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Imagining the unfathomably stupid Power 5 NCAA Tournament

Congrats, here’s more Rutgers basketball

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been sick since the weekend, so my day yesterday was filled with sweats, sneezes, and fever dreams. But at some point — I can’t say when, because time loses meaning when you’re running on NyQuil and sadness — I saw something so stupid that it put my nightmare about my boss secretly being a dinosaur to shame.

It was Jason Smith’s #hottaek that mid-majors should not be allowed in the NCAA Tournament.

Smith’s opinion is actually way more insane than it sounds. See, you can make a reasonable argument that the NCAA Tournament should actually consist of the 64 (or 68) best teams in the country, regardless of conference. That would obviously skew more toward power conferences, and you’d be left without stories like UMBC or maybe even Marshall.

But it’s an argument you can base in reality: The best teams should be the ones eligible for the biggest prize. This is where I thought Smith was coming from, so I was ready to hear him out.

I’m ashamed to admit that I gave Smith WAY too much credit. His argument:

The best 68 Power 5 teams should be in the NCAA Tournament because those teams play the toughest schedules. You don’t take the best team in AAA and let them play in the MLB playoffs, after all. It’s not fair to a Power 5 team that toils through a brutal schedule if a mid-major can coast to The Dance, then knock them out in one game. Put those mids in a power conference and MAYBE they go .500. Maybe they even win 10 games. If they want respect, they should play a better schedule.


Surely you, the reader, are smart enough to spot all the problems with that argument. But in case Smith is reading this (he’s not), I’ll spell them all out:

Flaw 1: Math. There are only 65 Power 5 teams, so you can’t have a 68-team tournament. Smith probably meant to include the Big East in here, and maybe even the American, but words matter. He said Power 5. He said 68-team tournament. That is impossible.

Flaw 2: The AAA to MLB comparison doesn’t work because those are two different leagues. We’re not talking about letting Division II teams into the Division I NCAA Tournament.

Flaw 3: If you go .500 in a Power 5 conference or win 10 games, that’s probably good enough to get in the NCAA Tournament anyway. Fourteen Power 5 schools went either 9-9 or 10-8 in conference this year, and eight of them went to the NCAA Tournament. Five schools even finished under .500 and got invites.

Flaw 4: The idea that mid-majors can just schedule whoever they want out of conference has been shot down a billion times. No Power 5 wants to schedule really good mid-majors. It’s how you end up with stories like this.

But let’s forget about all of that. Let’s allow this insane idea to exist that there should be a Power 5-only NCAA Tournament. To make it work (because math, unfortunately, exists), let’s just make it 64 teams. No more First Four. That way there are enough teams to field a tournament. Here’s what the field of 64 would have looked like (seeding done based on KenPom because that’s easiest, sorry.):

Power 5 NCAA Tournament

1. Virginia 1. Duke 1. Purdue 1. Michigan State
16. Rutgers 16. Illinois 16. Pittsburgh 16. Washington State
8. Arkansas 8. Maryland 8. Syracuse 8. Mississippi State
9. USC 9. Arizona State 9. Oklahoma 9. NC State
4. Kentucky 4. Florida 4. Auburn 4. TCU
13. Iowa 13. Stanford 13. Northwestern 13. Vanderbilt
5. Florida State 5. Arizona 5. Penn State 5. Texas A&M
12. Oregon 12. Indiana 12. South Carolina 12. Boston College
3. Ohio State 3. Clemson 3. Texas Tech 3. Tennessee
14. Wake Forest 14. Washington 14. Oregon State 14. Iowa State
6. Baylor 6. Virginia Tech 6. Notre Dame 6. Texas
11. Wisconsin 11. LSU 11. Georgia 11. Utah
7. Missouri 7. Kansas State 7. Miami 7. Louisville
10. Oklahoma State 10. Alabama 10. UCLA 10. Nebraska
2. Michigan 2. Kansas 2. North Carolina 2. West Virginia
15. Colorado 15. Minnesota 15. Georgia Tech 15. Ole Miss

A few things this tournament would have deprived us of:

  • Villanova, the highest remaining seed
  • Trip
  • The greatest upset in the history of college basketball
  • Loyola’s buzzer-beater over Miami
  • Loyola’s last-second win over Tennessee
  • Sister Jean
  • Caleb Martin’s overtime against Texas
  • Nevada’s ridiculous comeback against Cincinnati
  • Cincinnati
  • Rob Gray and his man-bun
  • Buffalo and whatever-the-hell it did against Arizona
  • Jon Elmore heat checks
  • URI’s win over Oklahoma to open the tournament
  • Mike Daum

What we would have had instead:

  • An entirely meaningless regular season since almost every Power 5 schools gets in
  • The worst Champ Week ever (or none at all)
  • Wake Forest, which went 11-20 and lost to Georgia Southern, Liberty, and Drake
  • More needless Northwestern hype from Medill grads
  • Kevin Stallings and an 0-18 Pitt team that gets in because, somehow, Cal was worse. The Bears are the only team left on the outside.
  • Rutgers

But hey, if you want more Rutgers, this is the way to format the NCAA Tournament.