings.
What was the point of the regular season? Do I really want to see Tulane sneak into the round robin because they had a good week?
Riddle me this. What possible motivation would Notre Dame, Georgetown, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, Providence, or Arizona have in scheduling anything other than “patsies” in their non-conference schedules next year?
Memphis and Oklahoma, possible No. 1 or No. 2 seeds, have only played three games this year versus the Top 25 and each only won one of them.
Memphis’s lone win against top competition was against Gonzaga, another questionable team that simply coasted through a weak conference. For the sake of contrast, Notre Dame and Georgetown played 11 games against the Top 25, Cincinnati played 10, and Virginia Tech played eight.
Now, these high numbers reflect membership in strong conferences, but why should they be penalized for “running a gauntlet?" Shouldn’t they be rewarded?
If that was the “carrot,” wouldn’t we have much better matchups in December and January as teams try to improve their Power Rankings?
Imagine if we re-structured the whole tournament and rewarded the teams that played the best competition. After all, Washington can’t run the table in an NCAA Football Conference Tournament and end up in the Rose Bowl.
Instead of having to endure a useless North Carolina vs. UT-Martin or Connecticut vs. Morgan State, we could have brackets with “wall to wall” competitive games.
Using the Power Rankings, RPI, or Sagarin Ratings (or a combo of all) would give us the true Top 64 teams to participate in March Madness.
Using the Power Rankings, teams like Washington State, Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, Providence, Florida, Georgetown, Arizona, Boston College, Maryland, Miami (FL), and Michigan would all be IN.
Fans would be treated to first round matchups of South Carolina vs. Connecticut, Washington State vs. North Carolina, San Diego State vs. Pittsburgh, and Tulsa vs. Duke.
Quite an improvement, yes? Even the No. 2 seeds would have a battle with Memphis playing Davidson, Michigan State trying to hold off a tough Siena team, Louisville trying to endure UAB, and Oklahoma testing itself against Virginia Tech.
This scenario could also reward teams that played tough schedules and had decent Power Rankings but ended up with losing records.
The NIT could host postseason berths for teams like Iowa, Virginia, Seton Hall, St. Johns, Oregon State, Georgia Tech, South Florida, and Iowa State.
While these types of teams weren’t on par with the top teams in their divisions, they certainly played a better quality of basketball than teams that ended up with better records in subpar conferences like New Mexico, Virginia Commonwealth, or George Mason.
The objective here is to put the best “product” on display. If you want to be crowned the top team in college basketball, then you should have to be paired against those that succeeded against the toughest competition.
Unfortunately, Conference Tournaments sometime reward teams that don’t have the “body of work” to warrant an NCAA bid. The true test of a team’s merit should come during the Big Dance, not before it.
These programs should be rewarded for how they performed over the entire year, not penalized for having a tough schedule in a competitive conference that plays elite basketball. Let’s see the “best of the best” out there and not have to smile politely at Cal State Northridge.
Dave Eisley can be heard on the “Cheap Seats Show”, Sundays from 11am-1pm at http://stations.beonair.com:81/icbsportschicago
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