Sunday, March 13, 2016

Making the NCAA regular season relevant

Welcome to March - the month where millions of Americans suddenly take interest in 68 teams that try to shoot a round leather ball through a rim and net. Never mind that 34 games each have been played by these teams - it's all about what happens in March, right?

For all of the wonder of March Madness, far less attention is paid to the three plus months of compelling rivalries, record-breaking individual performances and the ebb-and-flow of team development.

Why is this the case? Obviously, the finality of a-loss-and-you're-out in March Madness heightens the drama. So too does the development of individual stories that create tournament drama, e.g., Georgia State coach Ron Hunter - everyone's favorite coach with a broken ankle, who fell off his coaching stool in excitement when his team upset Baylor last year.

There are steps that can be taken to enhance the relevance of the regular season but no move would be bigger than requiring that all #1 NCAA Tournament seeds achieve the pre-requisite of winning their regular season conference title. That policy would significantly alter those currently projected as top seeds for the upcoming tournament, i.e.:

- Kansas would qualify given its status as Big 12 conference champion.
- So too would North Carolina qualify as winners of the ACC regular season.
- Michigan State would slip to the #2 seed line as Indiana was the Big Ten's regular season champion.
- Virginia would also not quality for a #1 seed - they finished second in the ACC.
- Villanova, a loser to Seton Hall yesterday in the Big East postseason tournament championship game, would quality for a #1 seed as regular season victors in the Big East.
- And, Oregon would also qualify as they won the Pac 12 regular season.

This shift in approach would net this probable lineup of #1 and #2 seeds in the 2016 tournament compared to Joe Lunardi of ESPN's current (as of 10:30AM CT today) bracketology:

#1 seeds - Kansas, North Carolina, Villanova, Oregon
#1 seeds (Lunardi) - Kansas, North Carolina, Michigan State, Virginia
#2 seeds - Michigan State, Virginia, Xavier, Oklahoma
#2 seeds (Lunardi) - Xavier, Villanova, Oregon, Oklahoma

It's a small shift but it's one that immediately places needed extra focus on the regular season and the quest to win regular season conference championships.