With Murray State and Iona losing in their conference championship games, a lot of words have been spilled about how to change the NCAA Tournament qualifying and let the regular season champions represent the individual conferences.
But that would effectively kill the conference tournaments as we know them.
What if we could expand the field and allow both teams to go?
Will more teams water it down? Maybe, but more likely it will make the first round actually worth watching. Just let the bubble teams play each other!
The first thing that needs to be down is eliminate the First Four where two 16-seeds have to play each other to get in the tournament. They won their conference tournament, so they should get a spot in the round of 64. The play-in type games for the 11- and 12-seeds are better, but instead of having a first round of eight teams in a 68-team tournament, let's make it a first round of 32 teams in a tournament with 80 teams.
Take every conference champion plus the highest rated teams in the country and seed them 1-12 in the four regions. This helps the mid-major champions who get to be an 11- or 12-seed avoid having to play a 1- or 2- seed in the first round.
Next, take the best 32 bubble teams and let them play it out. Their reward? A date with a top four seed in the round of 64. These teams should have to play their way into the tournament and if they win, they get a chance to pull off a major upset.
How would this look?
Using ESPN's projected bracket by Joe Lunardi from Mar. 9, and his projected first four out and next four out, I came up with 32 bubble teams. I needed four more teams to get to 80, so I took the next four in the RPI standings: Stanford, Green Bay, Harvard and Illinois State.
Bubble Teams/First Round Participants:
Indiana, BYU, Temple, Texas, Oklahoma State, Purdue, Colorado State, Ole Miss, LSU, Georgia, Xavier, Ohio State, Oregon, Iowa, Michigan State, Boise State, Providence, SMU, Georgetown, NC State, Miami, Old Dominion, Tulsa, Texas A&M, UCLA, Illinois, Murray State, Richmond, Stanford,Green Bay, Harvard, Illinois State
I would take these teams and try my best to create regional matchups, not only in the first round, but in the second round as well. So, here it is:
1 Kentucky vs Murray State/Oregon
1 Virginia vs Richmond/Old Dominion
1 Villanova vs Temple/Harvard
1 Duke vs Georgia/Providence
2 Wisconsin vs Texas/Miami
2 Arizona vs LSU/Tulsa
2 Gonzaga vs Stanford/Colorado State
2 Kansas vs Purdue/NC State
3 Iowa State vs Illinois/Illinois State
3 Maryland vs Oklahoma State/Georgetown
3 Oklahoma vs Michigan State/Boise State
3 Notre Dame vs Xavier/Ohio State
4 Baylor vs SMU/Ole Miss
4 Northern Iowa vs UCLA/Iowa
4 Louisville vs Indiana/Green Bay
4 Utah vs BYU/Texas A&M
5: Arkansas, UNC, West Virginia, Wichita State
6: San Diego State St Johns, Cincy, Davidson
7: Dayton, VCU, Butler, Iona
8: Stephen F Austin, Wofford, Georgia State, Louisiana Tech
9: UC Davis, Valparaiso, Yale, New Mexico State
10: South Dakota State, Central Michigan, Albany, Belmont
11: Coastal Carolina, St. Francis, William Mary, NC Central
12: Lafayette, North Florida, Texas Southern, Montana
The teams don't matter as much as the idea. Iona lost to Manhattan, so they would not be seeded in the tournament. I still think they deserve an at large bid. As of March 11, Iona had a RPI of 53. If they got into a field of 80, a team in the mid-60s like Harvard, Illinois State, or Murray State would get left out.
There will still be a team that feels like they got were snubbed, but for the most part all of the teams with an RPI of 65 or better would get into a field of 80 teams. The best part is that the bubble teams would actually play each other in the first round.
It would also make for some more competitive second round (round of 64) games. The top two seeds may get a tougher game in the first round and they may actually get beat once in a while. However, their third round games against seeds 7-10 would probably be a little easier than in years past.
At the end of the day, we are still talking about less than 23 percent of the Division 1 teams receiving an NCAA Tournament invite. There are still plenty of teams that to fill out a 32-team NIT tournament.
This might cause us to lose a third-tier tournament like the CIT, but with this change, most people won't miss it.