Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cliche title of the week: "Say bye bye to the double bye"

Since the Big East expanded their conference tournament to 16 teams, one of the biggest points of contention has been with the format.

As most of you should know, the way the tournament is set up pits the teams seeded 9th-16th on the opening day. The winners face the 5th-8th seeds on the second day of the tournament. The top four teams all get double byes, as they are automatically slotted into the quarterfinals.

While this sounds like an ideal setup, five of the eight teams that have earned double byes the past two seasons have lost their opener. #2 Pitt and #3 UConn lost in 2009, while #1 Syracuse, #2 seed Pitt, and #4 seed Villanova all were bounced after one game this season. (To be fair, #1 seed Louisville won in 2009 and #3 West Virginia won this year.)

Well, you can say buh-bye to the double bye.

On Tuesday, Big East coaches unanimously voted to do away with it.

By getting automatically slotted into the quarters, the top four teams are at a disadvantage because their opponents have been able to get into a rhythm and have adjusted to playing at Madison Square Garden.

I'm not sure a totally believe that reasoning.

For starters, was there a problem when the league had a 12 team tournament? The current format is no different from the 12 team format for the top eight seeds. The top four still have to win three games, and the next four still need to win four straight. The only difference is for the teams in the bottom half of the conference, and even then the only teams where that difference is going to have a tangible effect are for potential bubble teams, usually teams in the 9-11 range.

Instead of having a first round game against a 6/7/8 seed -- in the Big East, that's a tournament team more often than not -- you have to play a game where a win doesn't really help your tournament chances before getting a shot at a quality win. If UConn, an 11 seed this year, had knocked off Louisville and West Virginia, getting to the semifinals of the Big East tournament, they likely would have been dancing. They never got that chance, as St. John's smoked them in the first round.

Beyond that, any change that keeps the tournament at 16 teams would put the top four teams at less of an advantage than they currently have. The only option is to set up the 16 team tournament as the standard 1-vs.-16, 2-vs.-15, etc., bracket. And if that is, in fact, the Big East tournament's bracket, than the only realistic option is to allow the 1-4 seeds to play their first game on the Tuesday and get Wednesday off. (Unless, of course, they decide to play eight games in one day. That would need two different locations, or a 7am start at the Garden. That ain't happenin'.)

In fact, the new format would be exactly the same as the 12 team format, with the only difference being that the 1-4 seeds would have to play an opening round game before getting a day off.

In this format, the 1-4 seeds have less of an advantage, but they still get one. Besides the obvious -- playing the worst teams -- they also get that Wednesday off, meaning they have to win four games in five days instead of four games in four days.

While that is a slight advantage, it doesn't match the advantage the top four teams had with a double bye. But the coaches didn't like it, instead complaining about how their team wasn't ready to play.

So the tournament format will be changed.

Until the coaches start complaining about it again.

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