128 teams in the NCAA Tournament? Blasphemy! That’s what you’re thinking isn’t it? But let’s look at some numbers here. There are roughly 350 Division I college basketball teams. 128 teams in the tournament is well under half of the teams. Compare that to the NBA and NHL where over half the teams get in, or college baseball where they have a 64 team field with considerably fewer teams playing college baseball and it is not that outrageous.
Think about this fact for a second, in 2008, the defending national champion, two-time defending champ in fact, Florida Gators did not make it into the field despite winning over 20 games. Not only did they not make it, the runner-up from the previous season, the Ohio State Buckeyes, did not make it in either despite a good record. Both of them went on the the Final Four of the NIT in New York City and the Buckeyes ended up winning it. Would it have been a bad thing to include those two teams in the 2008 tournament? Is it unrealistic to think they may have won a game two had they gotten in?
Recently we have had teams in the NIT with 23 and 24 wins. Last year it would have been nice to see teams like Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders get a shot at the NCAA Tournament. The Pac 12 was virtually locked out of the Big Dance a year ago. But in the NIT they went on a roll and the Stanford Cardinal won the championship.
This year, the SEC is in the role of the Pac 12 from a year ago. There is talk of only three teams making it in from the “Power Six” conference. This may mean the defending champs may again not make the field with over 20 wins and the Kentucky Wildcats are one of about five SEC teams that can make the case for one of those two spots the won’t be claimed by the Gators. You can throw a blanket over the Missouri Tigers, Tennessee Vols, Alabama Crimson Tide, Ole Miss Rebels, Arkansas Razorbacks and Wildcats. How can you justify picking two of them and not the other three? They’ve all beaten somebody else on the list and also lost to somebody on the list. They all have about the same record and have played about the same schedules.
The SEC is not the only place where this is happening. There will be teams left out for the Big Ten and Big East that are better than many of the teams who will be playing in the NCAA Tournament. But because they play in a league with five or six of the top 25 teams in the nation, their records may not indicate how good they really are. The Minnesota Golden Gophers come to mind. Or the Villanova Wildcats.
How does this work logistically? Without much of a problem actually. There is already two nights of games before we pare down to 64 teams. All you need is more venues available to host games on the same days as the “First Four” and you can get them all in. You need 16 venues for the 64 games that would be played with each venue hosting four games. Or, you could even get by with eight venues hosting eight games each with four games being played over a two-day span. To find 16 more venues would be easy enough. Just check the NBA schedules and see who is on the road those two days. Or you can go to on-campus sites as well.
The down side to this is that it would essentially kill the NIT and that would be a shame. The NIT has a fairly decent field these days with all the 20-win teams that miss the NCAAs. It has also been around for a long time. But if you ask the teams that make it to New York if they would trade that experience in for a chance to play in the NCAA for just one game, you would get your answer.