With a full five days between the last Regional Final and the National Semifinals, I did what any decent college basketball fan with too much spare time would do: I crafted a new bracket showing what this year’s Tournament would have looked like had it contained 96 teams. I used the approach most people are pushing for expansion, which is to include all regular-season champions of every conference in addition to postseason tournament champions.* I basically took seeding from the NIT for the added teams although I had to decide where to fit in teams that won their conference titles but would have earned an at-large NIT berth if necessary (namely Siena, Cornell, Murray State).
*Of course, using this method retroactively on this season avoids the huge, “How hard does a regular-season champion try in a postseason conference tournament if it already has its ticket punched?” question. This, to me, is one of the biggest issues with expansion: Do teams that won the regular season in a conference such as the SWAC, which has virtually no hope of an at-large berth, even compete in the conference tournament? What do they have to gain? And isn’t it better for the conference if they lose in the tournament and a second team earns a bid? And does this force the Ivy to have a conference tournament?
|2||Ohio State||West Virginia||Villanova||Kansas State|
|5||Michigan State||Temple||Texas A&M||Butler|
|9||Northern Iowa||Wake Forest||Louisville||Florida State|
|10||Georgia Tech||Missouri||Saint Mary’s||Florida|
|11||San Diego State||Washington||Old Dominion||Minnesota|
|12||Mississippi State||Virginia Tech||Utah State||UTEP|
|15||Cincinnati||Murray State||Memphis||New Mexico State|
|16||Connecticut||Kent State||South Florida||Wichita State|
|17||North Carolina||Seton Hall||William & Mary||Northeastern|
|18||NC State||Nevada||Texas Tech||Tulsa|
|19||Illinois State||Saint John’s||Houston||Wofford|
|20||Ohio||Weber State||Sam Houston State||Oakland|
|21||Montana||Coastal Carolina||Troy||Morgan State|
|22||Lehigh||Lipscomb*||Jackson State||UC-Santa Barbara|
|23||Quinnipiac||Stony Brook||Robert Morris||North Texas|
|24||Arkansas-Pine Bluff||Winthrop||East Tennessee State||Vermont|
*Lipscomb and Jacksonville tied for the regular-season title in the Atlantic Sun. Lipscomb had the tiebreaker and thus earned the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, but since Jacksonville advanced further in said tournament before losing, the Dolphins earned the conference’s berth in the NIT. I give that honor back to Lipscomb in my system. Sorry, Artis Gilmore.
Every team in bold gets a first-round bye, and the first-round matchups are: 9-24, 10-23, 11-22, 12-21, 13-20, 14-19, 15-18, 16-17. I tried to avoid early conference matchups as much as possible. I don’t think there’s any spot where teams from the same conference can play in either the first or second round.
The clear early storyline in this Tournament would be the first-round matchup of Final Four teams from last year in UConn and North Carolina. It would be great to see two traditional programs whose teams quit on the season a few weeks ago battle it out for the chance to play Kansas. There’s no doubt Nantz and Kellogg would be calling that pod.
So what does everyone think? Would an Ohio win over Arizona State excite the public? Would making Kentucky play Kent State in its first game heighten early-round enthusiasm? And maybe the biggest questions: Would Bobby Gonzalez and Norm Roberts still have jobs?