Question #170: Big-names or Cinderellas?
The three days leading up to Thursday’s opening of the NCAA Tournament are rife with plenty of debating and decrying the tournament committee’s selections. This year, there’s already a perpetual argument going over the lack of “mid-major” teams in the 65-team field, which many observers think is a real injustice.
There are 31 automatic bids to the tourney which go primarily to schools that win their conference tournaments (or, in some cases, regular-season championships). That means there are 34 at-large bids to awarded by the committee. This year, only four of those 34 went to teams outside of the six “power” conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, SEC and Pac-10). They were Xavier, Dayton, Butler and BYU. In 2004, there were 12 non-power conference teams in; there were six the past two years, then four last year.
Here’s my question: Does this bother you? Do you believe there need to be more Cinderellas?
The outcry over the field is loud and there’s no doubt that fans love the George Masons and (old-school) Gonzagas and Valparaisos that shred everyone’s bracket. To me, though, going with too many mid-majors can be a risk. The automatic bids already allow for a good number of potential upset-pullers to get into the field, and I don’t have a problem with the committee leaning towards a power-conference school over one from a weaker league.
Does that mean I think the Arizonas of the world should always get the nod over, say, a Creighton or a St. Mary’s? It doesn’t. But until the smaller conferences can start churning out quality play as often as the Pac-10 does, I don’t think there’s anything so terrible about giving the bigger program – and thus, the program playing more quality opposition in more hostile environments – the edge. Certain smaller leagues – like the Missouri Valley and Horizon – have clearly had terrific seasons in recent years and are better than they once were, but I don’t think that puts them on the same level as the power leagues. In my mind, a team from a smaller league HAS to do more than a team from a bigger one to earn that NCAA spot. And this year, I’m not sure that any of those smaller schools actually did that. So I had no problem with Arizona, who was a much-discussed bubble team, getting in.
I know, I know – more small schools and Cinderella-types in the field means a greater chance of those unreal upsets and everyone loves that, but there’s also a greater chance of a 25-point blowout that can really ruin what is supposed to be an awesome Thursday/Friday combo. I know everyone loves the no-name schools getting a chance, but the tournament is about seeing great college basketball, and that means getting the most talented teams in the field. Oftentimes, that means going with the medium-sized fish in a big pond instead of the big fish in the pretty small pond.