March Madness is great. No really, it is. For all the usual complaints about NCAA hoops, of which many are often justified, we can all park our fears once the NCAA Tournament comes around. Cinderella will go to the dance, she’ll do something crazy, somebody will shake their money maker on a big three, and a team everyone loves to hate will fall. This generally makes people happy, especially if it’s Duke.
Oh, and yes, this is a time where we can all bet on teams who we don’t pay that much attention to for the bulk of the year…and that’s sort of the problem.
The system is so tilted towards March that what happens between November and the Big Dance itself tends to get lost in the shuffle. Fundamentally, the regular season needs to matter more and to do that, you need to tie it in to the end goal. Starting from the off, inter-conference showdowns are awfully passe. They come right after the legitimately fun early season tournaments and before the actual conference play serving to somehow take the heat off any early interest before the meat of the season. Inter conference tournaments, where there’s more than bragging rights at stake, would prove far more entertaining, though tough to execute as astutely noted here. Do it in pods, so everyone gets at least three games, then a good old fight to the death where RPI ranking takes a big boost and some major bragging rights are scored to boost interest in the more regionalised conference seasons.
For the big conferences, like the Big Ten, SEC, and ACC, it’s a chance to build up the resumes of teams that could end up on the bubble by the end of conference play. For mid-majors, it’s of a similar benefit as more quality wins means more chance of an at-large bid.
While Cinderella is great, I mean really you need to be a monster not to love Cinderella, the 1 vs 16 game has been interesting literally twice ever. The pack needs some order and Dayton doesn’t do the job. A real form of play-in games, where conferences who repeatedly fail to advance a team battle it out in mini-qualifiers serves a couple of purposes. It helps to bridge the gap before the dance for those one-bid leagues, whose tournaments end often a week before those of power conferences, so the better teams stay fresh. It also means that only those actually good enough to give decent accounts of themselves make the field. This would require a lot of refinement, you don’t want conferences buried in hopeless scenarios of never getting bids or winnable first-round match-ups, but essentially it’s a means to bring the overall standard up while ensuring the Cinderella sides with a fighting chance actually stand a fighting chance.
The end of the tournament, or rather the middle Sunday, also offers some potential. There are lots of elements of an All Star weekend to the end of the NCAA Tournament already save one obvious one…there’s no All Star game. Now, we need to be realistic: Teams who made the final weekend won’t have players active and lottery picks likely wouldn’t want to risk injury. Behind that, there’s a ton of talent particularly of players who deliver those big moments in the opening weekend. An All Star game that was played possibly along NHL lines, with a 3 on 3 tournament, could be fun. Failing that, just go conventional and blend the rosters between those who did it all season long and some wild card slots for players who are likely to appear in the One Shining Moment montage.