Over the past few weeks, there has been some national conversation about whether or not conferences should continue to have post-season tournaments, and whether or not automatic bids should be awarded to conference tournament champions or to regular season conference champions. Presently, automatic bids are awarded to conference champions. The current process has implications for regular season champions in lesser conferences who lose in conference tournaments and for “bubble teams” in “major conferences” seeking at-large bids to the NCAA tournament.
This is the first weekend that I’ve watched college basketball all year. In the future, it will probably be the only time I watch. There are so many games during the season that I certainly don’t have the time or the interest. What is attractive, however, about this weekend, is that it is the first opportunity to see most of the top 25-40 teams play their conference rivals in a tight time frame. So, today, I can watch Ohio State (impressive), North Carolina (impressive), Kansas (okay) and Georgetown (we’ll see).
Also, with so many games in consecutive days, you can see which teams have the best depth; which players have the best stamina; which teams handle adversity best and more. You can also get a sense of what teams need to work on before the NCAA. Not all teams will enter their conference tournaments with a solid focus (UCLA). Some teams may renew their focus and intensity during the conference tournament (Florida). Some teams can enter their tournaments on fire and then fizzle.
This season, there are no less than 15 teams with a solid chance to win the national tournament. I like the current system because it rewards teams for peaking at the right time. It is true in this tournament, as it is in most things, that not all things are created equal. Games against the sisters of the poor in December should not carry as much weight as games against established programs and power teams in February. Perhaps most importantly, losses in conference tournaments are seldom fatal for the hopes of dominant teams – and nothing is more inspirational than a conference championship for an underdog (Syracuse ’06).