Sweet Sixteen action gets underway tonight. Hope you filled out your NCAA brackets in pencil. With teams like Vanderbilt, Villanova, Georgetown and No.1 seeded Kansas out of the running, it seems there have been more upsets than ever before. This is truly March madness.
All collegiate players dream of the chance to compete in the electrifying NCAA Tournament. But before getting there these kids have to battle through intense regular season schedules followed by postseason conference tournaments. As many have argued, these end-of-year tournaments might be hurting some of the higher seeds. Tournament play wears them out before the real show gets underway and causes some bubble teams to lose bids as well.
Years ago there weren’t post season tournaments in most conferences, but now they are requisite. For teams that normally don’t have a shot at they NCAA Tournament, they offer valuable opportunities. Not only are they moneymakers, but they also offer different regions a chance to recreate the excitement of the NCAA Tournament and are as close as most teams will ever come to the real thing. For some lucky underdogs with mediocre or even losing records, winning their conference tournament winds up being their golden ticket to the NCAA Tournament. The automatic bid even benefits some teams in small conferences that have impressive regular season records and successfully capture their postseason tourney titles, but would never get a bid otherwise because the NCAA knows they don’t play tough schedules.
On the other hand kids who play through a whole season in major conferences like the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 10, ACC and SEC are beat up by the time they enter the NCAA Tournament. They go up against difficult rivals all season long and then have to get through their demanding postseason tournaments. Four or five days later, a one or two seed may have to go up against a lesser known but nonetheless challenging opponent in the NCAA Tournament.
Oftentimes the stronger teams from tough conferences are not mentally ready to play at the tops of their games at this point because so much has been taken out of them in postseason tournament play. Teams coming out of smaller, less competitive conferences are fresher and since any NCAA Tournament game is the biggest game of their lives, they are ready to play. They get a chance to knock off Goliath – so a matchup in the NCAA Tourney is their equivalent of a Super Bowl or the World Series and they are amped for the opportunity to topple a top team.
Also an upset in a smaller conference tournament can ultimately prevent a team that’s on the cusp in a big, competitive conference from getting in due to the auto-bid. With the fourth best overall record in the ACC, Virginia Tech is an example of a team that arguably should have been in the NCAA. But as a result of getting knocked out of the ACC Tournament by last place Miami in conjunction with an upset in the Conference USA Tournament, there was no room for them this year. University of Houston finished seventh in the regular season, but upset number one UTEP in the Conference USA Championship game to make the NCAA for the first time in nearly two decades thanks to the automatic bid. Because UTEP dominated the regular season they earned a bid anyway. So two teams from the small Conference USA got in, whereas normally only one team would make it to the NCAA Tournament based on its size.
While it’s always a thrill to see an unlikely hero have his moment in the sun, in the end the postseason conference tournaments can really hurt deserving teams from big conferences – whether they forfeit their bids to one hit wonders from smaller conferences or come up short in the NCAA Tournament itself.
Do you think postseason conference tournaments should be eliminated?