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Another take on a fantasy BCS-basketball mash-up

I've been thinking some more about the BCS-basketball thing. I really do think it's a good concept, even though I don't think coldcat (who happens to be a long-time sports reporter and should know better) got it as right as he could have. I've already outlined my problems with his take, but it's one thing to criticize, and another to create. What would I have done better? And what else would I have done differently?

The bowl system in college football essentially exists because the NCAA didn't have anything else in place for a postseason, so it left it up to the conferences -- and then couldn't take the power back. For what it's worth, the NCAA still does not award a consensus national champion in college football for teams that participate in the bowl system.

For college basketball, it's a different story. Again, the NCAA was late to the dance -- the National Invitational Tournament actually started one year before the NCAA tournament, and, for various reasons, was more regarded in the early years. Yet the NCAA was able to eventually force the NIT into near-irrelevance, claiming most of the postseason glory for itself. But what if it hadn't? What if it had been the individual conferences that had entered the battle -- and won?

So here's my version of the "what if" scenario: what if the college basketball postseason had historically consisted of four-team tournaments, controlled by the conferences, and now had to develop some way of crowning a "national champion" without completely doing away with the existing tournaments?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present for your review, the Tournament Championship Series.

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The TCS is comprised of officials from the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big Ten Conference, the Big XII Conference, the Big East Conference, the Pacific-10 Conference, and the Southeastern Conference. They will use the TCS rankings: an average of an AP-substitute poll, the coaches' poll, and RPI rankings. The pre-existing bowl relations remain in place -- the Rose Tournament will select the top two teams each from the Big Ten and Pac-10, the Sugar Tournament will take the top two SEC teams, the Fiesta will take the top two Big XII teams, and the Orange will take the top two from the ACC -- provided that none of those teams qualify for the Final Four. Of the ten remaining at-large spots, two are awarded to the Big East conference. Other conference champions will be invited, provided they are ranked in the top 20. If a third-place conference team is ranked in the TCS top eight, it also automatically qualifies. The remaining teams are determined by the individual bowl selection committees from the rest of the top 28, with the caveat that no conference can have more than four TCS teams.

So who's in?

The Final Four

The top four teams are hardly a surprise. #1 North Carolina was ranked at the top of both polls, so they're the top seed. They will play the fourth seed, Kansas, who made it in based on their Big XII tournament win over rival Texas. The other half of the bracket will feature the Pac-10 champ, #3 UCLA, and the Conference USA champ, #2 Memphis. Defenders of the TCS system will point to Memphis, a non-TCS-conference team, as proof that the system is not unfairly biased against non-TCS teams.

The Rose Tournament

Although the Pac-10 champ UCLA will play in the Final Four, the Rose will still feature two Pac-10 teams: #10 Stanford and #21 Washington State. This generates some controversy, as WSU ranks below some other non-TCS champions, but the Rose loves tradition, being the last tournament to sign onto the TCS. Champion #6 Wisconsin and runner-up #20 Purdue represent the Big Ten.

The Sugar Tournament

True to form, the Sugar invites two SEC teams: regular season champion #5 Tennessee and tournament champion Georgia, which makes the Sugar despite not having a TCS ranking. (Tennessee had been ranked #4, but dropped after their loss in the conference semifinals, thus sparing the TCS of forcing Kansas to be the odd team out.) Joining them are Big East regular season champion and tournament runner-up, #8 Georgetown, and a non-TCS team, Missouri Valley Conference champion Drake, which barely qualifies with a #14 TCS ranking.

The Fiesta Tournament

Alas, with Kansas qualifying for the Final Four, the Fiesta settles for a lone Big XII representative, #7 Texas, as the third-place team, Oklahoma, fails to place in the top 28. (Don't worry about the Sooners: they were invited to the Holiday Tournament.) Joining the 'Horns is Horizon League champion #11 Butler, the third non-TCS champion to qualify for a TCS tournament. Rounding out the field are #15 Notre Dame (Big East) and #18 Vanderbilt (SEC).

The Orange Tournament

The Orange makes it an ACC versus Big East affair, as it invites runner-up #22 Clemson and third-place #9 Duke to represent the ACC, and conference champion #17 Pittsburgh and third-place #13 Louisville to represent the Big East.

So who's out?

Two Big Ten teams, #19 Michigan State and #26 Indiana, had appeared on many TCS projections in the weeks leading up to the official announcement, with MSU having the advantage based on its late-season rout of Indiana. But with both Georgia and Pittsburgh qualifying by dint of tournament wins, there was increased competition for the at-large spots. The Rose selected Purdue over MSU because of its conference record and its relative consistent play.

Two non-TCS teams, #12 Xavier of the Atlantic 10 and #25 Gonzaga of the West Coast Conference, also had been expected to easily qualify, but failed to win their conference tournaments. Xavier's early exit hurt in particular, as it would have easily qualified as a conference champion. Another non-TCS team, Southern Conference champion Davidson, had been a long shot to qualify, given its relatively weak RPI; it finished #23 in the TCS rankings.

Many pundits had predicted the Big East would send a full slate to the TCS, with #13 Louisville, #15 Notre Dame, and #16 Connecticut joining regular season champion Georgetown. After Pittsburgh unexpectedly played its way into a TCS berth, one of those teams had to be left out, and Connecticut drew the short straw, despite having a better RPI than the Irish. The Huskies join the ACC's Miami (Fl.) in the Gator Tournament.

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Here's a not-so-fun fact for you: if you're not in one of the top six conferences as identified above (or from Conference USA), you're probably not going to make it to the Final Four, in fantasy or in reality. And, it's been 18 years (UNLV, 1990) since a non-TCS team has won it all.

I have no doubt that, of the 20 teams in the imaginary TCS tournaments, I've named at least 14 of the Sweet Sixteen, at least seven of the Elite Eight, all of the Final Four, and one of those 20 is going to be the national champion. So why play those 61 other games to get to the three you want to see? And if you know your team is going to play in the Final Four (or one of the other tournaments) more than a week in advance, you can make plans -- call up your buddies, take time off of work, go someplace warm, get a hotel room, and pack a stadium to watch some good old-fashioned basketball, knowing that you really will see four of the best teams in the land.

And, hey , even if you only make one of the other TCS tournaments, wouldn't it be a better recruiting tool to hang a banner that says "2008 Sugar Tournament Champions" than to "earn" a Sweet Sixteen banner by beating American and South Alabama?


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