In my previous two entries in this series, I've concentrated on the past, when the only way into the tournament was to win your conference's championship. This time around, I'm taking the opposite approach. Taking the lead of a blog post Jay Bilas put up on ESPN.com back on March 5, this bracket illustrates what the tournament would look like if the NCAA scrapped automatic bids and really made the Committee work. It features 64 at-large teams.
Now in fairness, I didn't reinvent the wheel here. Consider the fact that the last two at-large teams invited, Arizona and Wisconsin, were 12 seeds. With this in mind, I kept the top 11 lines of the bracket intact, including Temple, Utah State, and VCU as 11 seeds. I kept the Wildcats and Badgers on the 12 line, along with Western Kentucky.
At this point, I started to tinker. Northern Iowa, the last remaining 12 seed, drops down to the 13 line. I referenced the NIT bracket and my own final S-curve to seed the last 17 teams in. I ended up putting San Diego State in as the final 12 seed.
Here's the comparison of who got in beyond the final at-larges, broken down by BCS and non-BCS, in seed order.
Non-BCS teans (10): San Diego State, Westerm Kentucky, Creighton, St. Mary's, Davidson, Northern Iowa, New Mexico, Cleveland State, Niagara, UNLV
So, when you factor in Arizona and Wisconsin, there's an even split of BCS and non-BCS schools among those on the last five seed lines. However, only three of the auto bid winners on the last five lines merited inclusion in the Best 64 bracket.
For many fans, the obvious plus will be the presence of more "name" first round matchups. (For example, Notre Dame-Oklahoma and Michigan State-Kentucky are 2/15 games.) Plus, there are still opportunities for less prominent schools to pull upsets. (Morehead State gave Louisville a few good minutes in round one. Cleveland State would've given them even more of a fight.) In fact, in this system, you may see the numbers of true upsets increase.
To me, the negative is that the winners of 14 conferences, including several that have given us memorable tournament moments out of nowhere in recent years (MAC, Patriot League, Southland, America East, for example). Under this system, the chances at these bolt out of the blue moments would decrease drastically.
In my next entry, I'm going to look across the Atlantic at a different way to assign tournament slots.