Conference tournaments are just around the corner and in recent days there has been talk of teams not participating. The reasoning behind these opt-outs would be two-fold for the teams that feel secure in their NCAA Tournament standing. The first reason is safety, limiting any possible exposure to Covid-19, and whenever possible teams should be taking those precautions. The other benefit would be coaches getting more time with their teams without a loss that could hurt their resumes.
Consequences of Opt-Outs
If teams do opt-out of their conference tournaments it is likely to be most teams in high-major conferences. Those teams would be those teams most confident in making the tournament. If teams begin opting out, there are many questions that will arise. If teams opt-out will it be like a row of dominoes where one falls, many others follow suit? Could shrunken conference tournaments result in more two-bid conferences or result in more bid stealers among the high-major conferences? Taking the current Big 12 standings as an example, what might a tournament with opt-outs look like. If the six teams in the top 25 opted-out, that would leave a four-team tournament with Oklahoma State, TCU, Kansas State, and Iowa State. If such a tournament took place, a team with little chance of making the Big Dance would be going dancing.
This all leads to what should be a fascinating look at what the selection committee will do this March. Like every year, this year will once again be a case of using team resumes versus the eye test. In a normal year, the information the committee uses would have enough data to give them a good look at teams. This year, however, with all of the postponements and stoppages those numbers are much more in flux.
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Decisions the Committee Has to Make
When the committee commences the selection process, this year should give us a clearer look at what members value. Every year we hear talk about the numbers versus the eye test. This season being like no other, that dichotomy will come to the forefront. As an example, let’s take a look at the Missouri Valley, specifically Drake and Loyola-Chicago. Drake is 15-0 and Loyola is 13-3. The NET rankings like Drake more (11th as of 1/28), while the metrics seem to favor the Ramblers (22nd at KenPom). They will meet for two games on Valentine’s Day weekend, let’s say they split the series and neither team suffers another loss.
Neither is likely to opt-out of a conference tournament because mid-major teams are never secure in their standing. If the two were to meet in the finals of Arch Madness, Drake would be 31-3 and Loyola-Chicago would be 24-4. Let’s say Drake wins the and the Ramblers are 24-5 waiting to hear their name called on Selection Sunday with a 1-3 record in quad 1 games. Now let’s look at the ACC, for the purpose of this exercise assume the four teams currently in the top 25 decided against playing in the conference tournament. Let’s say Duke beats Syracuse in the ACC Finals. If the Orange have 17 or 18 wins and a 3-6 record in quad 1 games, this is where the committee’s conundrum begins.
Even though this year is different, the biggest question facing the committee is the same. Do they reward a team like Syracuse who has more opportunities afforded to them because they play in the ACC? Or, do they reward a team like Drake who has looked like a tournament team all season, but got tripped up by the second-best team in their conference in a best-of-three series for all intents and purposes? The season may be different but the conundrum is the same. The only difference is, this year may give us more insight into how the committee thinks.