Re-Examining A 96-Team Field After The Best Tournament Weekend Ever

Back in February, I projected a couple of 96-team brackets, using two radically different formulas to reach this number of participating teams for the NCAA Tournament. After the most exciting first weekend of March Madness that I can remember, I decided to go back and reformulate these brackets based on the NCAA field and who would have qualified with the regular season and Championship Week complete.

The two formats are the same as they were in my original post:

The NIT Option basically folds the 32-team NIT field into the NCAA Tournament. I do NOT hand out automatic bids to regular season champions who fail to win their conference tournaments. That means a few teams who are in tournaments like the CBI and CIT (or not in the postseason at all) appear in this bracket. With 31 automatic bids, 65 at-large bids are available. 

The Champions Option gives two bids to each conference. In some cases, the regular season champion and tournament champions appear. If a team swept the two titles, I gave the second bid to the regular season runner-up. With 62 automatic bids, 34 at-large bids are available.

The top 8 seeds in each region receive byes to the Second Round in each field. To make things easier, the top 11 lines are the same in both brackets, matching the current 65-team bracket. Sites remain the same.

Teams from the same conference may meet as early as the Third Round (32 teams) in these fields, so don't be alarmed to see two teams from the same league in a six-team pod.

After the jump, I'll take a look at both fields.

NIT Option

Since this path to 96 simply folds the NIT into the NCAA field, there are more opportunities for middling BCS conference teams. Of the 64 teams slated for the First Round in this model, 24 are from the BCS conferences, while there's also plenty of representation from conferences like the Mountain West, WAC, Atlantic 10, and Conference USA.

Seeds 1 through 4 face opening games that will be considerably more difficult (for example, Kentucky would have to play either Cincinnati or North Carolina in Round Two). That's because the weaker auto bids, who currently occupy lines 13 through 16 right now, would get to play seeds 9 through 12 in this format.

The 31 auto bids are in bold.

Midwest

Oklahoma City
(16) William & Mary or (17) Seton Hall vs. (1) Kansas
(9) Northern Iowa or (24) Lehigh vs. (8) UNLV

Spokane
(12) Utah State or (21) Arizona vs. (5) Michigan State
(13) Siena or (20) Saint Louis vs. (4) Maryland

Providence
(11) San Diego State or (22) Ohio vs. (6) Tennessee
(14) Rhode Island or (19) VCU vs. (3) Georgetown

Milwaukee
(10) Georgia Tech or (23) Vermont vs. (7) Oklahoma State
(15) Memphis or (18) NC State vs. (2) Ohio State 

West

Buffalo
(16) Wichita State or (17) Northeastern vs. (1) Syracuse
(9) Florida State or (24) Winthrop vs. (8) Gonzaga

San Jose
(12) UTEP or (21) Miami vs. (5) Butler
(13) Illinois or (20) St. John's vs. (4) Vanderbilt

Milwaukee
(11) Minnesota or (22) Oakland vs. (6) Xavier
(14) Arizona State or (19) Houston vs. (3) Pittsburgh

Oklahoma City
(10) Florida or (23) UC Santa Barbara vs. (7) BYU
(15) South Florida or (18) Illinois State vs. (2) Kansas State

East

New Orleans
(16) Cincinnati or (17) North Carolina vs. (1) Kentucky
(9) Wake Forest or (24) East Tennessee State vs. (8) Texas

Jacksonville
(12) Cornell or (21) Sam Houston State vs. (5) Temple
(13) New Mexico State or (20) Portland vs. (4) Wisconsin

San Jose
(11) Washington or (22) Montana vs. (6) Marquette
(14) Mississippi or (19) Tulsa vs. (3) New Mexico

Buffalo
(10) Missouri or (23) North Texas vs. (7) Clemson
(15) Dayton or (18) Northwestern vs. (2) West Virginia

South

Jacksonville
(16) Kent State or (17) Connecticut vs. (1) Duke
(9) Louisville or (24) Arkansas-PIne Bluff vs. (8) California

Spokane
(12) Virginia Tech or (21) Wofford vs. (5) Texas A&M
(13) Mississippi State or (20) Charlotte vs. (4) Purdue

New Orleans
(11) Old Dominion or (22) Robert Morris vs. (6) Notre Dame
(14) UAB or (19) Nevada vs. (3) Baylor

Providence
(10) St. Mary's or (23) Morgan State vs. (7) Richmond
(15) Murray State or (18) Texas Tech vs. (2) Villanova

Breakdown

Last Four In: VCU, Portland, Miami, Arizona
First Four Out: Marshall, Alabama, Missouri State, Colorado State

Conference Representation
Big East: 13
ACC: 10
Big 12: 8
A-10: 7
Big Ten: 7
SEC: 6
C-USA: 5
CAA: 4
MWC: 4
Pac-10: 4
MVC: 3
WAC: 3
WCC: 3
MAC: 2
America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MEAC, NEC, OVC, Patriot, SoCon, Southland, Sun Belt, SWAC, Summit: 1 each

BCS Leagues: 48 (42 at-large bids)
Non-BCS: 48 (23 at-large bids)

Champions Option

While I advocate this path to expansion, I readily admit that it isn't as attractive from a TV perspective. Under this format, only 14 of the 64 teams involved in the new First Round come from BCS conferences. Top four seeds who receive a bye are still likely to encounter more difficult Second Round games than current First Round offerings, though they may not be quite as difficult as some of the matchups the NIT Bracket would provide. Second round games for teams seeded between 5 and 8 would be similar to (or slightly more difficult than) today's, barring upsets.

The 62 auto bids, two for each conference, are in bold.

Midwest

Oklahoma City
(16) William & Mary or (17) Houston vs. (1) Kansas
(9) Northern Iowa or (24) Bucknell vs. (8) UNLV

Spokane
(12) Utah State or (21) Coastal Carolina vs. (5) Michigan State
(13) Mississippi State or (20) Montana vs. (4) Maryland

Providence
(11) San Diego State or (22) Pacific vs. (6) Tennessee
(14) Arizona State or (19) Morgan State vs. (3) Georgetown

Milwaukee
(10) Georgia Tech or (23) Stephen F. Austin vs. (7) Oklahoma State
(15) UAB or (18) Oakland vs. (2) Ohio State 

West

Buffalo
(16) Wichita State or (17) Wofford vs. (1) Syracuse
(9) Florida State or (24) Delaware State vs. (8) Gonzaga

San Jose
(12) UTEP or (21) Princeton vs. (5) Butler
(13) Illinois or (20) Robert Morris vs. (4) Vanderbilt

Milwaukee
(11) Minnesota or (22) North Texas vs. (6) Xavier
(14) Murray State or (19) College of Charleston vs. (3) Pittsburgh

Oklahoma City
(10) Florida or (23) Jackson State vs. (7) BYU
(15) Rhode Island or (18) Weber State vs. (2) Kansas State

East

New Orleans
(16) South Florida or (17) Fairfield vs. (1) Kentucky
(9) Wake Forest or (24) Winthrop vs. (8) Texas

Jacksonville
(12) Cornell or (21) Morehead State vs. (5) Temple
(13) New Mexico State or (20) UC Santa Barbara vs. (4) Wisconsin

San Jose
(11) Washington or (22) Vermont vs. (6) Marquette
(14) Northeastern or (19) Quinnipiac vs. (3) New Mexico

Buffalo
(10) Missouri or (23) East Tennessee State vs. (7) Clemson
(15) Dayton or (18) Ohio vs. (2) West Virginia

South

Jacksonville
(16) Memphis or (17) Sam Houston State vs. (1) Duke
(9) Louisville or (24) Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. (8) California

Spokane
(12) Virginia Tech or (21) Jacksonville vs. (5) Texas A&M
(13) Siena or (20) Stony Brook vs. (4) Purdue

New Orleans
(11) Old Dominion or (22) Lehigh vs. (6) Notre Dame
(14) Mississippi or (19) IUPUI vs. (3) Baylor

Providence
(10) St. Mary's or (23) Troy vs. (7) Richmond
(15) Kent State or (18) Wright State vs. (2) Villanova

Breakdown

Last Four In: William & Mary, South Florida, Memphis
First Four Out: Connecticut, North Carolina, Northwestern, Cincinnati

Conference Representation
Big East: 9
ACC: 7
Big 12: 7
Big Ten: 6
SEC: 6
A-10: 5
C-USA: 4
MWC: 4
CAA: 3
Pac-10: 3
America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Horizon, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, MVC, NEC, OVC, Patriot, SoCon, Southland, Sun Belt, SWAC, Summit, WCC, WAC: 2 each

BCS Leagues: 37 (25 at-large bids)
Non-BCS: 59 (9 at-large bids)

With these two fields laid out in front of you, which option do you like best? Vote in the poll and if you'd like to elaborate, please leave a comment.

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