Last week, I took a look at what this year's tournament might look like with an expanded 96-team field. Here's a different take on the idea of tournament expansion.
Sure, some may say that Bob Huggins has had a tumultuous career as a head basketball coach. But when it comes to the notion of NCAA Tournament expansion, have truer words ever been spoken by the West Virginia head coach?
"We ought to do what football does and go to a Division I-A and I-AA ...
That's what they have to do in football. You have to make a commitment to have a football program. It's attendance and facilities and so forth. If we did that, instead of having 347 teams, we'd maybe have 110 or 150. It makes it so much more manageable, but you could still play those people like football does, but they just can't be in your tournament."
Now here is an idea I can get behind.
This idea seems to solve any number of issues facing the NCAA in their proposed tournament expansion. For one, it keeps more of the money in the hands of the programs that, well, earned that money. Second, if you leave the tournament the way it is at 65 teams (or even better yet, scale it back down to 64 teams - it's purest form), this immediately strengthens the competitiveness of even the first round, #1 vs. #16 and #2 vs. #15 games. In addition, you can effectively kill off the NIT, CBI, CIT and other meaningless tournaments by hosting two, 64-team NCAA Tournaments, one for each level. We'll call them Division I-A and I-AA. In the recent wave of "everyone deserves a trophy" mentality, you also end up with one more program that can claim that year's National Championship in Division I-AA.
The only question now is what conferences and programs make the cut. I would propose that Division I-A consist of the following conferences: the Big 12, Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Southeastern, Pac 10, Atlantic 10, Mountain West, Missouri Valley, Conference USA, Western Athletic, West Coast, Horizon, MAC and Colonial, for a total of 169 teams. That leaves Division I-AA with 178. There is a bit of a problem with leaving the Sun Belt behind, given that they are a Division I-A football conference, but they really haven't proven to be competitive in hoops.
Here is a version of bracketology that includes only the 169 teams from our new Division I-A. Let's take a look at how this year's tournament might look under the Huggins Plan:
(1) Kansas vs. (16) Kent State
(8) California vs. (9) UTEP
(5) Xavier vs. (12) Mississippi
(4) Wisconsin vs. (13) Connecticut
(6) Clemson vs. (11) St. Mary's
(3) Texas vs. (14) Mississippi State
(7) Vanderbilt vs. (10) Georgia Tech
(2) West Virginia vs. (15) Rhode Island
(1) Syracuse vs. (16) Virginia Commonwealth
(8) Virginia Tech vs. (9) Utah State
(5) Missouri vs. (12) Washington
(4) Ohio State vs. (13) San Diego St.
(6) Temple vs. (11) Florida
(3) Maryland vs. (14) UAB
(7) Michigan State vs. (10) Richmond
(2) Kansas State vs. (15) Cincinnati
(1) Kentucky vs. (16) St. John's
(8) Gonzaga vs. (9) Oklahoma State
(5) Pittsburgh vs. (12) Arizona State
(4) Texas A&M vs. (13) Memphis
(6) New Mexico vs. (11) Old Dominion
(3) Baylor vs. (14) Minnesota
(7) Marquette vs. (10) Wake Forest
(2) Purdue vs. (15) North Carolina
(1) Duke vs. (16) South Florida
(8) Louisville vs. (9) Northern Iowa
(5) Tennessee vs. (12) Seton Hall
(4) Georgetown vs. (13) Dayton
(6) Florida State vs. (11) Notre Dame
(3) BYU vs. (14) Illinois
(7) Butler vs. (10) UNLV
(2) Villanova vs. (15) Wichita State
Last four in: South Florida, VCU, St. John's, Kent State
Last four out: Marshall, BOSTON COLLEGE, Miami Fla., Tulsa
Next four out: Texas Tech, Alabama, N.C. State, Portland
By Conference: Big East (13), Atlantic Coast (8), Big 12 (7), Big Ten (6), SEC (6), Atlantic 10 (5), Mountain West (4), Conference USA (3), Pac 10 (3), Colonial (2), Missouri Valley (2), West Coast (2), Horizon (1), MAC (1)
Again, this looks must more promising. For one thing, we've done away with the meaningless play-in game that makes the 64th and 65th best teams feel good for saying they've made the NCAA Tournament but ultimately has no bearing on the competitive outcome of the tournament. We've also suddenly boosted the competitiveness of even the most boring of tournament games in the current format.
Syracuse can't exactly be happy to have drawn VCU in the first round in the #1 vs. #16 matchup. An otherwise dull #2 vs. #15 matchup suddenly becomes must-watch basketball with matchups like Villanova-Wichita State, West Virginia-URI, Kansas State-Cincinnati and Purdue-North Carolina.
Under this proposal, I think you'd find the opening round games more entertaining and see many more upsets that we currently get. A #1 would undoubtedly fall to a #16 at some point under this format.
Of course, this plan isn't without its drawbacks. Given the current projected NCAA tournament field, this format doesn't include Siena, Cornell and Murray State, all teams that may have made a 64-team field as an at-large. But would we ultimately miss these teams? Or would programs like Siena, Cornell and Murray State be better served playing their way through a Division I-AA field of 64 and winning a National Championship, a la the success that Appalachian State has had in college football's second division. I'll leave that to you.