March 16, 2011
I'll say two things right off the bat, and they are diametrically opposed to each other. First, I hate the "opening round games" of the NCAA Tournament. Second, I watched every single second of both of them on Tuesday...and will do the same on Wednesday.
I want the tournament at 64 teams. That's what it should be because, well, that's what I am used to. That's what it was when I was growing up. If they go to 96, it will make me mad and I will cry about the NCAA ruining a great event in the name of the almight dollar.
I mean, with 96 teams, not only are Colorado and VCU no-brainers, along with Colorado and Virginia Tech and Harvard, but you're still going to need 29 more teams. Just looking at standings, here would be my guess at this year's 29:
East Tennessee State
Drexel (welcome to your five bid Colonial Athletic Association)
Now, come on. Is there ONE team on that list you need to see in this tournament? Of course there isn't. North Texas was .500 in the SUN BELT. None of the major conference teams on that list except Alabama even won half their league games. But if you want 96 teams, you have to get them from somewhere.
Now, that said, I'm going to present the reasons tournament expansion might not be the worst thing in the world. And really, there's only one reason: It's happened before. From 1951-1974, the tournament accepted only 16 teams. For the next six, there were only 32 teams in the tourney. If you didn't win your conference, you probably weren't going. Then in 1980, the Dance expanded to 48 teams. In 1983 it went to 53 and in 1985 to 64.
1985 was the year of Villanova, an eight seed, beating Georgetown with what many called "The Perfect Game." If expansion doesn't happen, the Wildcats might not even be in the tournament.
Without expansion, we don't get Bryce Drew or George Mason or LSU as an 11 seed or a million other historic moments.
If they go to 96, we'll all bitch and moan for a while. It won't seem right. They're watering down our favorite event! And then some kid from Hofstra or Milwaukee or Colorado State will hit a 40-footer at the buzzer to knock out Kentucky or Carolina or Kansas. A 17 seed will make history and advance to the Elite Eight and maybe further. And in a few years, we'll all be talking about how the NCAA Tournament is the greatest spectacle in all of sports and someone will start talking about adding more teams and giving more kids a chance to be a part of it.
And that brings up my only necessity if they're going to expand...or even if they're going to stick with 68. If you're going to have these play-in games, then make the UAB's and the Clemson's and the USC's play them all. Don't force Arkansas Little Rock and UNC-Asheville to play in that game. Those kids DID what they were supposed to do to dance. They won their league tournaments. Technically, they'll get to say they played in the Big Dance. But do you think those kids from UALR who are flying home from Dayton on Wednesday morning, some 36 hours before a meaningful tournament game has been played, really feel like they were a part of the Madness? I don't. Those kids got robbed. You want play in games? Make them true play-in games. Put in the last eight at large teams who didn't do enough over the course of 33 games to prove that the truly, beyond question, belong in the tournament. Don't get me wrong. I watched UNCA and UALR. And it was actually a far better game than Clemson-UAB. It felt like a tournament game. But I feel bad for those kids from Little Rock. They ought to be playing Pitt or Duke under the lights on Thursday night. Make Richmond and Gonzaga and Missouri and Marquette play that extra game. I'm fine with it.
But whatever they do, by Thursday at 11 a.m., I'll be jacked. The Madness has begun. It is, and will remain, the best spectacle in all of sports.