More thoughts about the 96-team bracket (Also: LIVE THREAD!)

Below is tonight's Championship Week(s) Day Four live thread, but first, using TIK's post from last night as a jumping-off point, let's talk more about expansion because ... well, the topic is not going away anytime soon.

In TIK's post, I listed the teams that would have made the Field of 96 if I used the same methods for determining my Field of 65 for Rock-M-tology posts.  Out of curiosity, I bracketed out the field (you had to know I would), and I've got to say ... there were some intriguing results.

(I'm working on the assumption that the "first round" games would be on Tuesday-Wednesday, with the Round of 64 games on Thursday-Friday as is the current process.)

South Region West Region Midwest Region East Region
1 Syracuse
vs
16 Minnnesota /
17 Marshall
1 Duke
vs
16 Murray St. /
17 NE'ern
1 Kansas
vs
16 Washington /
17 Tulsa
1 Kentucky
vs
16 Wichita St. /
17 USF
8 Clemson
vs
9 Northern Iowa /
24 Jackson St.
8 UNLV
vs
9 Florida /
24 Stony Brook
8 Georgia Tech
vs
9 Marquette /
24 Lipscomb
8 Richmond
vs
9 OSU /
24 Lehigh
5 Pittsburgh
vs
12 SDSU /
21 Miami-FL
5 Temple
vs
12 Illinois /
21 Missouri St.
5 Butler
vs
12 Dayton /
21 Portland
5 Texas A&M
vs
12 Siena /
21 Akron
4 Baylor
vs
13 Ole Miss /
20 St. Louis
4 BYU
vs
13 Cornell /
20 S. Carolina
4 Wisconsin
vs
13 UConn /
20 Arizona
4 Xavier
vs
13 Miss. State /
20 Nevada
6 Texas
vs
11 Va. Tech /
22 Coastal Caro.
6 Vanderbilt
vs
11 St. Mary's /
22 Oakland
6 Tennessee
vs
11 UAB /
22 Weber State
6 Maryland
vs
11 UTEP /
22 Sam Houston
3 New Mexico
vs
14 Rhode Isl. /
19 St. John's
3 Georgetown
vs
14 Arizona St. /
19 Illinois St.
3 Ohio State
vs
14 Seton Hall /
19 Wofford
3 Michigan State
vs
14 Notre Dame /
19 La. Tech
7 Missouri
vs
10 Louisville /
23 UCSB
7 Wake Forest
vs
10 Utah State /
23 Troy
7 Gonzaga
vs
10 ODU /
23 Morgan State
7 Florida State
vs
10 California /
23 Quinnipiac
2 Purdue
vs
15 Kent St. /
18 Boston Coll.
2 Kansas State
vs
15 Cincinnati /
18 VCU
2 Villanova
vs
15 Memphis /
18 UNC
2 West Virginia
vs
15 Charlotte /
18 Texas Tech


Some initial observations:

  1. There are some absolutely brutal first-round matchups.  Old Dominion-Morgan State?  Kent State-BC?  Northern Iowa-Jackson State?  These would be relegated to ESPN2 at best.  However, as with the current NIT first round, there are some pretty intriguing first-round games as well.  Memphis-UNC (the 2008 runner-up versus the 2009 champ), for example.  UConn-Arizona.  Hell, games like Dayton-Portland or Wichita State-South Florida could be pretty damn entertaining, to be honest.

    (And this brings up a philosophical question: does it hurt anything to have these matchups as part of the tournament?  I mean ... is there a problem with having Wofford take on Seton Hall on a Wednesday night with the possibility of being able to officially say they've won an NCAA Tournament game? Anyway.)

  2. On the flipside, there are some potentially super-exciting Thursday-Friday games, aren't there?  K-State versus Cincy-VCU would be infinitely more intriguing than K-State/Morgan State or something.  Instead of one of the worst teams in the field, Kansas would have to take on either an athletic Washington squad or a Tulsa team that led Duke at halftime a week or two ago.  And honestly, any team in the 4-5 portion of the Midwest Region could win.  Wisconsin and Butler are good but vulnerable, while Arizona and Portland, for 20- and 21-seeds, are actually pretty decent.  That portion of the bracket shows how, while the same number of teams would have a legitimate shot at the national title, so many more teams could make at least the Round of 32 or Sweet Sixteen levels, which for a good portion of D1, would be a major accomplishment.

So we would potentially be looking at a Thursday-Friday lineup that is twice as exciting and intriguing as it is currently.  But at what cost?  Potentially unwatchable Tuesday-Wednesday games, for one.  Coaches being able to say "But I made the tournament!" to save their jobs, for another.  The elimination of the "one day a 16-seed will beat a 1-seed and become the greatest Cinderella of all-time" dream, for another.  Is that a worthy trade-off?  Would we really care if Cinderella no longer had a chance at a 1-seed if a) they would have an infinitely better chance of knocking off a 9- or 10-seed in the first round, then maybe even taking out a 7- or 8-seed in the second, or b) the aforementioned 1-seeds got much tougher games in the first round, making the tourney that much harder to predict?  Would we care that "the regular season doesn't mean anything anymore" if the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is even crazier and more fun than it was before?

I'm not asking these theoretically -- I don't actually know the answer. 

I suspect that a lot of people who are dead set against the idea of tourney expansion will slowly back off their claims with the first ridiculously crazy Thursday or Friday night session the tourney sees.  To me, there's no doubting that while the Tuesday-Wednesday games would be far from a spectacle (quarter-full arenas, low TV ratings), Thursday-Friday would benefit from expansion, and that would change a lot of people's minds.

That said, here are my two major concerns to date, and they both have to do with the unintended consequences of expansion:

  1. Did you notice that Texas Tech is in the field despite barely fielding a competitive team over the last couple of weeks and sporting a whopping 16-13 record?  I'm pretty sure Oklahoma (similar conference record, worse overall record) would, and they would realize that if they pared down their non-conference schedule a bit (it wasn't too tough to begin with, but Gonzaga? Gone. UTEP? Gone.) and just made sure to finish with a winning record, they might get into the field whether they deserve to or not.  (And that's assuming there is some sort of requirement of a winning record in the first place ... and god, there better be one.)

    In other words, non-conference scheduling, which already includes plenty of cupcakes, could very well get watered down in a major way.  Now, there would be no incentive for the top teams to water down their schedules -- there would be plenty of incentive to make sure their SOS is pretty high so that they could get a Top 8 seed and a first round bye.  But you can't tell me that more and more teams might not take the low road (lower than what already exists) in scheduling cupcake after cupcake after cupcake, just hoping to get to 16-15 with an RPI in the Top 100.

  2. On the flipside, what is stopping conferences like the Colonial, or the WCC, or the Horizon League -- conferences that will almost certainly get at least one team in the tourney via at-large bid every year -- from trying to figure out ways to dilute their conference tourneys and try to sneak another team into the NCAA field via automatic bid?  Would the WCC tell Gonzaga they could just skip the tourney, in the hopes that Loyola Marymount or somebody would win the tourney?  Could the Horizon hint to their officials (not that that would ever happen, ahem) that it would be good if Butler maybe lost before the finals?  I realize you could create a lot of these same conspiracies already, but with sixty-five at-large bids to hand out, more conferences would be able to lock down maybe 2-3 tourney spots as long as their conference champion doesn't do something stupid like win the automatic bid.

I mentioned a while back that, if the NCAA decided to expand to 96 teams, I would oppose it, and then I would probably get over it and throw myself into new projections, new bracket possibilities, etc.  That's where I'm at right now.  I understand the money concerns that are going on right now, and I get all the reasons why the NCAA would want to expand this cash cow.  And honestly, the only major reasons against expansion are aesthetic -- Why ruin something perfect?  Why reward mediocrity?  Why dilute the impact of the regular season?  None of these aesthetic concerns are going to stop the NCAA from moving forward if money is on the line, and while my vote is to keep things as they are, I think with the simulated bracket we see above, and the potential for even more competitive games on the tournament's deliciously crazy opening weekend (albeit without some of the purity of the "Cinderella trying on the slipper" drama of a Hampton versus Iowa State or Princeton versus Georgetown) will turn a lot of opponents into converts pretty quickly.

---

Now here's your Championship Week(s) Day 4 lineup.

Ohio Valley Semifinals
6:00pm - 1 Murray State 55, 4 Eastern Illinois 51
8:00pm - 2 Morehead State vs 6 Tennessee Tech (ESPNU)

Atlantic Sun Semifinals
5:30pm - 5 ETSU 69, 8 Kennesaw State 64
8:00pm - 2 Jacksonville vs 6 Mercer (ESPN360)

Missouri Valley Quarterfinals
12:05pm - 1 Northern Iowa 55, 8 Drake 40
2:35pm  - 5 Bradley 81, 4 Creighton 62
6:05pm - 2 Wichita State 73, 7 Missouri State 65

8:35pm - 3 Illinois State vs 6 Indiana State (FSN)

Horizon League Quarterfinals
5:00pm - 7 Detroit 62, 3 Green Bay 53
7:00pm - 4 Milwaukee vs 5 Cleveland State

Colonial First Round
11:00am - 8 Towson 91, 9 UNC-Wilmington 74
1:30pm - 5 VCU 66, 12 Delaware 49
5:00pm - 7 Hofstra 68, 10 Georgia State 57
7:30pm - 6 Drexel vs 11 James Madison

MAAC First Round
6:30pm - 9 Manhattan 94, 8 Loyola (MD) 79
8:30pm - 7 Canisius vs 10 Marist

Southern First Round
1:00pm - N6 Elon 66, S3 Davidson 59
3:30pm - N4 UNC-Greensboro 66, S5 Furman 65
6:00pm - S4 The Citadel 55, N5 Samford 43
8:30pm - N3 Chattanooga vs S6 Georgia Southern

West Coast First Round
8:00pm - 5 Loyola Marymount vs 8 Pepperdine
10:00pm - 6 San Diego vs 7 Santa Clara

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