In moments like those, Williams tended to be angry at anyone and everyone. This was no different. I happened to be sitting with him and I mentioned that, in spite of the loss, his team would probably be no worse than a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament.
“Yeah, fine, I know,” he said.
Then I made a mistake. I brought up the simmering rumors that the NCAA was planning to expand the field for 2011 to 96 teams.
“Just think,” I said. “Next year at this time you might have a first-round bye to play the winner of the game between the 14th-place team from the Big East and the sixth-place team from the Missouri Valley.”
Williams didn’t find the comment amusing. “You see, that’s the problem with all you anti-expansionists,” he said. “You don’t understand what it means to players to say they played in the NCAA tournament. Fifty years from now, the guys on my team this year will talk about making it to the NCAA tournament no matter how far we go once it starts.”
“That’s because you had to work to get in,” I said. “You had to be good. You had to beat real teams. If you expand to 96 and you’re in a major conference, all you have to do is field a team and you’ll probably get in. What’s the big deal about that?”
As it turned out, the tournament was expanded to only 68 teams for 2011 in large part because the NCAA didn’t want to take the publicity hit from the “anti-expansionists” (I was not, by any stretch, the only one), who would have correctly seen the expansion to 96 as just another money grab. Fortunately, Turner Sports was talked into dumping huge money into the new television contract, and the new Turner/CBS combo deal allowed the NCAA to get the money it wanted while only expanding by three teams.
Except that is still too many teams.
The NCAA tournament should invite 64 teams — period. To begin with, that means no silly extra round of games — the so-called “First Four” — that teams have to go through to advance to what is now called the second round even though 60 teams are playing their first game.
Beyond that, there just aren’t that many good basketball teams nowadays worthy of the honor — and it should be an honor — to play in the NCAA tournament. Have you checked the list of potential at-large teams lately? If you are a bracket geek, come up with 37 teams that you think truly deserve to see their names go up on the board Sunday night.
Is there anyone outside of Seattle who thinks Washington — the Pacific-12 regular season champion that lost to middling Oregon State in the tournament quarterfinals — deserves a bid? How about teams such asConnecticut and South Florida? Let’s go down the list of South Florida’s impressive wins: Louisville. That’s it. U-Conn. finished 8-10 in a Big East that had some truly bad teams at the bottom and then padded its record with Big East tournament wins over awful DePaul and run-of-the-mill West Virginia. In their last 16 games, the Huskies were 6-10. The Huskies’ four victories before the tournament were against Seton Hall, DePaul (again), Villanova and Pittsburgh.