Can you hear those sounds? The loud screams, the squeak of sneakers on the gym floor. That’s right, it is March Madness time! Although I am very excited for the tournament to begin, there are many problems that have to be addressed with the selection of the teams this year.
I first have to make a comment on the field expanding from 65 to 68 teams. There were also discussions of possibly expanding the tournament to 96 teams! This is not only unnecessary, but just a stunt to make television companies more money. When something isn’t broke, don’t fix it, and this is the case with the NCAA college basketball championship. Adding three more teams to the tournament has no point whatsoever, except to get more teams into the tournament. This is only effective if the teams that are selected to make the tournament truly deserve to be there. However in this years’ selection, that clearly did not happen.
There are two types of bids into the NCAA college basketball tournament, conference bids and at large bids. Conference bids are automatic bids into the tournament based on either winning the conference or winning the conference tournament at the end of the year. The problem I have with automatic conference bids is that weak, small conference teams are allowed into an elite tournament in which they have no business of participating in. For instance, if you take a look at Arkansas Little Rock, winners of the Big Sun conference tournament championship, it is obvious that they should not be a part of March Madness. They are 19-16 and have not beaten a power conference or really any team with credibility all year. My suggestion would be to get rid of automatic bids completely, yet still allow small conference teams to play their way into the tournament by beating quality teams and having impressive records.
Seeing as there is no current solution for these automatic bids, it is assumed that the tournament committee would have the at large bids given to deserving teams. Yet surprisingly, this did not happen. There were some teams who were given at large bids that clearly had no business making the tournament this year. The first team that clearly did not deserve an at large bid would be the University of Alabama Birmingham. Although their record at 22-8 looks impressive on paper, their schedule was weak to say the least. They have the 79th best strength of schedule, and are 1-4 against the top 50 teams in the nation.
The most disappointing at large bid had to be Michigan State. I knew from the beginning of the year that if Michigan State won half of their games, they would make the tournament. This is not because they are deserving, but because they are MSU. MSU was 19-14 this year, a record that is not deserving of a tournament bid. In their defense, though, 13 of their losses were to tournament teams. This proved time and time again that they were not an elite team, losing to average teams such as Penn State (twice) and Iowa. When it came down to beating elite teams, Michigan State struggled, getting beaten by Duke, Connecticut, Syracuse, and Texas. It seems like the only “good” teams that Michigan State was able to beat were teams in the Big Ten. The only ranked team they were able to defeat outside of their conference was Washington. I applaud Michigan State for having a tough schedule, but the bottom line is, if you don’t win against the best teams, you shouldn’t be in the tournament.
Automatic bids and undeserving at large bids (like Michigan State and UAB), take away other teams chances of making the tournament. These teams who are left out are commonly referred to as “tournament snubs”. Among these snubs this year include teams such as Alabama. Alabama had an impressive record of 21-11, but were left out of the tournament due to the weakness of their conference, the SEC. However, the Crimson Tide were able to defeat tournament teams such as Tennessee, Georgia, and Kentucky. It does not make sense how a team like UAB, with almost no quality wins made it into the tournament over Alabama, and teams such as Michigan State, who had three more losses than Alabama, made it over them as well. Alabama now has four seniors who have missed their final chance of winning the national championship, because of poor selections by the tournament committee.
With all of this being said, I am still excited about the tournament and have some advice to those of you who are filling out their brackets. My advice is to favor the Big East over any other conference, and not to have Big Ten teams run too deeply (except for Ohio State). Also, be weary of the weaker ACC and Big 12 teams, along with the smaller conference teams, such as San Diego State and BYU (who just lost their second best player). The four teams that I feel have the best shot at winning the tournament include: Ohio State, Duke, Connecticut, and Notre Dame. All of these teams are playing well towards the end of the year, which is the key to winning it all.
So although the selection committee may have placed some undeserving teams into the tourney and left out some that should have made it, there is nothing left to do but fill your brackets out and watch some college basketball. Just grab a cold drink, fix your favorite finger food, recline in your comfy chair, and watch the best tournament in sports.