There’s a team in the Summit League that is having a historic season. A team with a chance at a perfect Summit League Season, and a chance at 30 wins. However, it’s a team that if they win 29 games and the last one is a loss in the Summit League Tournament is very likely to not make the NCAA tournament. That team of course is South Dakota State.
This will be met with tons of hand wringing in Brookings, the Summit League, and beyond if this were to happen. Frankly much of which justified. This is clearly a special team and the nation deserves to see this team in the tournament. However, given their current net ranking, it’s hard to see a path to an at-large bid. So while there would be understandable frustration, are we asking if the Summit League and similar leagues doing everything they can to set up their teams in the best possible chance at an at-large bid? My answer would be no. Why do I say that? I say it because we know the metric that is the most influential in deciding at large bids, the NET. We know how it’s calculated, and they send out the rankings on a weekly basis. The data is in front of us and yet if the Jackrabbits are upset we will spend countless hours lamenting the fairness of it, and little time trying to put the conference’s best foot forward.
A quick reminder of how the NET is calculated
So I have spent enough time saying what we’re not doing, what’s the solution. A beginning of February winner takes all-tournament consisting of participants of 4 mid-major conferences. Why the beginning of February? Two reasons, the first being we have 3 months of NET data to help us get the 8 best participants, and the second being it helps the best teams in the 4 conferences prepare for their conference tournament a month before the conference tournament by playing in a 3 game in 3-day tournament. The conferences I choose for my hypothetical. The Summit League, Horizon League, Mid-American Conference, and Big Sky. Put this tournament at a neutral site to make victories a little more likely to fall into Quad 2 wins, save on travel, etc.
*Note: After some discussion, some very good points were brought up on the challenges on a February tournament. I have come around to thinking that the end of non-conference play is the best time for this. It’s a time without a lot of college basketball buzz, a open window for college basketball fans to want to tune in, and much easier to schedule Mid-December. The trick of course being I don’t think the net has been released yet, so maybe wait until right after the first release but it doesn’t disrupt the homestretch of conference play. I still think you have a much better understanding of where teams are at and solves the scheduling woes many of these teams face by offering up 3 non-conference games against like opponents.
With these 4 conferences this season there would be 3 teams that fall into the second quadrant. Those teams are Toledo, South Dakota State, and Ohio. So the opportunity for those 3 teams to set their path to an at large bid with a 3 win tournament especially if two of those wins are quadrant 2 victories. There would be two ways to put this together. Either the top 8 NET teams from the 4 conferences and ensuring each conference has at least one representative. Or you could have the top 2 NET teams from each conference. I prefer the first way (get the best possible teams there) and yet if something like this were ever put in place I would foresee each conference wanting equal representation. So I will use that in the hypothetical. Who would be the representatives
- South Dakota State
- Oral Roberts
- Montana State
- Weber State
- Cleveland State
If you go with traditional matchups 1 vs 8 etc, you get Toledo Vs Cleveland State, South Dakota State Vs Weber State, Ohio Vs Montana State, Oakland Vs Oral Roberts. A run through this tournament would likely mean either Toledo or South Dakota State would be an at-large if they lost in their conference tournament. Without this tournament, both are outside looking in. For the other 6 representatives, their at-large chances do not change no matter what happens in this tournament. So let’s look at the other benefits.
- Already talked about this but worth repeating, give your best teams a chance to emulate the conference tournament.
- Put this on a Sunday to Tuesday which is traditionally 3 of the slower days for college basketball and it’s instant much watch for college basketball fans. To use last year’s Oral Roberts, Max Abmas is a household name before the NCAA tournament
- Builds relationships between 4 conferences to build in-home and home non-conference games in the future. Everyone explains how much of a challenge scheduling is, these relationships will help with that.
- 3 non-conference matchups that each of these 8 teams knows will be a high-quality non-conference game. One of the challenges with scheduling at the mid-major level is you sometimes schedule a game you feel will be high-quality and by the end of the year that ends up not being high quality.
- Network spotlight for all 4 conferences and their best players
Each team would need to schedule 3 fewer non-conference games to leave the schedule open for this potential tournament. Part of the agreement would be that the 4 conferences would have a template to schedule games the week of this tournament for each team that is not in the tournament to play 1 home and 1 away game against opponents from other conferences. The scheduling system would be set up between the conferences in advance. The third game would be filled with a non D1 that the teams would have set up in advance. We have seen countless examples of these non-D1’s set up short notice both last year and this. It would not be overly complicated to ensure all teams would have their full slate of games scheduled. Even in a scenario that South Dakota State loses in this tournament, how are the Jackrabbits not in a better spot with Weber State, Ohio, and let’s say Oakland on a neutral court replacing Minnesota Morris, Presentation, and Idaho. South Dakota State loses two home games here but if these 4 conferences are working together, home games become easier to schedule and non D1 opponents less needed to schedule.
Credit for the original idea goes to Greg Stemen, I just put some legs on it. There are a lot of logistics way more challenging than I am able to solve, but I think the premise remains. It’s time for the mid-majors to start doing what they can to give themselves their best chance to get to the NCAA Tournament. The metric is right in front of them and certainly makes sense to put the best teams in that metric together.
In spite of the challenges of putting something like this together. It sure beats the alternative of complaining that a team with a resume that has rarely been seen in the Summit is sitting at home without putting them in the best position possible. Heck make it even more fun. Declare the conference with the best winning percentage the winner and they get to host the next year’s MTE at a neutral setting of their choosing.