Making March Matter: Getting a True NCAA Basketball Champion
The 2017 NCAA Basketball Tournament has gone and gone without much of a whimper. Aside from a few exciting moments (we see you Florida) and one impressive Cinderella (we see you Frank Martin), March Madness was much more like March “Meh”.
This happens from time to time. Some years the tournament is incredible, filled with buzzer-beaters and clutch performances. Some years the games are lackluster at best.
A big complaint, however, is that the Big Dance never really gives us a true champion. Occasionally the best team wins it all, but is a one-and-done format really the best way to determine who really the best team in the land is?
That’s why it’s time for the NCAA to mix it up. That’s right. No more March Madness. Or at least not the way it is now.
The best way to determine a true champion in most sports is allowing the best teams to play multiple games against each other. Few get this methodology correct quite like NCAA baseball.
So what if we applied that format to this past basketball season? Let’s look and see how things would be different.
First, you should know the format we’ll use. It’s the same as NCAA baseball.
1) 64 teams. Not 68 teams. No “play in” games. Sorry UC Davis and NC Central. You don’t make the cut.
2) 64 teams are divided into 16 locations, all hosted by the top seeds. There are 8 “national” seeds and then 8 other seeds that host. It is a double-elimination round-robin format. And it’s awesome.
3) Once 3 of the 4 teams in each of the 16 regions have been eliminated, the team left standing will move on to the super regionals. The top 8 national seeds have the first crack at hosting a super-regional. If they have been eliminated, the host will be determined by the remaining teams.
4) The 8 super regionals are best two-of-three format. The winners of these 8 matchups go on to the College World Series, or in our example, the NCAA Basketball Finals.
5) The remaining 8 teams all travel to one location to play. They are divided into 2 brackets and play a double-elimination style. The team left standing from each bracket goes on to play in the title matchup, played best two-of-three, for the national championship.
6) The top 8 National Seeds for this tournament are the same:
Here are our 16 initial regions, given to the top 4 seeds from each region in the NCAA tournament. Traveling teams mostly consist of teams relatively close to the host school, where possible.
Chapel Hill, NC Regional (UNC, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Winthrop): Here we get the North vs. South battle so many of us wanted in the NCAA title game. Winthrop, which is basically smack in-between UNC and South Carolina would savor the chance to beat one of those schools.
FIELD OF 64
Spokane Regional (Gonzaga, Iowa St., Nevada, S. Dakota St.): Some might say a cake walk for Gonzaga, but beating Iowa State twice wouldn’t be easy.
Lawrence Regional (Kansas, Arkansas, Wake Forest, N. Dakota): Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning would love to lead the Deacs to an upset over his alma mater on their home court.
Philadelphia Regional (Villanova, Dayton, MTSU, Vermont): Jay Wright’s squad got knocked off by Wisconsin. Could Dayton beat them twice on the Wildcats home court to pull the upset?
Lexington Regional (Kentucky, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, N. Kentucky): Kentucky rolled through SEC play for the most part. How would the Bearcats and Hokies do against the ones-and-dones?
Tucson Regional (Arizona, St. Mary’s, Kansas St., N. Mexico St.): St. Mary’s proved they were no slouch. Would they have what it takes to beat Arizona twice in Tucson?
Durham Regional (Duke, Maryland, VCU, UNC-Wilmington): Ahhh rekindling the Duke/Maryland rivalry. For possibly two games. Yes, please.
Louisville Regional (Louisville, Michigan, Marquette, Kent St.): A rematch of the 2013 final, Michigan showed they have what it takes to beat Louisville on a neutral court. What about in the Cardinals home?
Eugene Regional (Oregon, Creighton, Oklahoma St., Texas Southern): Not as “local” travel as other regions have, but if Creighton and Oregon were both fully healthy, what a matchup.
Tallahassee Regional (Florida St., Northwestern, Providence, Jacksonville St.): Northwestern’s calculating style of play would have been intriguing against the long, athletic ‘Noles.
Los Angeles Regional (UCLA, SMU, Michigan St., Princeton): Reliving a UCLA/Princeton matchup from the 90’s? A matchup between Tom Izzo and Steve Alford? SMU in a region they could certainly win?
Waco Regional (Baylor, Wisconsin, USC, Iona): Wisconsin seems to never care where they play, they’re gonna be tough to beat. Good luck, Baylor.
Indianapolis Regional (Butler, Minnesota, Vanderbilt, Troy): Butler would certainly have to earn their trip to the Sweet 16 battling Minnesota and a highly-underrated Vanderbilt team.
Gainesville Regional (Florida, Miami, Seton Hall, FGCU): Three Sunshine State schools in one spot would make for sold-out arenas for every game.
Morgantown Regional (West Virginia, Virginia, Xavier, Bucknell): What would certainly be one of the most competitive regionals might swing Xavier’s way. First team to 50 wins a WVU/UVa matchup.
West Lafayette Regional (Purdue, Notre Dame, Wichita St., ETSU): The fun for the two Indiana schools may be short-lived when Wichita State rolls through this region.
We’ll assume that most of the host teams win. Home court helps a ton in basketball and allows for the cream of the crop to rise here. The two outliers are Wisconsin beating Baylor, and Wichita State knocking off Purdue. Remember, these are best two-of-three:
The Super-Regionals are hosted by the higher seeds and tend to stay relatively regional as well, given that any of the 8 national seeds remaining are hosts. Here are the Sweet 16 matchups:
Florida at UNC: As good as Florida was in the tourney, matching up with the Heels in the Dean Dome would be miserable.
Oregon at Gonzaga: This would be such a fun match up. If Oregon has a healthy Boucher, who’s to say they don’t make the short trip to Spokane and pull the mild upset?
Wichita St. at Kansas: Gregg Marshall playing the role of underdog in-state vs. the mighty Jayhawks? Yeah…that’s must see TV.
Wisconsin at Villanova: Sure they won a game on a neutral court, but can the Badgers win two in Philly against the defending champs?
Butler at Kentucky: Few “mid-majors” go into Lexington and win once, much less twice. But if a team can do it, Butler can.
UCLA at Arizona: A Pac-12 showdown that would fire things up between two conference rivals. Arizona got the last laugh, knocking off the Bruins in the Pac-12 tourney.
Florida St. at Duke: The Devils split the season series with the Noles, barely escaping at Cameron Indoor back in February. Can they handle Florida State’s size in a best-of-three series?
West Virginia at Louisville: The Mountaineers suffocating defense kept them in games all season long. Louisville isn’t so great they aren’t susceptible to losing a series here.
NCAA TOURNAMENT FINALS
Our final 8 teams are UNC, Oregon, Kansas, Villanova, Kentucky, Arizona, Duke, and West Virginia.
So imagine it. Maybe these games are in Madison Square Garden. Maybe they’re in Las Vegas. Maybe they’re in San Antonio. Regardless, you have 8 teams that can decidedly be called the best teams in the land. They’ve proven themselves, having to win 5 games get here. And now we have two brackets of four teams that will give us the two teams to play a best two-of-three series for the title.
FIRST BRACKET: UNC, Kansas, Kentucky, Duke
SECOND BRACKET: Oregon, Villanova, Arizona, West Virginia
Be honest. There isn’t a single game in that first bracket you wouldn’t watch. But because this is a national sport, having a Duke/UNC title match wouldn’t be as appealing as some might think.
So what you have is a knock-down drag-out between four blue bloods, with UNC eventually outlasting Kentucky to make it to the title game. In the second bracket, Arizona plays to their highest level, beating Villanova to make it to the final. And in a Tarheel vs. Wildcat title game, UNC comes out on top.
Folks, this is the best way to find a true champion. Sure it would take up more time, but that just means schools can eliminate their paltry cupcake schedule in December that they play each year.
So let’s not end the Madness, let’s just allow it to give us a true champion, not just a lucky team or the hottest team in March.