No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth just became the first team to win five games to reach to the Final Four.They were one of the “beneficiaries” of the expansion of the tournament to 68 teams this year and only got into the main field of the tournament by beating another 11-seed in a play-in game.
The NCAA will most likely consider this a validation of the new format and insist that the play-in games (sorry, the “Opening Round”) are worthwhile and important.
They’re not. VCU’s run doesn’t prove that tourney officials were wise to include them. It proves that the NCAA selection committee did a terrible job this year.
The Rams didn’t belong in the play-in game. They belonged in the tournament and they deserved a higher seed than an 11. Just like Butler deserved to be higher than an 8. And middling major conference teams like Georgetown, Tennessee, and Michigan State didn’t belong at all.
The play-in game was originally created because new small conferences needed more automatic bids, but the NCAA didn’t want to take at-large bids away from other “deserving” teams.
But those final at-large bids don’t go to actual deserving schools like regular-season conference winners Harvard (23-7) or St. Mary’s (25-9). They went to the 10th team in the Big East or the seventh-best team in the Big 10 or the 4th place team in the Pac 10 — who VCU beat by double digits in their first tournament game.
Yes, it’s harder and harder to accurately rank the best teams in college basketball in an era of 300+ schools and freshman heavy squads that reload every year. And, yes, sometimes upsets just happen. (The fact that all four No. 1 seeds are gone is mostly a happy accident.) But when a 10, two 11’s and a 12 seed all make the Sweet 16 and an 8 and an 11 make the Final Four, it seems pretty clear that this year’s seeding was completely out of wack. If the selection committee had done their job correctly, VCU would still be in the Final Four and they wouldn’t have needed the extra game to get there.
It’s worth noting that most of this year’s big upsets didn’t come from mediocre major conference also-rans. They came from the strongest of the “mid-majors,” proving that you don’t get 20+ wins against anybody without having some talent.
So don’t be fooled by arguments that say VCU proves we need more teams and more play-in games in the tournament. It means that the middle-of-the-pack major conference teams continue to squander their many (undeserved) opportunities and should have them taken away permanently. We should dump the play-in games, let the 16s and the 12s back into the main field — and stop giving tourney bids to Big Six teams that barely crack .500 in their conference.
Remember, the play-in game didn’t help VCU and the Colonial Conference. It stacked the deck against them … and they won anyway.
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