How to fix tournament snubs and selection committee flubs
By: Joe Popely
When Indiana beat Purdue Sunday, Hoosier Nation let out a collective sigh of relief.
Their team solidified its position as a likely top-five seed in the Big Dance, pending its performance in the Big Ten Tournament.
While IU fans pondered over how many pairs of candy-striped pants to pack, bubble teams are prepared for an exciting yet emotionally and physically draining two weeks.
In particular, conference-leading mid-major programs feel intense pressure to win their conference tournaments. Otherwise, their automatic bid could be snatched by a conference tournament dark-horse team and their at-large bid stolen by a power conference team with a sub-par tournament resume.
The madness has already begun. But every year, fans and the media alike go mad over something not entirely decided on the court: at-large bid snubs and selection committee flubs.
The NCAA Tournament is the most exciting postseasons in all of sports because of the high frequency of upsets and Cinderella stories. But the selection process is far from perfect. With Selection Sunday just around the corner, here is how the process can be greatly improved:
1) Don’t reward losing
Teams with losing conference records should be ineligible for the NCAA Tournament. Period. End of discussion.
The “league toughness” argument for giving bids to power conference teams with losing conference records suggests that a premium is put on league play. If that’s the case, then teams with sub-.500 should not be rewarded for underperforming against their most important competition.
Some, like ESPN’s Jay Bilas, have suggested eliminating automatic bids for conference tournament champions altogether, but I think that’s unrealistic. Yes, teams with ugly records will continue to occasionally win their conference tournaments and “steal” a bid. But conference tournaments are fun, exciting and sacred conference revenue streams.
As a compromise, all conferences should count conference tournament games towards a team’s conference record and overall record. That way, a team that catches fire in its tournament is rewarded for playing well even if it falls short of winning it all.
A couple of recent examples:
Illinois State went 3-1 this past weekend in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, knocking off No. 15 Witchita State in the semifinals before losing a close one in overtime to No. 25 Creighton, 83-79. The Redbirds finished the season 20-13 overall and 9-9 in conference. Under my proposed system, ISU would have finished 23-14 overall and 12-10 in conference, and would at least be considered for an at-large bid. Instead, they will most likely have to enjoy the NCAA Tournament from the comfort of their couches.
Iona, an explosive offense team with NBA talent in its backcourt, will probably also get the shaft after losing to Fairfield 85-75 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament final despite winning the conference’s regular season title.
2) Incentivize power conference and mid-major teams to establish home-and-home series
Teams from power conferences have a much greater opportunity than mid-majors to schedule quality out-of-conference opponents and bolster their resumes. Because of the difficulty mid-majors face in scheduling quality out-of-conference opponents, they typically have weaker Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) rankings, one of the main metrics used by the Selection Committee to evalaute teams. Therefore, the NCAA should establish a system of incentives for teams from power conferences and mid-major programs to establish home-and-home series.
What I’ve always enjoyed about the NCAA Tournament is that I feel that, for the most part, the champion is decided on the court, unlike the atrocity that is the BCS. But the main method for evaluating college basketball teams is somewhat flawed and also seems to favor power conference teams. Which brings me to my next point…
3) Adopt ESPN’s “College Basketball Power Index” (BPI)
The RPI takes into account a team’s Strength of Schedule (SOS) and how well it performs against that schedule, by giving weights to that team’s winning percentage (25 percent), their opponents’ average winning percentage (50 percent) and their opponents’ opponents’ average winning percentage (25 percent). It also gives more weight to road wins than home wins.
The BPI is a superior metric because it factors in things the RPI does not, such as scoring margin, key players missing from a team or its opponent and marginally decreasing credit for blowout wins, among other things. A more detailed explanation is available here: http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/7561413/bpi-college-basketball-power-index-explained
The system will never be perfect, but every year several undeserving power conference teams inexplicably receive at-large bids. ESPN’s bracketologist Joe Lunardi has consistently put Northwestern on his “Last 4 in” list, despite its underwhelming 8-10 conference record, 18-12 overall record, and lone win against a ranked opponent.
I am not trying to pick on the Wildcats. To their credit, they rank inside the top 50 and have a top 10 SOS in both the RPI and BPI. And they could make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament.
But winning is still the most important thing.
Implementing these reforms upholds three basic American principles: we reward winning, aim for fairness and root for underdogs.
If anything, it’s your patriotic duty to support them.
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