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Make The NCAA Tournament Great Again, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Regular Season

I fix the NCAA Tournament by eliminating at-large teams.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Purdue Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

We need to “Make the NCAA Tournament Great Again”! Back in 1975, the NCAA decided it would be a good idea to let in some snowflake at-large schools because, even though they lost their conference, they were highly-ranked. Boo-freaking-hoo, conferences games were played and the teams decided a champion. Get over it. Later on, conference tournaments allowed every team a chance to sneak into the tournament. What I am proposing is that we block the entry of these non-champion teams from our NCAA Tournament, and only allow thoroughly-vetted regular season champions to play. I love at-large teams, nobody respects at-large teams more than me, but they should go get their own tournament, like the NIT.

Okay, in actuality, we all love the NCAA Tournament in its current state. However, since we won the Big Ten title outright for the first time in 20 some years, I figured it’d be fun to look at what the bracket might be if we were still stuck in the 60’s.

Incidentally, 1969 was the only time Purdue qualified for the NCAA Tournament before they began allowing at-large teams. Purdue and star Rick Mount did reach the championship game that year before losing to alumnus John Wooden and UCLA. In 1940, the year of the second NCAA Tournament, Purdue won the Big Ten, but either choose to not attend, or the committee shunned them and choose second-place Indiana as the single Big Ten representative. Of course, as you know, IU would win that tournament, handily, despite not even being the best team in their conference.

To find my teams, I simply looked through ESPN’s conference standings pages and simply picked the team with the best conference record. For any conference that had a tie at the top, I went and looked at if they played in their conference tourney and who won, or at which team went further in their conference tournament. This worked for every league, but the Horizon, where both Oakland and Valpo lost in their first conference tournament game. I decided on the Grizzlies over the Crusaders because Oakland won both regular season games (coincidentally, Oakland won their NIT game last night, while Valparaiso lost).

For the bracket, I went with the committee when it came to seeding the top ten teams (with the exception of Wichita State who deserved better). Then I used KenPom to seed the rest of the bracket. This led to some interesting results and match-ups.

Let’s look at our beloved Boilermakers. We were the 7th-highest seeded conference champion, which led us to again fall into Kansas’ bracket. Instead of seeing them in the Sweet Sixteen, however, we’d meet up in the Elite Eight. Interestingly, with Oakland getting the nod over Valpo, Purdue is the only Indiana school in this field (last year, IU, Valpo, and IPFW all won at least a share of their conference titles).

The thing about this bracket is that is lessens the likelihood of early upsets, but by the time we get to the Elite Eight, most of the teams start looking the same as they will in real life. I picked Gonzaga to win the championship in my bracket challenge this year and I would still pick them to win here. I also picked Purdue to the Final Four in my bracket and could see them there in this bracket as well. However, this bracket makes things easier for the power conferences and teams. Would that be a good thing? Well, depends who you are and how you feel about upsets.

What do you think of this bracket?

Who would be your Final Four in this bracket? Your champion?

Are those picks different than in the real bracket?

Isn’t it funny that the only first round game that is the same is Villanova-Mount St. Mary’s?