Win-or-go-home basketball the best
Ross Schulz, Staff Writer
A couple nights ago, in the midst of multiple conference tournament finals and semifinals in college basketball, a number of national writers displayed their support for the automatic bids from these conferences to go to the regular-season champion instead of the conference-tournament champion, essentially ending the conference tournaments all together.
I’ve also heard a few Indiana fans put down the conference tournament and say they want their red-hot team to win one game and then lose to stay fresh for the NCAA tournament.
Both notions are nonsense. The first (ending conference tourney auto bids) is of the complete and utter variety, while the second is a little lesser so.
College basketball sets itself apart, and draws in national attention, for one reason and one reason only: win-or-go-home basketball.
To take that away in the form of conference tournaments would ruin the greatest appetizer to the greatest feast in sports.
And in many ways, the appetizer is better than the main course.
The immense passion and quality of play in the automatic-bid conference tournaments is like no other. Players who, for the most part, know they will make a living doing something else, are putting their careers on the line for a chance to dance into history. The emotions of both teams when the final horn sounds shows how much it means to these players and coaches. After winning a conference tournament, everything else is just icing on the cake.
Conference tournaments are not only great for the little guys, but it’s also a perfect opportunity for the major conference teams to prepare for the following week’s NCAA tournament when it’s do or die. (It’s also a second chance for under-performing teams throughout the year to redeem themselves.)
If we did away with conference tournaments, we’d eliminate the opportunity for the single greatest story in college basketball’s history: the 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack led by coach Jim Valvano. If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch ESPN’s 30-for-30 documentary about the team, called ‘Survive and Advance,’ I recommend you do so as soon as possible.
More often than not, conference-tournament success leads to NCAA-tournament success.
Plus, for the viewer, conference-tournament Friday is the single-best day of the entire season for the quantity of quality games, including anything the NCAA tournament produces. Major conference tournaments are down to their semifinals or quarterfinals by that time, with loaded games pitting NCAA tournament teams ‘ low-seeded teams in a many cases ‘ against one another. By the time the NCAA tournament has that type of quality against one another, it’s the second round (maybe) or Sweet 16, and then we’re down to only eight or four games per day.
To take away championship week is to take away the heart and soul of college basketball.
The NCAA tournament ‘ and championship week is an extended part of it ‘ is what makes college basketball great. In our region, we pay attention to it throughout the calendar year, but, on a national level, the tournament ‘ with its win-or-go-home drama ‘ draws the eyeballs of the nation.
Think of all the great story lines and games we’ve already seen this year alone that would not have been possible with the elimination of the automatic bids from conference tournaments, such as Northern Iowa guard Wes Washpun’s buzzer beater that immediately went into college basketball lore; superstar A.J. English making his first tournament appearance with Iona; and Austin Peay’s run to the Ohio Valley Conference title as an eight seed with head coach Dave Loos’ granddaughter, 5-year-old Rhyan Loos, watching at home while battling cancer and spurring the Governors to don ‘Rally for Rhyan’ shooting shirts throughout the tourney.
And some say these teams ‘ and many others ‘ aren’t worthy representatives of their conferences. Really?
The main claim is the automatic-bid conferences sometimes don’t send their best team to the big dance because of the tournament format. That’s certainly, and undoubtedly, true.
It’s also not the point.
The NCAA tournament itself sometimes doesn’t produce the best team as the national champion. In fact, I’d say more often it does not.
But no one, at least no one in their right mind, would want to change the NCAA tournament format.
If college basketball wants to ensure its best team wins the national championship, it could just take the top four or eight teams in the Ken Pomeroy standings and have at it with multi-game series. Does that sound like fun?
The NCAA tournament and conference tournaments are not the best ways to produce the best overall team. Actually, it’s probably the worst system in major sports for that. But, it’s also arguably (for some, but no argument here) the greatest event in all of sports.
Let’s keep it that way.
Call it championship week, champ week or whatever you want.
I call it glorious.