With the expansion talk finally settling down (Dammit, Summit League, will you just make a decision on North Dakota already! You're killing me!), Tom Izzo firmly entrenched in East Lansing, and the NBA Draft over and done with, us college hoops writers essentially have one major storyline to follow that doesn't involve recruiting scandals.
The NCAA Tournament play-in games.
More specifically, who will be playing in these games?
According to an Andy Katz report today, the NCAA Tournament committee met today to discuss the format of the new 68 team tournament. And while no answer is expected until sometime in July, we did get a chance to see the three scenarios that are being tossed around.
(photo credit: CSMonitor)
The first is the obvious -- the 61st-68th teams, or the 16th and 17th seeds in each bracket, would play for the right to take on the No. 1 seeds. The second scenario involves two at-large teams playing for the 10th-13th seeds, respectively. The third scenario is a combination of both of those scenarios, and sounds much more complicated than anything that the NCAA would actually put into place. In all likelihood, those making the decisions will disregard the third scenario, just like I'm going to.
The arguments for, and against, each of these options are obvious and justified. Is it fair for low- and mid-major conference champions to be forced to participate in the "play-in" game simply because they come from a smaller league? Is it better to allow mediocre major conferences teams at the cut line of the at-large pool to avoid the play-in game? Does anyone care that the smaller conferences will get pigeon-holed into automatic play-in game bids?
Giving the smaller schools the chance to take down one of the big boys not only would be in the true spirit of the NCAA Tournament -- every David, in a single game, has a chance to pull off a miracle and beat the Giant (cliche alert!!!) -- but it would also provide a better viewing audience for the first round.
What would more people be inclined to watch: Winthrop vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, or Florida vs. Virginia Tech? Not only would the NCAA be appeasing the college basketball watching public by taking the side of the little guy, they would be doing it while maximizing the number of eyes on TV screens.
That said, the NCAA Tournament, while entertaining, is college basketball's national championship. The best in the nation are supposed to be playing for a title, and the better teams are supposed to be getting better draws. It shouldn't matter what conference you play in or how big your school is or whether or not you won your conference tournament. You're out of your mind if you argue that either Winthrop or Arkansas-Pine Bluff is a better team than anyone near the cut-line in this year's field.
Not to sound like Jay Bilas, but shouldn't these teams be thankful they are getting a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament as it is? Like I said, this is a championship tournament, and as such, shouldn't it consist of the 64 or 65 or 68 best teams? Not the 40-45 best teams, and a bunch of teams that no one has seen or heard before.
And, for the record, if we are ever going to see a No. 1 seed lose their first game, it will be with this format. The 17 seeds will, in general, be the teams that are not all that good, struggled through a weak conference, and then got hot during their league tournament. The 16 seeds will tend to be the teams that won the regular season and tournament championships, but just won't have the non-conference schedule to allow them to be seeded higher.
Like I said, both sides have valid arguments. It will be interesting to see how the NCAA handles it. Will they give in to the pressure of the bigger schools and allow them to avoid the play-in games? Or will they do what the majority of the college basketball fans and writers will want, which also allows them to stack more money?
Personally, I'd be pleasantly surprised if the NCAA forced at-large teams to play in the play-in games, but I have no clue what will happen.
The only thing I know is that regardless of the decision that is made, someone is going to be unhappy about it.