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Rock-M-tology: March 9

First, an open letter to Jay Bilas

Mr. Bilas,

Saturday on College Gameday, you asserted that the NCAA tournament should a) expand to 128 teams and b) get rid of automatic bids.  In the kindest words possible, let me explain why that is one of the most insane ideas I've ever heard.

Nevermind all the obvious "this is elitism" arguments.  I'll move straight to a couple examples.  Under your plan, N.C. State (16-13, #102 RPI) would be a tournament team, as would Stanford (17-12, #105), Washington State (16-14, #89) and Alabama (15-13, #111).  The ACC would get 11 teams into the field.  The Big East?  12.  The Big Ten?  10.  The Big 12?  9.

Meanwhile, teams from conferences like the SWAC, MEAC, and depending on the year, maybe Ivy, Northeast, or Big South, would have no reward for winning a conference tournament or conference title.  This is good for college basketball?

And you do realize that teams with losing records (Virginia is 10-17, but #109) might get in?  And that if you put in a "no teams with losing records" clause, that those lower-rung ACC teams would just schedule 14 cupcakes in non-con?  Again, this is good?  Every time people complain about football's bowl system, they talk about how you're rewarding mediocrity, and they say the system should be more selective like college basketball.  And now you want college basketball to reward sub-mediocrity?

Under your plan, Hampton wouldn't have beaten Iowa State (remember how great that celebration was?), Richmond wouldn't have beaten Syracuse.  You called this good for mid-majors because better teams like Tulsa would be in the field.  That's fair.  Tulsa (21-9, #61) would be in the field, as would Boise State (18-11, #103), Mount St. Mary's (19-12, #115), and Oakland (20-11, #120).  Mid-majors would be represented, and that's cool.

But here's the thing: right now, almost every team in the country (sans D1 independents, seven Ivy League teams who don't win their conference, and a handful of teams like SEMO, who don't qualify for their conference tourneys), technically has a chance to win it all, through their conference tournaments.  How great is that?  Instead of expanding the field to 128, let's expand the field to all 343 teams by giving everybody--including the NJIT's and UT-Pan American's--a bid in some tourney with an automatic bid?  Let's make sure that if a SWAC team wins their tourney in buzzer-beater fashion, and they rush the court like they won a national title, they actually get a reward.

I love college football--it's my favorite sport overall.  Can't beat it.  But it's different than college basketball.  Come March every year, I start wavering on what truly is my favorite sport, and it's because the thirteen days that constitute Championship Week are so freaking great.  Northern Iowa and Illinois State go to overtime, fighting and clawing for a win and a bid.  Morehead State unleashes a furious comeback and qualifies for the tourney for the first time in forever.  Awesome.  There are fantastic finishes every night.

If we expand the field to 128, does that mean you get rid of conference tourneys?  Because you might as well.  Most major conference teams will get into the field anyway, and if there's no automatic bid from the mid-major tourneys, then the drama is gone.  Plus, you'll need extra time for that extra round of games.  And at that point, what are you left with?  An extra NCAA tourney round of 64 games--at least 32 of which will be horrendously dull--and a complete voiding out of the nightly excitement that is Championship Week.

Again, this is good for college basketball?

One more thing: you said these changes should be made because half the current field of 65 doesn't have a chance at winning it all anyway.  But let's get real here--if we're trying to include only teams who honestly have a shot at winning the title, then we should just pare the field back down to 32 teams, or maybe even 24 or 16.  Expanding the field to 128 just means MORE teams who don't have a shot, only, again, you're removing the drama of Championship Week and preventing teams from having anything to play for.  It's a net loss, and an awful idea.

I do need to thank you for one thing, though: at least you said this very early on in Gameday so I could quickly remember why I don't watch Gameday and change the channel.  I do appreciate that--you did it before I had to even listen to Digger!


Who's overrated?

As always, I'll compare my bracket to two main sources: Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm.  Lunardi because he's the most prominent, Palm because he's the best. 

Maryland - How they're still even on the bubble, I have no idea.  As of Friday, Lunardi still had them as an 11 seed.  I'm being VERY kind when I have them in my First 8 Out.  I mean, come on...a #67 RPI and losing record in the ACC?  I realize they beat UNC, but...well, Providence beat Pitt (who's just as good as UNC), has the same overall record, and even threw up a winning record in the OMGBESTCONFERENCEEVER!!1!!, but nobody has them in anymore.  If they're out, Maryland's DEFINITELY out.

Kentucky - Another team that really shouldn't be on the bubble after going 8-8 in a mediocre SEC and finishing with a #80 RPI (right between Miami-OH and Ole Miss).  Nobody has them in anymore, but they shouldn't even be in anybody's First 8 out.

Boston College - I realize they play in the ACC and all, but an RPI of #57 doesn't impress me much, especially not enough to get the 8-seed that Lunardi gave them.  They're barely in on my board...they better not lose that first ACC tourney game.

California - Minor qualms here--they're 22-9 and 11-7 in the Pac 10, and they're certainly far from the bubble...but I'm thinking they should be closer to a 10-seed than the 7 that they get from both Palm and Lunardi.

Who's underrated?

Texas A&M - I'll say it: they're safely in on my board at the moment.  They've finished strong, they have a Top 30 RPI, they have two wins over the RPI Top 25, they have 22 wins...they're in.  No bubble, no "Last four in"...just in.

St. Mary's - The committee tries not to punish teams for losing when a player with major star power is out, right?  That's how OU is still holding onto a 1-seed, right?  Then St. Mary's, who has picked up right where they left off with Patty Mills back in the lineup, should probably be in...or very close to in, anyway.  They were a tourney team with Mills in the lineup, and after a couple weeks of struggle adjusting to his injury (they lost 4 of 5), they caught fire again.  They're 23-5 overall...if they're not in, they're right on the borderline.

Siena - 25 wins, a Top 25 RPI, competitive losses at Kansas and on a neutral court to OSU...there's not much more a mid-major team could do to get a bid.  Yes, I'm not a huge fan of their losses to Rider and Wichita State, but this is a dangerous team.  They should be in whether they beat Niagara in the MAAC finals or not.

BYU - A 23-6 record, 12-4 MWC record, and #21 RPI have them in position for a 6 seed or so...not the 8 that Palm and Lunardi are giving them.

Creighton - I bumped them from my "In" list after the egg they laid in the MVC tournament (they'd be in if it were up to me, but I know the committee leans on conference tourney performance pretty heavily), but they DEFINITELY shouldn't be wiped from consideration.  A 26-7 record and Top 40 RPI would get most MVC teams (not named SMS Missouri State) in.

Last 8 In

We're officially to the point of the season where I don't think ANY of the Last 8 In actually deserve to be in.  I can't really make a case for these teams, but I can certainly make a case against them.  And Bilas wants to expand the field.  Gag me.

Boston College
Penn State
South Carolina
San Diego State
St. Mary's

First 8 Out

New Mexico

(Temple, Georgetown, Kentucky, Virginia Tech, Kansas State, Northwestern are very out.)

By Conference

I'll say this much: the Big Ten has played this perfectly.  The parity of conference play knocked a lot of teams down a few pegs, but it also bumped up teams like Penn State.  They now have 5 of the last 12 teams in the tournament...all five are in.  Boo to that.  This would be like KU, OU, and Missouri all losing another game or two in conference to ATM, Kansas State and maybe Nebraska or Baylor...and a bunch of teams ending up between 9-7 and 11-5 and getting in.

Big Ten - 8 (gag)
Big East - 7
ACC - 6
Big 12 - 6
Pac 10 - 5
Mountain West - 4
SEC - 3 (ha!)
Atlantic 10 - 2
West Coast - 2

The Bracket

So when I started ranking the teams, I assumed Missouri would shake out as a 4-seed.  Only...other candidates for 3-seeds (Wake Forest, Clemson, Xavier, Illinois, Florida State, Gonzaga...maybe Washington) haven't really been any more impressive than MU.  I figure Washington might get the nod because of their conference title, but I don't give any extra bonus for conference titles, so there you go.

South Regional (Memphis)

1 North Carolina v. 16 Morgan State
8 Texas v. 9 Dayton
in Greensboro

5 Syracuse v. 12 Penn State
4 Washington v. 13 VCU
in Portland

6 Tennessee v. 11 Michigan
3 Missouri v. 14 College of Charleston
in Minneapolis

7 Butler v. 10 Boston College
2 Louisville v. 15 Robert Morris
in Miami

West Regional (Glendale, AZ)

1 Michigan State v. 16 Radford
8 LSU v. 9 Oklahoma State
in Minneapolis

5 Xavier v. 12 Arizona
4 Clemson v. 13 Stephen F. Austin
in Boise

6 Marquette v. 11 South Carolina
3 Wake Forest v. 14 Weber State
in Miami

7 Utah v. 10 Wisconsin
2 Oklahoma v. 15 Bowling Green
in Kansas City

East Regional (Boston)

1 UConn v. 16 Morehead State
8 California v. 9 Ohio State
in Philadelphia

5 Gonzaga v. 12 San Diego State
4 Florida State v. 13 Northern Iowa
in Boise

6 Purdue v. 11 UNLV
3 Kansas v. 14 North Dakota State
in Kansas City

7 West Virginia v. 10 Siena
2 Duke v. 15 Cornell
in Greensboro

Midwest Regional (Indianapolis)

1 Pittsburgh v. 16 Play-in Winner (CS-Northridge/Alabama State)
8 Texas A&M v. 9 Utah State
in Dayton

5 UCLA v. 12 Western Kentucky
4 Illinois v. 13 American
in Portland

6 BYU v. 11 St. Mary's
3 Villanova v. 14 Binghamton
in Philadelphia

7 Arizona State v. 10 Minnesota
2 Memphis v. 15 East Tennessee State
in Dayton

My At-First-Glance Final Four

Louisville, Michigan State, UConn, Memphis

Second glance: UNC, Oklahoma, Kansas, Pittsburgh

Missouri's inevitable path to destiny (ahem)

College of Charleston, Tennessee, Louisville, North Carolina, Michigan State, UConn.