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.
Every Game Counts?
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.
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