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The NCAA Should Make Some Adjustments to Conference Tournaments: Fan’s Take
The 2012 NCAA Tournament will be finalized by the conclusion of this weekend. There are many questionable bubble teams who bracketologists have considered as locks for the tournament despite their horrendous conference records and finishes to the second half of the season.
One of the biggest questions in regards to the NCAA Tournament doesn't even revolve around the tournament itself. The conference tournaments are the equivalent to Monopoly's "Get out of jail free card." Any team can play their way into the NCAA Tournament with a few wins in late February or early March. This can also be the undoing of teams that won at least 25 regular-season games.
I believe the NCAA Tournament can be improved with a few adjustments in the conference tournaments. These suggestions would reduce the potential of a team making the tournament who had a sub-.500 team in the regular season. I feel like this would create a more-meaningful regular season without sacrificing the excitement of March Madness.
First Though, No NCAA Tournament Expansion
NCAA Tournament expansion is a hotly-debated topic. The tournament recently expanded from 65 teams to 68 teams in 2011. Former Tennessee Volunteers head coach Bruce Pearl is one of many supporters who believe that the tournament should be expanded to at least 96 teams.
I'm with those who think that such an expansion is amongst the worst things that could happen. Just look at the tournament that's evolving for 2012. Some bracketologists have figured that three Big East teams will qualify despite their .500-or-worse conference records and brief conference tournament appearances. These teams are the West Virginia Mountaineers, UConn Huskies and (this next one blows my mind) the Seton Hall Pirates.That doesn't include the Northwestern Wildcats, who finished the Big Ten with a 8-10 conference record (18-13 overall). They were considered as "In" before their loss to the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
I understand that the NCAA is trying to give everybody as much of a chance to increase their profitability with additional postseason games. However, at some point, the NCAA might as well add every eligible university into this tournament and seed them accordingly. The regular season becomes less meaningful with every team that's added.
Conference Records: Greater Than .500 Requirement
I recall how some sports enthusiasts were against the idea of the Alabama Crimson Tide participating in the BCS National Championship Game because they never won their conference. Personally, I think it's more foolish when teams like UConn and Seton Hall are rewarded with the opportunity to reach the Final Four despite their 8-10 conference records.
UConn is considered by most folks as a lock. Through March 8, Mike Huguenin of Yahoo! Sports has Seton Hall as a No. 12 seed despite being in the bottom half of the conference, finishing the season 5-10 in their last 15 games, and suffering losses to Rutgers (77-72) and DePaul (86-58) in the final two weeks. DePaul finished with a 3-15 conference record. 28-point loss…
Teams who showcase a conference record of .500-or-worse should be disqualified from consideration of an at-large bid. The only chance they should have is if they win their conference tournament. Why would a team who can't even win half their conference games (or reach the semifinals of their conference tournament) be rewarded with a postseason invitation to anything other than the NIT?
Conference Tournaments: Less Emphasis Needed?
Are conference tournaments necessary? I do think they add to the excitement of March. What I dislike about them is how everybody is involved. A team that entered the tournament with a sub-.500 record can leave as the tournament champion with a sub-.500 record.
The Sun Belt is the primary example of this. The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers entered the tournament at 11-18. They left as champions with a 15-18 record. Most bracketologists aren't even considering Middle Tennessee State University despite their 24 victories (Cumberland excluded). MTSU finished the season with devastating losses to Western Kentucky and Arkansas State.
Conference tournaments should be limited to no more than six teams at most. I'd consider six teams only because it'd give the top-two seeds (or the two subdivision champions) a bye into the semifinals. Otherwise, four teams are fine. This punishes those teams who had less-than-impressive regular seasons and rewards those who were competitive.
Otherwise? I'd suggest that teams just schedule their entire out-of-conference schedule against top-ten opponents, forfeit all their conference games, then win four games in the tournament after finishing the regular season with a 1-29 record. That team will be more than battle-tested for their eventual showdown in the 16-vs.-1 game after winning their first-round play-in game.
(Please note that profitability has been excluded in this sarcastic suggestion).
Conference Tournament Hosts
Mid-major conference tournaments should be hosted by the regular-season champions. These tournaments are sometimes played in neutral sites that are more than 500 miles away from the champions' destinations. The regular-season champion should be positioned to receive the greatest amount of fan support for their team.
The regular season has regressed into having little-to-no meaning. What's fascinating is that this is for different reasons. Teams from power-6 conferences can qualify for the tournament despite a sub-.500 conference record or fewer than 20 regular-season victories. Mid-majors and lower classifications can reach the tournament with a four-game winning streak in March. They can lose every single game before that and it won't mean squat. The team with 27 victories who has a fluke loss in the conference tournament is rejected.
These simple suggestions would improve the NCAA tournament. Now if the NCAA ever expanded to 96 teams? At minimum, I hope that a stipulation is added that disqualifies any major conference team from entering the tournament with a sub.-500 conference record. Otherwise, a team with a 5-13 conference record (Pittsburgh Panthers) would qualify while Iona might get some consideration.
I'll pass. Add too many of these types of teams and I might pass on the regular season entirely, not to mention the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Or maybe I'll just skip it until the Sweet 16.
Joshua Huffman grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (1988-2001) and is currently a Middle Tennessee resident (1986-1988, 2001-present). He graduated from Middle Tennessee State University as a marketing major in 2009. The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders and Michigan Wolverines are his favorite teams. He also likes the Michigan State Spartans basketball program because of Tom Izzo, a Yooper. He can be found on Twitter HERE.
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