Here’s why the ’Canes may very well get their wish: The so-called Big Six conferences have no depth this season and the committee is loath to load up on on at-large teams from the smaller conferences. Sure, Drexel may get in, but the big boys are already whining about that possibility. Oral Roberts, which won 27 games, will get some consideration but should probably be booking travel for the National Invitation Tournament. The same goes for Iona, which won the regular season title in the MAAC.
So what does that leave us with? A second team from the Pac-12, which if truth be told probably deserves zero bids this season? Nine or 10 from the Big East, which probably has six truly worthy teams? Six from the ACC, which should get five at the very most? The SEC? Heck, the case could be made it should only get three bids. It will probably end up with five. The Big 12 and the Big Ten deserve six each, but do not be surprised if the committee gives a sympathy bid to Northwestern because the presence of the Wildcats, who have never been in the event, would be a TV feel-good story. But Northwestern has a win over Michigan State and not much else.
Even if you add Washington, Northwestern, Miami, U-Conn. and South Florida, the total number of deserving at-large teams from the major conference comes to 29. That leaves eight bids. If they all went to smaller conferences that would be fine. But they won’t. Come on down, Seton Hall!
If you are Gary Williams and other defenders of expansion, the answer to all of this skepticism is two words: Virginia Commonwealth. The Rams made the tournament’s expansion look good a year ago when they went from the First Four to the Final Four. So you can argue we would have missed out on that story without expansion.
True — but only because the committee vastly misjudged VCU because of its Big Six bias. Last year’s CAA clearly deserved three bids, even in a 64-team field. The best one can say for expansion is that it may allow the committee to get away with a mistake — as in VCU’s case. It should be remembered that Southern California and Alabama-Birmingham also got in with the extra bids, and they clearly should have been watching the unveiling of the NIT bracket that night.
So Williams was right. I’m guilty of being an anti-expansionist. And when the field goes up Sunday night, my guess is I won’t be the only one who feels that way.
For John Feinstein’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.
com/feinstein. For more , visit his blog at feinsteinonthebrink.com.