Most conferences conclude regular season play this week—the Big Ten and West Coast conferences finished up over this past weekend—so now we know who the best teams are in each conference and the conferences will crown them champions, right? It makes sense, doesn’t it, that the team with best record after eighteen home and away conference games should be declared the champion. Doesn’t it? Well, not according to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.
Although Michigan State, Virginia and Gonzaga have finished first after a grueling season, and although Arizona, Auburn and Kansas are likely to finish first after a grueling season, the only thing those teams have earned is a participation trophy. The conference championships, and the automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament, will go in every case to the lucky winner of a neutral site, single elimination tournament that gives all the runners-up another chance at undeserved glory. Single elimination tournaments don’t determine the best team in the field. A tournament winner is just that: the winner of a contrived event to make money.
In the Power Six conferences, if the regular season champ is beaten in the conference tourney, it will still receive an NCAA tournament invitation, although at a lower seed than had they won the conference tourney. We know already that an advantageous seed in the NCAA tourney is the most significant factor in determining a national champion, so being seeded lower after the conference tournament than before it, is a disaster.
An even greater disaster looms for the regular season champions of the so-called “Mid-Major” conferences, conferences from which only one team receives an NCAA bid. Should the regular season champion be upset in the conference tourney, a less deserving team will take its place in the NCAA tourney. Unfortunately, these upsets happen regularly, and the effect is that it waters down the NCAA tourney field and gives high NCAA seeds easier early round competition which, in turn, feeds the self-fulfilling prophecy that high seeds will prevail in the NCAA tourney.
You get the message: the regular conference season is a much better test of team quality than is a single elimination tournament and, therefore, automatic NCAA bids should go to regular season champions and not conference tourney winners. If the idea is to fill the brackets with the strongest possible field, seeded correctly, then regular season results should determine NCAA bids and seeds. Selection Sunday should be this coming Sunday and not the one following Power Six conference tournaments.
This is not the only flaw in the NCAA Tournament format, but it is a serious flaw. If the conferences want to raise boatloads of cash by staging a post season tournament, go right ahead. Certainly students appreciate the excuse to meet and party with their rivals. But, let’s be honest, a conference tournament neither proves, nor disproves, regular season results.
This week we added TCU to our rankings, at #20, and that pushed Arizona State out of the rankings. That leaves the Pac-12 with but one team in the top 24 and that team is under FBI scrutiny.
Earlier today, CBS Sports named the Big 12 conference the best conference in the country. We beg to differ. It’s a close race between the ACC and the Big East this year. As it proved during the Big 12 – SEC Challenge, the SEC would come in third and the Big 12 would be fourth, slightly ahead of the Big Ten. We know where that leaves the Pac-12.
The Big 12 looks good to some people because the teams are evenly matched. They are ranked #10, #16, #17, and #20 by RPG (Oklahoma is now out of the rankings). Kansas is #10 and improving. Find the full weekly rankings at www.nemosnumbers.com/basketball-rankings/.