Every March, tournament fever infects most of the nation. Either with hopes of a national championship, or hopes of winning bragging rights by taking down the office pool.
The NCAA is contemplating expanding the tournament by 31 teams. It would make the opening round on Tuesday a 16-game affair instead of the one game that is currently played. It has received a lot of criticism from many media outlets and NCAA basketball analysts.
Here are the top five reasons why it is good for the NCAA and basketball in general.
1. With so many conference tournaments at the end of the regular season resulting in automatic bids, rarely is the field full of the best 65 teams in the nation. Typically, the average "bubble team" from a major conference is at about 20 wins. If they are from a mid-major or lower, they likely need 25 or more with some quality victories and a strong RPI.
The new system would allow the tournament committee to fit the best 64 teams into the tournament every year. Many of those small-school automatic bids will now be playing in the opening-round on Tuesday, giving the bigger, more qualified schools a better chance of making it to the first round of the tournament.
2. The brackets will now be seeded No. 1 through No. 24. It will allow for even bigger Cinderella stories. The matchups in the opening round would look as follows:
No. 9 vs No. 24 (Winner plays No. 8)
No. 10 vs No. 23 (Winner plays No. 7)
No. 11 vs No. 22 (Winner plays No. 6)
No. 12 vs No. 21 (Winner plays No. 5)
No. 13 vs No. 20 (Winner plays No. 4)
No. 14 vs No. 19 (Winner plays No. 3)
No. 15 vs No. 18 (Winner plays No. 2)
No. 16 vs No. 17 (Winner plays No. 1)
This would be the case in every bracket. Tuesday would be operated similar to how the first-round games are run on Thursday and Friday. The NCAA also could opt to play both games on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Either way, you can see how bigger upsets could happen in the opening-round matchups, making it a possibility that a No. 22 seed could play a No. 6 seed. It makes the bracket challenges tougher, more fun, and a lot more exciting Cinderella stories across the country for mid-majors and smaller schools.
3. The money. Networks get at least one more day of prime coverage on a major network. If they split the opening round into two days, you can see why it makes so much sense for the NCAA. Plus, schools across the country will get more revenue for making the tournament. It could also help many coaches stay where they are longer, and it could generate more standout programs.
4. Major conferences no longer can have a grudge about the number of mid-majors that get in. Every year there is a "bubble team" from a mid-major that gets in over a power conference. With the lack of strength of schedule no longer being a factor, it will improve the quality of opponents in the first-round matchups.
The chances of a No. 16/No. 17 beating a No. 1 seed are a lot more likely in the new system because the team is not going to be the "little sisters of the poor". Those schools are going to be playing the average major conference seeds (7-10). It gives the Vermonts and North Texas's a chance to win an opening-round game plus a shot at winning in the first round.
5. Its' a win for win for everybody. There can't be a whole lot of moaning and groaning if you can't crack the top 96. It could create situations where 12 or 13 of the 16 Big East teams get into the tournament, but they will deservedly because they are probably among the top 64 in the country.
For those critics who think it will take away from the tournament, they are completely wrong. It might take away some of the huge underdog stories that have happened once in a blue moon, but there is a good chance that a small school will have a better opportunity to make a run at the Sweet 16.
One thing is for sure: Your brackets are likely to get busted a lot sooner than in the past. You think there are a lot of upsets now? Wait until some of those very good small-school programs get to beat up on the average power-conference school. It's going to be fun to watch.
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