Change is coming to ins and outs of who’s in and out of NCAA Tournament

20 Mar

by David Steele for Fanhouse/Sporting News

Disagree with all the partThey have to be bolting up in the middle of a sleepless night, muttering, “That could’ve been us … we could be destiny’s darlings … we could’ve caught lightning in a bottle … why not us …”

After three insane days, and at the dawn of a fourth, they all know what they’re missing. The folks from Virginia Tech and Colorado and Saint Mary’s and Alabama, who couldn’t understand what made them less qualified or desirable than VCU and George Mason … they have to be in agony right now.

You can barely tell the difference anymore between the team seeded No. 1 and the one seeded No. 8. Pittsburgh and Butler proved that Saturday night in Washington in, so far, the game of the tournament. Brad Stevens knows about these things as well as anybody after these last two postseason runs—heck, after these first two games this year, which Butler won over ninth-seeded Old Dominion and Pitt by a total of three points, scored literally within the last second each time.

Stevens ’fessed up to it almost as soon as he sat down to talk to reporters after that craziness: “One of the things that is very clear, and needs to be made very clear, is we’re not a better basketball team than Old Dominion or Pittsburgh. We just had the ball last.’’

So if that’s all that separates the CAA champ from the Horizon champ from the Big East champ, then how on earth do you separate the 37th-best at-large team from the 38th?

Face it: Among the last at-larges in were VCU, which takes its shot at the Sweet 16 on Sunday after reducing Georgetown to rubble on Friday, and Marquette, which finished several lengths behind Georgetown in that same Big East but now also has a Sweet 16 shot after beating Xavier … a highly-regarded Atlantic-10 team that nevertheless couldn’t take the conference tournament from middle-of-the-pack Richmond … which is already safely through to next weekend.

But you don’t need an explanation of the parity of college basketball, or the reasons for it. Nor do you need another opinion hollered at you about if it’s good or bad for the game. (But since we’re all here: It’s good.) Nor do you need to see another finger-wag at the Big East, its 11 bids and the committee that gave them so many.

The Seth Greenbergs of the world know too well how thin the barriers are. As much as he has been nails on a blackboard for four straight Selection Sundays and their aftermaths, he has a point. No, not about the selection committee having an “agenda’’ that doesn’t include Virginia Tech—as far as we know, and you can never rule it out considering who is chairing the committee this year.

But honestly, if the Hokies had been put in the field, who’s to say they wouldn’t have pulled a George Mason or a VCU or a Richmond or … well, a Butler? By now, we’re running out of reasons to keep considering that program a “mid-major,’’ just as it happened with Gonzaga after it kept “upsetting’’ bigger programs (specifically, bigger leagues with more exposure and more TV money at their disposal).

In that same vein, it’s no longer that obvious why the Mountain West (featuring high seeds San Diego State and BYU), West Coast and CAA are considered mid-major conferences, besides, again, how much of a tie-in they have with the big networks. Never mind the now-formidable recent tournament histories of Mason and VCU. Teams from that league have been giving ACC teams headaches for years, and if you slice Duke and North Carolina from the top, it isn’t easy picking which league is better, deeper, more talented, even better coached.

(Outside of the institutions in place at Duke, Carolina and Maryland, the ACC coaching ranks are a bloodbath; by next season, exactly half of the league will have changed coaches in the last three seasons.)

All of this means that we’re probably headed fairly soon toward two seismic events in college basketball, both of which ought to terrify everybody who really loved the game at its most basic level, and has any sense of justice for the schools and the players:
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