Thursday, March 18, 2010

NCAA Thursday Afternoon: Wow

What an afternoon of games. Wow. And, for me, the big takeaway is how much this validates the idea of expanding the Tournament -- or at least mitigating the hysterics so opposed to it.

The reason this afternoon was so terrific had nothing to do with the so-called "quality" of the teams. It had to do with:

*A lower seed beating a higher seed.
*A "no-name" beating a "name."
*Buzzer-beating finishes.
*Your judgment jeopardized/validated.

That it was "Murray State" or "Robert Morris" or "Vanderbilt" or "Villanova" -- it doesn't matter. 99 percent of fans who engage during the NCAA Tournament -- hell, 99 percent of college hoops fans who claim to love the sport -- had never seen Murray or Bobby Mo play.

What matters is that a "15" was beating a "2." Or that a "14" beat a "3." Or that you'd never heard of Murray State but heard of Vanderbilt. Or that this team won on a dramatic last-second shot. Or that your personal picks were right/wrong/whatever.

Expanding the Tournament doesn't change any of that. In fact, it multiplies it: Instead of two days of jam-packed games, upsets, buzzer-beaters and bracket affirmation, you get four days.

Expanding the Tournament might be all about the money, but it doesn't necessarily mean the idea is a bad one, when you remove the money and focus simply on the fan experience.

This is what the critics of expansion miss almost entirely. "Murray State" is a placeholder for any no-name team that wins on a buzzer-beater. "Old Dominion" is a placeholder for any lower seed that upsets a higher seed. "BYU" is a placeholder for a "have-not" beating a big-brand "have."

And "Look at me: I'm still 4-0!" or "Wow, if I had lost Villanova, my whole bracket would have been screwed, but I love it anyway!" has nothing to do with how many teams are in the tournament or what their pre-Tournament "quality" might be.

There is nothing inherent in expanding the Tournament to 96 teams that detracts from all of these basic elements of what makes the Tournament so amazing. In fact, it might just enhance it by giving us more.

That's what everyone seemed to be crying out for today: We love this. Give us more.

-- D.S.


Unknown said...

You could not be more wrong. You think this would be as fun if it was a 23 beating an 18 for the right to get creamed by a 3 in the 'first round'?

There is no chance whatsoever that that's the case. None.

Unknown said...

I couldn't agree less. If you expand to 96, you will lose some of the drama. The first round would consist of games such as a 24/9 or 16/17 matchup. I also believe it would cut down the number of upsets. every underdog would have a disadvantage because they would have to play more games than the favorites.

M. Haubs said...

I don't disagree with any of your logic, per se.

My main question about 96 is just how much it raises the barrier of entry for filling out a bracket, since that is such a huge force for drawing in casual - and even non-sports - fans.

Unknown said...


The problem is that the 96-team NCAA Tournament adds an extra couple of days of games for the people that don't watch college basketball all year at the expense of completely destroying all value of the 4 months prior to that. The current tournament format, as much as I love it, already comes dangerously close to rendering the regular season meaningless. The 96-team format would crush it completely.

Would some of those extra games be exciting? I'm sure they would be. However, the upsets are also only meaningful because they have real impact - a double-digit seed winning in the first round is a real accomplishment and nabbing 2 games to get to the Sweet Sixteen is incredible, but winning a game or two in the 96-team format is just a ho-hum play-in achievement.

There's one reasonable compromise: add 3 play-in games to have the total field be 68 teams. The benefit of this is that it actually improves the overall field because those play-in winners are likely going to be stronger opponents against the #1 seeds. Those opponents would be the equivalent of #15 seeds today (which, as evidenced by Villanova's scare, can be pretty good.) This trickles down through the rest of the tournament - the #2 seeds would be playing the equivalent of today's #14 seeds and so forth. This would be a measured expansion of the tournament AND an improvement to the quality of play.

The coaches, who comprise the main group in America that actually support this ridiculous assive tournament scheme), are also extremely short-sighted in thinking that an expanded tournament would somehow save more jobs. There are plenty of football programs that make bowls at 6-6 whose coaches get fired and we've seen a number of basketball coaches get fired at major programs that didn't go far enough in the current NCAA Tournament format. The last people that should be making decisions like this are the coaches, who are simply trying to perform CYA measures for themselves.