March 15, 2011

Before the Madness Begins …

Filed under: General — Tom @ 3:08 pm

march_madness… It’s time to discuss what I believe would be the preferred four-step formula for the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Note that this is for the current format; I wrote up my suggestions for the 96-team format that is still “always on the list of topics” in “Merit-Based March Madness” last year.

In that year-ago column, I wrote that last year’s run to the finals by Butler “makes a powerful argument for keeping March Madness as it is.” It turns out that it’s not powerful enough. This year’s whining by a bunch of mediocre teams who should be ashamed that they’re complaining, while major conferences have been allowed way too many pathetic entries, calls for an immediate move to a more merit-based approach.

That four-step approach would work like this:

  1. By far the most important and ironclad step is that if you win your conference’s regular season, you’re in.
  2. If you win your major conference’s post-season tournament, you’re in. If you win your mid-major conference’s post-season tournament, you go into the at-large pool in Step 4.
  3. If the same team is the answer to Steps 1 and 2, the second-place regular-season team in any conference goes into the at-large pool in Step 4.
  4. The remaining slots available go to at-large teams chosen by a selection committee, with appropriate consideration given to teams in Step 2 and 3, including mid-majors. Generally, overall won-lost records should carry more weight than strength of schedule or other factors.

According to these criteria, the following 14 teams should be in, and aren’t in, the men’s tournament (overall record; conference record; conference achievement; all standings are here):

  1. Vermont (23-8; 13-3; America East regular season champ)
  2. Coastal Carolina (23-5; 16-2; Big South regular season champ)
  3. Long Beach State (22-11; 14-2; Big West regular season champ)
  4. Utah Valley (19-11; 11-1; Great West regular season champ)
  5. Cleveland State (26-8; 13-5; Horizon tri-champ; second team Butler is in; overall record is better than the third team)
  6. Fairfield (24-7; 15-3; MAAC regular season champ)
  7. Missouri State (25-8; 15-3; Missouri Valley regular season champ)
  8. Bethune Cookman (21-12; 13-3; MEAC regular season champ)
  9. Murray State (23-8; 14-4; Ohio Valley regular season champ)
  10. Charleston (24-10, 14-4; tied for best record in the Southern Conference)
  11. McNeese State (21-11, 11-5; best record in the Southland Conference)
  12. Texas Southern (19-12; 16-2; SWAC Conference champ)
  13. Florida Atlantic (21-10, 13-3; best record in the Sun Belt Conference)
  14. Saint Mary’s (25-8, 11-3; tied for best record in the West Coast Conference)

A number of post-season tournament winners in the conferences just noted would have gone into the at-large pool under Step 2 above. About half of them wouldn’t have, and shouldn’t have, made the cut.

I identified two mid-major second-place, non tournament-winning teams which should have been considered in the Step 4 at-large pool, and probably weren’t (I’m only including teams with fewer than 10 losses):

  • Harvard (23-6; 12-2; Second place in Ivy League regular season and conference tournament)
  • American University (22-9; 11-3; Second place in Patriot League regular season)

Harvard definitely should have received a bid.

Finally, some thoughts on other teams and conferences:

  • UAB (22-8; 12-5) is in, and should be. They won the Conference USA regular season. End of discussion.
  • Colorado (21-13; 8-8 in Big Twelve) is out, and should be. A breakeven conference record, and you’re whining?
  • Virginia Tech (21-11; 9-7 in the ACC) is out, and should be. You’ve got to do better than 9-7 in your conference to get any kind of sympathy around here. I don’t care if you are in the hallowed ACC.
  • The Big 10 does not deserve seven entries; that they got ‘em is an insult to the mid-major champs excluded. Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois, and Penn State should all be sitting at home, wondering why they couldn’t do better than 9-9 in their conference.
  • The Big East getting 11 teams in is a joke. Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette (10-8, 9-9, and 9-9 in conference) do not deserve their berths. UConn (also 9-9) deserves to be in the NCAA tournament, but only because it won the Big East tournament. Cincinnati and West Virginia (11-7 in conference) are also borderline calls. Given the large roster of conference champs excluded above, I probably would have nixed them both.

Let the games begin.

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