The NCAA Tournament should rely on the NIT to be its insurance policy, if necessary, to ensure it retains a 68-team field this year.
Sources tell CBS Sports the NCAA is close to finalizing its details regarding how to stage the NIT next month. We should learn very soon how exactly that bracket is going to be held. Multiple sources previously said the field was shrinking from 32 to 16 teams. I’ve also been told Madison Square Garden is not hosting the semifinals and championship of that event, like it normally does. There has been ongoing speculation as to whether the NCAA can (or should) move all of the NIT to the state of Indiana, given that’s where the NCAA is located and, logistically, it could be easier to pull off. (The NCAA owns the NIT.) But sources indicate Dallas is the destination, with Asheville, North Carolina, discussed as a second site if a two-city setup is determined to be best.
Why not Indiana? From what I gather the issue lies in hotel and venue availability/proximity in the region. Indianapolis is the only metropolis in the state, and it’s pretty much booked out for the NCAA Tournament.
No matter where it’s held, the NIT ironically carries more relevance this season. There is an advantage on the table that no doubt crossed the minds of the powers-that-be in charge of putting on the most famous secondary tournament in American sports. If the NCAA wants a failsafe of sorts to ensure there is a 68-team NCAA Tournament no matter what, then clearly there will have to be backup teams on standby to be added to the field. (This would complicate bracketing to an extent, but that shouldn’t be a deterrent.) If you’re going to have a team or two or four on standby, who qualifies? The teams that just missed the Big Dance cut — teams seeded highest in the NIT.
If the NCAA were to do this — and it should — I’d anticipate the organization would have charter planes on standby in Texas or North Carolina to fly teams on a moment’s notice to Indianapolis. So that’s one reason to do this and hold an NIT.
The NIT could face the embarrassing scenario of teams opting out; in some ways a pandemic-afflicted NIT offers up even less enticement than in a normal year. Let’s say the likes of Duke, Michigan State and Indiana play their way out of the field and don’t get at-large bids. Would they choose to play in the NIT? It’s reasonable to suggest they might not.
But what if the highest-seeded NIT team — 69th in the selection committee’s seed order — would get first call-up if the NCAA Tournament lost a team between bids being secured and before completion of the first round? That’s a big carrot to dangle.
There’s a lot to work through to get there. Maybe the NCAA doesn’t wind up doing it. But it would be the smart thing to both help keep a field of 68 in tact and give the NIT its best field possible. You can make an easy case against holding an NIT at all in 2021, but If you’re going to do it, do it right and best protect both tournaments in the process.
Eight funkiest NCAA tourney résumés
This strange season has brought about an inordinately high number of strange team dossiers. I want to highlight some of the strangest. There are close to 20 teams that could be mentioned below; if you think your team should have been on this, it’s highly likely I had it under initial consideration. The seeding situation throughout the bracket, as it’s projected right now, is a quagmire. COVID-19 has led to some anticipated wonkiness with scheduling; splicing these teams’ accomplishments and disappointments makes for intriguing work. There’s a lot of weird out there. A lot of funkiness. So let’s look at some of the funkiest of them all. Being the music enthusiast that I am, I categorized some funk artists to pair up with each team. (Press play and groove.)
The schools are ranked in order of current NET standing.
Loyola Chicago (17-4, NET: No. 10)
How funky? Sly & The Family Stone-funky.
Best wins: at Drake, at Missouri State
Worst losses: at Indiana State, at Wisconsin by 14
Gimme the funk: I remain in awe of how the Ramblers have managed to pull off a 17-4 record against D-I opponents, with only one win against a top-60 KenPom opponent, yet still sit top 10 in KenPom and the NET. Other metrics are scoffing. No. 38 in Sagarin, No. 46 in KPI, No. 47 in Strength of Record. No one — not even the committee — has any idea yet how it’s going to handle this team. Loyola Chicago’s closest analog in the top 40 of the NET in terms of metric fluctuation is probably Penn State. The Nittany Lions are 8-12 and have no shot at an at-large. FUNKY.
Creighton (16-5, NET: 20)
How funky? Kool & The Gang-funky.
Best wins: at UConn, vs. Villanova
Worst losses: at Butler, vs. Georgetown
Gimme the funk: Clearly a nice record, pretty good metrics across the board … and yet three Quad 3 losses. It just looks weird, man. The next-closest team with at least four Q3 losses is UNC Greensboro (94th in the NET). Creighton can soon offset this, as it has road games against Xavier and Villanova upcoming. You split that, you’re still in a good spot. Two losses? Then we could see disagreement among bracket prognosticators over how to handle this squad.
Colorado (17-7, NET: 24)
How funky? Parliament-funky.
Best wins: at USC, at Stanford
Worst losses: at Washington, at Cal, vs. Utah
Gimme the funk: Somewhat similar to Loyola Chicago. The Buffaloes have managed to remain relatively highly ranked in many a metric despite a healthy number of losses and some bad losses at that to bottom feeders in the Pac-12. It only managed 47 points at Tennessee. Got dropped by 14 to Arizona. Washington is putrid … but it beat these guys. Four Quad 1 losses and three Quad 3 losses. Unbeaten in the other two quadrants. Buffs are 8-1 at home, 6-6 on the road and 3-0 in neutral-site games. Slappin’ da bass.
Georgia Tech (12-8, NET: 38)
How funky? James Brown-funky.
Best wins: vs. Florida State, at Virginia Tech
Worst losses: vs. Georgia State, vs. Mercer
Gimme the funk: The Yellow Jackets are not projected in the field according to our Jerry Palm, but they’ve got time to get there. Josh Pastner’s team started the season 0-2 with Quad 3 home losses to in-state inferiors Georgia State and Mercer. The Bees are as high as 33rd KenPom but as low as 54th in Strength of Record. Have won three in a row and get their next two at home. Just won two straight vs. ACC opponents on the road for the first time in 13 years. Almost beat Virginia on a buzzer-beater. Hasn’t swept an opponent. Brings the funk.
UConn (11-6, NET: 41)
How funky? Stevie Wonder-funky.
Best wins: vs. USC, at Xavier
Worst losses: vs. Seton Hall
Gimme the funk: There’s not a lot of bad on the low end, but UConn’s record is a mixed bag. The reason the team is listed is because it’s entirely different with vs. without James Bouknight, the potential future first-round NBA pick who alters the equation for Dan Hurley’s team. UConn is 7-2 with him, 4-4 without him. He’s back. He’s Stevie Wonder-valuable. UConn’s trending in the right way. But it has work to do and will need sweeps of Marquette, Seton Hall and Georgetown to work its way into the field. Those are its final three regular-season opponents. That USC win is invaluable.
Missouri (14,7, NET: 46)
How funky? Victor Wooten-funky
Best wins: vs. Alabama, vs. Illinois, at Tennessee, at Arkansas
Worst losses: at Georgia, swept by Ole Miss
Gimme the funk: The stock price on Missouri basketball has plummeted the past two weeks. The Tigers are 1-4 in their past five games. They also have losses to Mississippi State and Auburn. But the wins are high-end. This team is obviously going to the tournament, but it’s tracking to be one of the hardest seeds to project. Seldom is the team that can justifiably be placed on three different seed lines, but Mizzou’s in that spot right now. It’ll get weirder if the Tigers fall at Florida this weekend. (Gators were another candidate for this.)
Richmond (12-5, NET: 52)
How funky? Ohio Players-funky
Best wins: vs. Loyola Chicago, at Kentucky, at Davidson
Worst losses: vs. Hofstra, vs. La Salle
Gimme the funk: The only team in college basketball with at least one win and one loss in every quadrant. That’s my kind of funk. It’s also the highest-ranked team in the NET with a Quad 4 loss. Not projected in the field, but not totally dead, and the résumé is riveting. It’s also been hampered by losing games on its schedule, and then the A-10 went out and lopped off the final week of the regular season so it could play its conference tournament a week early to protect teams against COVID outbreaks and subsequent ineligibility from the NCAA Tournament. In the process, the A-10 might have clipped UR long-term. It needs more games. Must-win at Saint Louis on Friday.
Minnesota (13-10, NET: 61)
How funky? Prince-funky
Best wins: Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa
Worst losses: vs. Maryland, at Purdue by 29, swept by Illinois by a combined 58 points
Gimme the funk: This team doesn’t have a road win. The next-closest team in the NET without a road win is more than 100 spots behind Minnesota (Boston College, 165). Minny has two fortunate opportunities left: at Nebraska, at Penn State. If it loses both of those games, then I’d expect this long-standing precedent to remain true: no team has ever received an at-large bid without at least one road win. And yet, Minnesota has wins over two projected No. 1 seeds, a projected No. 3 seed and a projected No. 6 seed. It also has nothing of note out of conference. Weird stuff.
Concern emerges over cramming in games
What are coaches are getting on the phone and grumbling about to each other this week? Makeup games and the final week of the regular season. They don’t want to play them. Most of them, anyway. Reasons vary. I spoke with a few coaches this week, all of whom said the one thing that keeps coming up in conversations with their contemporaries is the potential double-whammy that awaits in the next week-plus with makeup games before league tournament play starts.
The Big 12, Pac-12, American Athletic Conference and Mountain West announced their makeups earlier this week. There has been restructuring of schedules, with conference trying to fill as many TV windows for league games as possible to make their money (and also fill out the schedule as much as possible for seeding purposes in their league tournaments). That glut has coaches — and some trainers — around the country uncomfortable with squeezing in all of these games on top of the potential three- or four-day run that conference tournaments will present. It’s not just the frequency of travel — and thus the potential vulnerability to COVID-19 exposure/pausing — but the wear and tear on players’ bodies as well. Some teams could wind up playing seven or eight games in 15 days’ time, all in the sprint to the NCAA Tournament. Injury could become more common, and to what end does that serve?
For all of the private griping and half-hearted protesting, coaches have failed to slow this behind the scenes. However, if you wind up seeing a school or three lose out on postseason play because of a COVID-19 outbreak — or be hampered after losing a starter due to injury — this story could move from a back-channel talking point to a mainstream headline.
We’ll likely have a first-time champ this year
A year ago college basketball was so upside down that the chances it would have had a first-time national champion in 2020 (had there been a tournament) were fairly good. One year later and that remains true. Gonzaga and Baylor alone could represent better than 50% odds by the time the tournament starts. Beyond them, many never-done-its are pacing to high seed, and thus, carry good chances to cut down the nets. Here are the schools that have never won it all that are also on the top three seed lines in Jerry Palm’s latest bracket forecast. (Best NCAA finish in parentheses.)
- No. 1 Gonzaga (runner-up, 2017)
- No. 1 Baylor (Elite Eight twice: 2010, 2012)
- No. 2 Oklahoma (runner-up, 1989)
- No. 2 Alabama (Elite Eight, 2004)
- No. 2 Illinois (runner-up, 1989)
- No. 3 Iowa (runner-up, 1956)
- No. 3 Florida State (runner-up, 1972)
- No. 3 Houston (runner-up twice: 1983, 1984)
- No. 3 West Virginia (runner-up, 1959)
The only schools seeded first, second or third that have national titles in their trophy cases: Michigan, Ohio State, Villanova. Nine of the top 12 teams haven’t tasted the ultimate victory. The most recent NCAA Tournament, in 2019, featured a first-time winner in Virginia. If we get another first-time champ in 2021, it will mark the first time since 2002 (Maryland) and 2003 (Syracuse) that the two most recent champs were first-time champs.
Each week I highlight reader questions, so find me on Twitter and @ me with whatever!
The only people who know the inner workings of how the NET is calculated work for Google and the NCAA. But we can do some deducing of our own. At 9-12, ND sits at 73 in the NET as of today; 12-9 Michigan State is 75th. This isn’t going to explicitly tell you why, but it helps draw the parameters: Notre Dame has one more road win and has played a much tougher schedule. MSU has five blowout losses, some of them truly horrendous. Notre Dame has one loss in the “blowout” genre. Because Notre Dame’s offensive efficiency is a lot better than MSU, that is also helping. So there’s your broad answer. The good news is where teams fall in the NET is not a high-priority topic in the committee room.
Illinois has more room to get to the No. 1 line than you might think. I also think it needs to win out in the regular season to have a case; what happens come Big Ten tourney time is too hazy to deduce at this point. But if Illinois wins its four final league games as scheduled, it would be on the No. 1 line. Here’s the remainder of the Illini’s schedule: vs. Nebraska, at Wisconsin, at Michigan, at Ohio State.
Wednesday’s home loss was bad enough that Palm knocked the Tar Heels out of the field. I agree. A Quad 3 loss to Marquette hurts. UNC has enough time to make it up (knockout game awaits next week vs. Duke?), but that’s a permanent wart. I understand the Carolina fans that want to second-guess it after the fact. Winning that game brought no reward other than to get the Heels some run when they would’ve sat for a week otherwise.
I’d like to see the NCAA honor four coaches who died in recent months, all of whom are in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. Name the regions after them for this year. Undeniable college basketball legends. They are: John Thompson Jr., John Chaney, Lute Olson and Eddie Sutton. It would bring a nice flavor and touch to this unique tournament. That said, my guess is the NCAA will name the four regions after things tied to Indiana, since the entire bracket will be played in the Hoosier State.
“The resulting structure will ensure that reclassifying members are committed to the D-I philosophy and operating principles,” the NCAA’s most recent statement, from 2011 reads. That’s when the waiting period changed to four years. “In addition, this legislation will increase the likelihood that such institutions will operate successful, competitive programs at the D-I level.”
North Alabama, in the same conference as Bellarmine, has been up against this for three seasons and will be eligible for the 2023 NCAA Tournament. A major reason for this rule is the NCAA wants to discourage as much D-I transition as it can at this point. There are 357 teams (I maintain that number is 80-100 teams too many) and if you only had to sit a year or two before NCAA Tournament eligibility, the application process (which includes a $10,000 fee) could be a bottleneck with more than 400 institutions trying to get in. Division I needs zero more basketball programs.
• Coaching tracker SZN back. Head here and bookmark, for that page will get an update every time there is a hiring, firing or resignation from now until the last vacancy is filled. We’re at 11. My guess is we land around 35 changes by mid-April.
• Three leagues will begin tournament play this week: Horizon League (Thursday), America East (Friday), Big South (Saturday).
• Source: All 10 Big 12 teams are going to share one hotel in Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament, and the seven projected NCAA Tournament teams from the league will in fact stay there until Selection Sunday — then depart for Indianapolis thereafter.
• Source: The MAAC currently plans to ask its four semifinal participants to stay in Atlantic City until Selection Sunday. Seems more MAAC movement could be coming soon. Stay tuned.
• Stanford’s five games in Santa Cruz, California, have been changed from “home” games to “neutral-site,” which benefits Stanford’s NCAA Tournament case on paper. In reality, I don’t now if this change in designation is going to alter the discussion that much in the selection room. But it’s worth noting that Stanford has played 19 games away from home this season — and will play at least 21 — which is the most of any power conference team. That should be brought up in the committee room in two weeks.
• Every team has now lost a game to postponement this season. Louisiana Tech, Auburn and Mississippi State all had games pushed last, albeit because of weather. So those three still technically have not had a game altered specifically because of COVID-19 issues. They’re the only three.
• Interesting: Xavier Johnson (14.2 ppg 5.7 apg) is transferring from Pitt. He could be a top-10 transfer next season. And on Thursday, another player left: Au’Diese Toney.
• Our Dennis Dodd reported Wednesday that more than $600 million will be paid by the NCAA to membership schools after a full completion of the NCAA Tournament this season, which is significant. Not a flashy headline, but the stuff that will save thousands of jobs and is the most important thing for college athletics’ stability going forward.
• Because you probably missed it entirely: Texas A&M (8-7) remains on COVID pause, won’t play a game in February and has only played 15 games this season, the fewest of any team in a Major Seven conference.
• Drake remains compelling. Team has lost its two best players to injury, and yet backup point guard Joe Yusefu has stepped in for Roman Penn (done for the season) and scored 68 points the past two games. If Drake wins its final two games on the road vs. Bradley, might the Bulldogs be a lock?
• How many teams will be kicked out of the postseason because of COVID-19? Five? Ten? More? We already have one. Charleston Southern’s season is over because it had to go on pause right before the start of the Big South Tournament. Bittersweet: Charleston Southern ended its season on a buzzer-beater. Here’s how it beat Presbyterian on Monday night, courtesy of the magnificent Phlandrous Fleming Jr.