March 2, 2011
2011 brings about some major changes to the NCAA tournament. For the first time every game will be televised live, the tournament expands to 68 teams and for the first time, at-large teams will have to fight for the right to play in the field of 64, a concept the NCAA calls the “First Four.”
Unfortunately the expansion coincides with a relatively weak pool of at large teams across the country. The ACC and PAC 10 are in down years, the SEC is very one-sided and the Big East is the premier conference in America, the depth of the conference dilutes the records and resumes of some teams that end up in the middle of the pack. These factors along with the fact that some mid major candidates (Virginia Commonwealth, Old Dominion, Wichita State,etc.) have fewer chances to enhance their resumes once conferene play starts gives the perception that the tournament may be watered down this year. While on the surface that may be true, a closer look reveals that may be a blessing in disguise.
One of the things that makes March Madness so exciting is its unpredictability. NC State beats Phi Slamma Jamma, Princeton beats UCLA, George Mason’s cinderella run and Butler’s near half court miracle. The underlying principle in all these instances is that the teams were much more even than the viewing public and national media could see. Now if the “weak” at large pool means that there are a lot more teams one could throw a blanket over making it harder to differentiate between them, doesn’t that mean that those teams are relatively equal? Isn’t that what we want to see? Isn’t that what makes for “One Shining Moment”?
We have seen it all across the country, teams with a chance to secure bids are unable to close the deal. Virginia Tech beats #1 Duke, then loses big to Boston College at home. Alabama the only team in the SEC West with a chance at an at-large bid collapses in the 2nd half at Florida. The mid major at large candidates aren’t immune to this either, VCU beats Wichita State in a must win bracket buster matchup, then finishes its season with losses to Drexel and James Madison. Wichita State bounces back from that loss to defeat Creighton but then fell to Missouri State in a winner-take-all game for the MVC regular season title.
So while the at-large teams may be considered weak think of the really good games that could potentially take place; Virginia Tech/Wichita State, Michigan State/UCLA or VCU/Boston College, while they may not be marquee names, they all could be very good basketball games in a one-and-done environment, and isn’t that partly why we all love March Madness?