Backdoor Cuts: Vol. XIIPosted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2010
Backdoor Cuts is a weekly college basketball discussion between RTC correspondents Dave Zeitlin, Steve Moore and Mike Walsh that occasionally touches on relevant subjects. This week the guys debate the merit of conference tournaments — and you can guess where the Ivy Leaguer stands.
DAVE ZEITLIN: Let me start by saying that I love everything about March. The weather is better. The food is tastier. People are friendlier. Even this German kid is less annoying. Such is the power of college basketball. From the first day of the conference tournaments until the final lyric of One Shining Moment (which is, as you probably guessed, “one shining moment”), wall-to-wall college hoops takes a hold of you and doesn’t let go until your eyes are bloodshot, your voice is hoarse and all your dreams are of Digger Phelps’ ties. And if I just made watching college basketball sound creepy, that wasn’t my intention. Everything about March Madness is perfect. Well, almost everything…
You guys may disagree, but I think conference tournaments need to be changed. More specifically, I find it unfair that automatic NCAA bids go to conference tourney champs as opposed to the winners of the regular season. Did I just pour a bucket of cold water over my gooey-gushy first paragraph? Maybe.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m still delighted to watch the final few minutes of any conference championship game and get even more excited when there’s an upset involved. It just doesn’t make sense that a team that gets hot over a few days gets rewarded over the team that already proved it’s the best in the conference over the regular season. Read this recent column by Jeff Goodman if you disagree. Or read this disgustingly pretentious column I wrote in college. You’ll come around.
Now, you guys may be thinking I’m just saying all this because I’m an Ivy Leaguer and the Ivy League is the only conference in America that doesn’t have a tournament. I guess that’s part of it. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the value of league play with so many titles coming down to a thrilling regular season finale between Penn and Princeton. But even now, as Penn has floundered to the bottom of the league standings, I wouldn’t feel right about my Quakers having a chance to go dancing just by going on a three-game winning streak. I mean, come on, they have 20 losses. I love the idea that every team can win a national championship, but don’t you think the regular season should hold just a little value?
I’m not saying get rid of tournaments. I just think there should be some compromises. Make it so it’s a privilege (not a right) to play in the conference tournament, kind of like the way it is in Division II or III. Sorry but if you’re in the bottom half of your league, you don’t deserve the chance to steal a bid from a 25-win team just so you can play in Dayton on Tuesday. And how about home games and byes for top seeds in every league?
All that said, I have no problem with the big-conference tournaments (other than the fact I can never tell which of the NCAA locks are actually trying). The Big East Tournament at the Garden, especially, has given me many great memories over the years. And any team that runs the table against the nation’s giants over the course of a few days (remember Georgia?) deserves a bid in my mind. So by all means, keep the money pouring in for those leagues. It’s just the one-bid conferences (where revenue isn’t as much of an issue) that seem to be doing a disservice to the NCAA Tournament — and mostly their own teams.
So what do you guys think? At the very least can we agree that the changes I suggested would be much better than that heinous 96-team NCAA tournament proposal?
MIKE WALSH: First off, let me go on record as saying that I’d rather be strangled with one of Digger Phelps’ aforementioned ties while he was still wearing it than see the tournament expanded to 96 teams. In a world where everyone gets a trophy just for trying, I think a little disappointment is good for the teams whose bubbles burst each year. Sorry, Rhode Island, better luck next year! And let’s be honest with ourselves, stretching the field to 96 teams is just another way to get more power conference schools in the Big Dance – or would we have to call it the Bigger Dance? And who doesn’t want to see Rutgers get in? Those kids try so hard…
This concludes the soap box portion of the show.
Now Dave, as for your actual question, I’m a fan of conference tourneys. The postseason is all about who is playing their best basketball in March. I don’t care if your team takes Dartmouth behind the woodshed in January, I want to see who you can beat right here, right now. If you’re the regular season champs and think you deserve to have your ticket punched on Selection Sunday, then nut up and get it done in your conference bracket. Win a game with some pressure tacked onto it. If you can’t stand the heat of your own conference tournament you should sure as hell stay out of the NCAA’s kitchen.
And regular season champs do get something for their efforts, by the way, it’s called the easiest road to the championship game. Frankly, if you can’t beat a familiar middle-of-the-road team from your own conference, then what makes you think you’re going to take it to a team you’ve most likely never seen before in the first round of the NCAA Tournament?
Yes there are upsets. Yes a team or two might backdoor their way in. But this is March Madness, it’s not March The-Way-Things-Have-Gone-All-Season. This is what makes this time of year so great. I love looking at a bracket and saying, “Wait, Kansas is playing WHO? Where the hell is that?”
Conference tournaments are just plain ‘ol fun. They’re like the appetizer before an all-you-can-eat basketball buffet. I don’t know why, but you nerds in the Ivy League must be watching your weight. As for me, I’m not afraid of spoiling my appetite. I’m just going to loosen up my belt and dig in.
STEVE MOORE: For a long time, I was a traditionalist on this topic, and I was completely on board with regular season champions getting the automatic invite. But when I was a kid, I was also just a generic college basketball fan with no real rooting interest in any school. Then I went to college at a school (Boston U.) in a one-bid league (America East), and came to fully embrace the fun that is the conference tournament. And this year is a perfect example of why conference tourneys are great — ESPECIALLY in the one-bid leagues.
My alma mater was average to above-average all season, playing a relatively tough non-league slate, and finishing fourth in the league. Then we went to the conference tourney, posted two huge wins and will play for a rare trip to the tourney this Saturday. Without the conference tourney, my hopes would have been dashed months ago, and the top team all year (in this case, Stony Brook), would be the one going to the tourney for the right to get its ass kicked. And if you’re a Stony Brook fan, I’m sure you’re upset, but you can only blame your team, which was given the easiest road through the conference tournament, only to let it slip away.
My “compromise”, if you will, is to create tournament formats that give the top seed as much of an advantage as possible. I don’t know if one league has it right just yet — and the big leagues have to go to a neutral site to accomodate the fans and and media, but I am all for as many byes as you want for the top seeds, homecourt, etc. In the America East, they do an odd format of a neutral site all the way until the final, when the tournament moves to the highest remaining seed (at Vermont this Saturday). Hell, if you want to spot the higher seed a 10-point lead, that’s fine by me. Just give me conference tourney excitement.
You see, the vast majority of college grads and fans in this country probably have ties to smaller schools (I have absolutely no facts to back that up). A conference tournament gives the rest of us a chance for a little March Madness. And when it comes to the bigger leagues, if you finish in the top few spots (or the top 15 spots if we go to a ridiculous 96-team field), you know you’re going to the tourney, so the conference tourney is all about seeding and pride.
And if the NCAA is going to continue going after the money and big BCS-conference schools when it comes time to hand out its 324 berths in 2015, at least let us little guys have a week of fun before we get embarrassed by the Bob Huggins’ of the world (yes, I’m still bitter about 2002, Bobby. You had to leave your starters in?).
DAVE ZEITLIN: I’m sorry, did you guys say something meaningful? All I heard was “Bla bla bla the teams I like aren’t very good and I need to have something to root for until the middle of March.” Mike, did you purposely call out Rhode Island as a bubble team that should deal with missing the NCAA Tournament in the same breath you said every team deserves the chance to get in? Is this because Rhode Island just beat St. Joe’s in the first round of your beloved conference tourney? You know, I’m sad about your Hawks missing out on the chance to go to the quarterfinals in Atlantic City, too. I was all ready to parlay them losing with me giving all my money to a blackjack dealer named Cindy while sipping the fruitiest drinks in the casino. It was a lock.
And Steve, I’m happy for you that Boston University has a chance to go back to the NCAA Tournament after a decade but I’m not sure you’re emotionally prepared to deal with it. This is about the ninth team you’ve cried about Bob Huggins leaving his Cincy starters in the last time your Huskies went dancing. If you want tips on how to root for the dark jerseys in the first round, I’m here for you.
Actually, all kidding aside, I think you guys both make good points. And as I’ve said, I kind of waver on the subject. I’ll always maintain its unfair when 60-RPI team loses its NCAA spot because of a buzzer-beating shot by a 150-RPI team, but it’s also hard for me to completely castigate a system that creates those kind of magical moments for underdogs. So now I throw the issue back to our reader — or maybe we now have multiple readers since it’s March. What do you think?
Until then, we at Backdoor Cuts would like to wish everyone a very happy Selection Sunday. Give ‘em hell, Gumbel!