Through NBA Eyes: 3 reasons why NCAA Tourney expansion is good

These potential lottery picks would not have been left out.

If you're an NBA guy like me, you should be rooting for the NCAA Tournament expansion. Sometimes, excellent NBA Draft talent just so happens to be stuck on not-so-great teams, as alluded to in the previous four posts in the "Through NBA Eyes" series (1 2 3 4). And with all the variables that go into a successful team, can you really blame these players?

Warrior fans ought to know!

Not only that, but the atrocies that CBS has committed this year only solidify the need for the Tournament to move to ESPN. CBS doesn't have enough channels to handle such a load -- heck, they can't even handle 64 teams, as I'll explain -- while ESPN has the depth and breadth of broadcasting logistics and talent.

Here are the three reasons why NCAA Tournament expansion is good, especially if you're an NBA fan...

1. Expansion more likely moves things to ESPN, which is good

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If you watch the college basketball season through NBA eyes, you are very familiar with ESPN, which owns the rights to the ACC and other BCS conferences. They've got their flagship channel as well as ESPN2, ESPN360.com, ESPNU, and even more if you choose to subscribe to the ESPN Full Court package.

To top it off, it appears that they will soon be launching a new channel called ESPN 3D.

I'm as wary of drinking the proverbial Disney Kool-Aid as the next guy, but those who follow the college regular season know that ESPN360 is indispensable when watching archived games of potential future NBA prospects. If you watch enough games, you'll begin to see how well-trained ESPN TV commentators and analysts are.

They're so good, one Steve Lavin got hired for the very high-profile head coaching job at St. John's! Way to go, Coach!

In short, ESPN has got its schiznitz together, on multiple channels both offline and online, to boot.

That's why it's a crime when the NCAA braintrust hands the reins over to CBS after a well-executed regular season by ESPN, and you get the following, as I chronicled at various times during the thrilling first round on Twitter (my handle: @poormanscommish)...

@poormanscommish: Local CBS switching to The Price Is Right. This is why the NCAAs should be on ESPN, not one of the big national networks.

@poormanscommish: Quite simply, it's a crime that CBS didn't switch Wash-WVU (12:00+ minutes remaining) viewers over to see critical buckets by Butler over Syracuse (2:00 minutes left).

@poormanscommish: So CBS finally switches over to Syracuse-Butler with 0:12.7 left, 63-58. Too late, guys. Game was decided at the 2:00 mark.

@poormanscommish: CBS smartens up tonight and switches over to OSU-Tennessee with 2:30, before it's too late (not like last nite w Butler-Syracuse).

@poormanscommish: OMG CBS switches back to St.Mary's-Baylor (30-pt game) as Evan Turner dribbles up down 2 with 1:00 left. Nvm, CBS back to stupidity.

I'm not the only one who noticed these atrocities. In no particular order, here are some tweets by various basketball media people...

@geofflepper (Geoff Lepper, NBA.com beatwriter for the Warriors): OK, seriously, CBS: two lead changes in the final minute of Ohio St.-Tenn. and I'm stuck with St. Mary's down 30? JUST AN AWFUL FAIL.

@chrislittmann (Chris Littmann, Sporting News), retweeting @JonesOnTheNBA (Nate Jones, ex-AOL Fanhouse writer and assistant to Goodwin Sports Management): I'm getting tweets from people IN CINCINNATI saying they cut away from final shot in XU-Pitt. Inexcusable.

@TheBigLead (Jason McIntyre, TheBigLead.com): Should have had 2 games on at noon, also RT @The_Winner_ More staggered starting times wouldn't hurt either

@TheBigLead: CBS should have gone split screen with Pitt/X and A&M/Purdue. I totally have no clue what happened in final :00.4. SPLIT SCREEN DAMMIT

Matt Norlander of Rivals.com also got fed up with it. In his article entitled CBS wins with early games, but some viewers miss big moments he writes...

The fly in the ointment? Some viewers were robbed of last-minute shots and overtime action. Reports and complaints are coming out of the Midwest and the West that CBS didn't pipe in coverage for the end of the Old Dominion-Notre Dame game. Also: office workers were pounding their fists out of frustration because March Madness on Demand froze out all across the country while Robert Morris and Villanova were playing a tight game down the stretch in regulation.

CBS got its Internet feed back in time for the end of the Villanova game, but it can't undo not giving viewers in the Mountain and Western time zones a chance to see Old Dominion hold on against the Irish. The point is, while those two teams were deciding their fates with less than 10 seconds remaining, people in Midwest and West were kept on the other games – which were still close, but not as urgent.

Someone simply forgot to flip the switch with all the chaos that was going on. There is no argument to be made for not showing a last-second shot, unless home markets of other games are watching a close matchup. That's not the case we had here.

Also, I don't understand why games have to start so close together. You're just asking for disaster when there's two or more tight games going on simultaneously.

It's as if CBS executives said, "Meh. X and Y will be blowouts for sure, just check out the Vegas spreads on those. All else fails, we cut to Game Z."

Well, what about a backup plan, if both Y and Z are nailbiters? Solution: don't start the games so close to one another!

You should be using a window of six to eight hours. With no more than 16 games on any given day, it should not be hard to come up with staggered tipoffs. For example, how about starting the games half an hour apart, one after the other? Duh.

I've also noticed two more things that occur on CBS that do not on ESPN...

  1. CBS does not show the shotclock on the onscreen graphic unless it reaches 0:10 or lower. If you're a basketball enthusiast, this bothers you.
  2. For whatever reason, there's about an 0.5-second lag from whenever a referee blows his whistle to when the game clock actually stops. We saw this during the New Mexico State game when things hung in the balance and I kept seeing it over and over in other games. Basketball purists and those who play in rec leagues get very irritated by this, as this NEVER happens in the NBA and I don't recall it ever happening on ESPN with a college game, either. Granted, this may be traced to oncourt game operations and not CBS's fault, but is it any surprise to you that this seems to occur in a CBS broadcast and not on ESPN?

If the NCAA expands to 96 teams (or more), I just don't see how CBS can take on the extra workload. It's already pretty bad as-is, with 64 teams, and can only get worse if increased by 150%. Due to the timing of the expiration of the contract, my sense is that the NCAA Tournament people know this and will switch to ESPN if they decide on expansion (fingers crossed!).

Without expansion, there's no big excuse to leave CBS. Therefore, you should be rooting for expansion.

2. Expansion will result in fewer huge blowouts

sample 32-team bracket in 96-team field
Analysis of the proposed 96-team bracket (click)
Although I believe the NCAA's approach to these 96 teams is flawed, what will happen with expansion -- at a minimum -- is that the #16 and #15 seeds will be replaced by better teams.

I even offer a better plan with 112 teams that would simultaneously be a knockout punch to the NCAA's postseason competition, the CBI and CIT, in my analysis of the expanded brackets in my blogpost, "How to do a 96-team tourney the right way". 

The worst #15 and #16 teams are the regular season non-champion winners of their conference tournaments, which currently receive the automatic bid. These teams would now have to prove themselves in a play-in round.

Take a look at the NIT this year, in which we all jokingly say that the champion is #66 (the Dayton Flyers). How many people out there don't think the Dayton Flyers, or the runners-up North Carolina as it were, would've beaten East Tennessee State, the #16 team that got blown out by Kentucky? Wouldn't we all have rather tuned into a #1 Kentucky vs #16 UNC matchup?

If you look at the past three years of tournament data, you will see that the #1 vs #16 and #2 vs #15 matchups have consistently been blowouts:

2008

  • #1 UCLA 70, #16 Mississippi Valley State 29
  • #2 Duke 71, #15 Belmont 70
  • #1 Memphis 87, #16 Texas-Arlington 63
  • #2 Texas 74, #15 Austin-Peay 54
  • #1 Kansas 85, #16 Portland State 61
  • #2 Georgetown 66, #15 UMBC 47
  • #1 North Carolina 113, #16 Mount St. Mary's 74
  • #2 Tennessee 72, #15 American 57

2009

  • #1 Louisville 74, #16 Morehead State 54
  • #2 Michigan State 77, #15 Robert Morris 62
  • #1 Connecticut 103, #16 Chattanooga 47
  • #2 Memphis 81, #15 Cal State Northridge 70
  • #1 Pittsburgh 72, #16 East Tennesee State 62
  • #2 Duke 86, #15 Binghamton 62
  • #1 North Carolina 101, #16 Radford 58
  • #2 Oklahoma 82, #15 Morgan State 54

2010

  • #1 Kansas 90, #16 Lehigh 74
  • #2 Ohio State 68, #15 UC Santa Barbara 51
  • #1 Syracuse 79, #16 Vermont 56
  • #2 Kansas State 82, #15 North Texas 62
  • #1 Kentucky 100, #16 East Tennessee State 71
  • #2 West Virginia 77, #15 Morgan State 50
  • #1 Duke 73, #16 Arkansas-Pine Bluff 44
  • #2 Villanova 73, #15 Robert Morris 70

The vast majority of these games are throw-away games! They're not even worth playing. You have only two close games out of 24. The average margin of victory in all 24 games, including the two nailbiters, '08 Duke-Belmont and '10 Villanova-Robert Morris, is 23.5. Take away the two nailbiters, and the average margin of victory in the remaining 22 blowouts is 25.5.

What good is that for the fringe mid-major team that barely squeaked into the field of 64? Here's the progression of events for a low-ranked mid-major, in the existing 64-team field:

  1. Upset the conference champion and win the conference tournament, or simply win a conference tournament of an otherwise weak conference.
  2. Show up to the NCAAs and get blown out by 25+ by one of the top eight teams in the country.

Here's how it would look for this mid-major after expansion:

  1. Upset the conference champion and win the conference tournament, or simply win a conference tournament of an otherwise weak conference.
  2. Show up to the NCAAs, play a closely-fought battle against a team of far lesser ranking than one of the top eight in the country. This is your play-in game.
  3. If you win the play-in, you then get blown out by a top-eight team and go home feeling good about at least winning the game that was winnable.
  4. If you lose the play-in in a nailbiter, at least you had a chance to win a winnable game. If you lose big in the play-in, then you know you would've lost even bigger in the old 64-team format.

Such mid-majors have far greater to gain in expansion.

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On the flipside, any basketball coach will tell you that a throw-away game for the #1 or #2 seed does little to prepare the mindset for the next round. Sure, it's almost a free advancement in the brackets, being matched up against a team that you're favored to beat by 25, but if you're a coach, you don't want your team to get over-confident and you'd rather advance having a competitive game. Your mindset is that if you lose a competitive game that you should've won, then you don't deserve to win the whole thing anyways.

Take it from someone who runs tournaments for a living. Welcome to tournament world.

I'm saying that if you ask John Calipari, he would tell you that Kentucky would've rather played against a Dayton or a UNC than East Tennessee State in the first round, to be better prepared for what lies ahead. But you say, "Cal, what if you lost to Dayton or UNC?" He would say, "Then we wouldn't have deserved to advance to face Cornell anyways."

Again, expansion will result in stronger opponents facing the #1 and #2 seeds (and so on and so forth), such that you'll actually see a far better mathematical probability of a Duke-Belmont or Villanova-Robert Morris thriller. You know how it goes: we love underdogs.

I submit that a #1-ranked team getting bounced in their first game is a lot more likely to happen in an expanded field.

Therefore, you should root for expansion.

3. Expansion leads to better scouting and better NBA teams

Armon Johnson at #30?
More looks needed.
When the 64-team NCAA Tournament is separated from the 32-team NIT, the 16-team CBI, and the 16-team CIT, it is almost logistically impossible for NBA scouts to properly evaluate potential draftees if they are playing in some obscure corner of the country for an NIT, CBI, or CIT game. Please note: there's a huge difference in evaluating a player on TV as opposed to in person, say, right behind the bench as Pat Riley has been known to do.

In the expanded NCAA Tournament, it has already been determined that the play-in games will occur in the same 16 venues that they have currently in the 64-team first round. When more players can be present under one roof, it makes NBA Draft evaluation a whole lot better.

Here's a list of solid NBA draft talent that was shut out of the Tournament this year:

  • Pictured before "the jump", there's Hassan Whiteside (freshman, 7'0" 235, 13.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg), who is averaging an off-the-charts 5.4 blocks per game, but plays on mid-major Marshall University. Marshall got an invite to the 16-team postseason CIT, but lost in the second round to Appalachian State. On NBAdraft.net, he's projected to be the 11th pick.
  • Also pictured next to Whiteside before "the jump", there's Stanley Robinson (senior, 6'9" 210, 14.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), projected to be the 16th pick by DraftExpress, who played on an infamous UConn team that couldn't find an identity this season. UConn ended up losing by two points in the 2nd round of the NIT to Virginia Tech, which happens to have their own NBA prospect in Malcolm Delaney, who was the leading scorer in the ACC.
  • Dominique Jones (junior, 6'4", 204, 21.4 ppg, 3.6 apg, 6.1 rpg) of South Florida led the Big East in scoring this year. USF got bounced by NC State by 1 point in the opening round of the 32-team NIT. Jones is projected to be the 22nd pick by NBAdraft.net and the 32nd pick by DraftExpress.
  • Nevada's Luke Babbitt (sophomore, 6'9" 225, 21.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg) is in that pile of prospects I like to call "Baby Dirk Nowitzkis". These are tall three-point gunners in the 6'8" or 6'9" range. The lefty can certainly light it up, but Nevada lost by 2 points in the 2nd round of the NIT. Babbitt is listed as the 26th pick on NBAdraft.net. Incidentally, and to my surprise, NBAdraft.net also has his teammate, junior point guard Armon Johnson, listed at #30. Johnson has decent numbers, has an NBA body for point guard, but just isn't that explosive, in my opinion. I'm surprised to find him that high up on any draft board. The fact that he's only a junior makes me wonder if NBAdraft.net has some insider agent information.

The above is just a list of the potential first-round draftees. Because a greater number of players from mid-major schools are chosen in the 2nd Round, you should at least double that number if you're talking about the 2nd Round of the Draft.

So we're talking maybe 8-10 potential draft picks, out of 60 total, that could be evaluated in the same environment as the "shoo-in" draft picks. Remember, NBA scouting goes beyond those 60 as well. A whole host of other future fringe NBA players will get selected for tryouts, get signed for NBA Summer League, and be invited to camp even though they were undrafted.

The more chances to evaluate, the better the evaluation, the better the personnel decisions, the better the NBA.

I submit that expansion of the NCAA Tournament will result directly in a subtlely improved NBA.

Therefore, you should root for expansion.

The only drawback with expansion is that things get more complicated for the casual gamblers filling out brackets. That's a small price to pay for the benefits of expansion, especially through NBA eyes.

Follow me on Twitter @poormanscommish next week as I check out the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, the last 5-on-5 competition amongst 64 NCAA seniors (8 teams, 8 players per team) for hopeful NBA Draft picks. I will also be posting my observations on my blog at Poor Man's Commish.
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