Buzzer 'Bag: What the Pac-12's death means for NCAA Tournament selection, Virginia's defense, and the inaugural All-Eamonn team
Plus: Arizona's offseason, the ACC basketball brand and more
A bunch of good questions and long answers today, so let’s just hop into it, leading off with an interesting post-realignment consideration — and an answer from the NCAA itself. Let’s mailbag!
How does the demise of the Pac-12 affect the NCAA basketball tournaments (men's and women's)? Will it open the opportunity for more mid-majors or other smaller teams to make the tournament? Or does it mean more teams from the large conferences? Thanks! — John Joven
And similarly, if the remaining Pac-12 duo joined another conference, the number of automatic bids will just reduce by one, right? Seems like it could be an excuse to make other changes as well ... — Ry Daw
Full disclosure: I hadn’t totally considered what the disbanding of the Pac-12 would do to the structure of the NCAA Tournament. There are currently 32 leagues with automatic bids. What happens if a conference disappears, and that number becomes 31?
I shot an email over to NCAA director of media coordination and statistics David Worlock, who lives and breathes the creation of the NCAA Tournament as much as anyone, to ask about this. What would happen if the Pac-12 goes kaput? Is there a specific protocol or organizational guidance for this situation?
“If (a conference were to disband) the men’s basketball committee would have to determine if the number of at-large teams in a 68-team field would increase from 36 to 37, since there would then be only 31 automatic qualifiers,” Worlock wrote. “My sense is that would be the solution, but the committee has not discussed this yet so it would be premature to say anything definitive.”
In other words: If Oregon State and Washington State join the Mountain West, as has been rumored in recent days, the committee would have to discuss what to do with the Pac-12’s old bid. (This raises a humorous idea: What if those two schools stay in the “Pac-12”, play each other eight times and keep the automatic bid for one of the two? Genius level stuff happening here.) From the sounds of it, the NCAA will just pick another at-large team, which seems simple enough. But considering the way we all obsess over tournament selection and bubble spots, it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.
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As for the first part of the question, the classic company line from the committee — and, honestly, from me, because I have never had any concrete reason not to take this at face value — is that the folks who choose the teams are really only interested in finding the best 36 at-large teams from the tournament. (Or, um, 37!) They usually get a lot right. Sometimes they screw something up. There are always arguments along the cut line. But whatever the nitty gritty, I doubt a vanished Pac-12 will change any larger trends, or provide any additional opportunities for mid-majors or vice versa, moving forward. We’ll see.
Who makes the preseason “All-Eamonn” team? Not looking for the best players, just the five players you’re most looking forward to watching this upcoming season. — Nick
Nick, my friend …
An absolute beauty of a mailbag prompt. We’re cooking.
There is something crucial to my understanding of what makes basketball great in the difference between players that are the best and players I think are the best to watch. This is something honed long ago, something I took from being steeped in the early sports blogosphere, when Free Darko’s opaque ethos unpaired conventional fandom from aesthetic and emotional appreciation. Growing up a 90s kid and a Chicago Bulls fan, I rooted for the most beautiful and best player ever to play the game. Things got more complicated when he retired. Ever since, even when I’ve written about college basketball in comparatively straightforward ways, there has always been a “whoa, what’s up with this guy” glee lurking beneath the surface. Everyone loves a good player. Weirdos love all sorts.
E.J. Liddell, for example: A very good player, yes, but never the best player in the sport in any year of his career, and nonetheless one of my personal most watchable players of the past, like, decade — a bulwark of old-school midrange smoothness standing against the prevailing tactical tides.
So who are those guys for 2023-24? Frankly, it’s college hoops, so there are a lot. I love watching lots of players! I’ll definitely have more in the comments as they come to mind! But below is a six-man rotation built of the guys that came to mind right away, listed alongside the aesthetic reasons why I find them so interesting to watch.
Allow me to present: The 2023-24 — and inaugural! — All-Eamonn Team. Drum roll, please …