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Sports Then and Now



Small Conferences Provide Big Tournament Excitement 18

Posted on March 06, 2012 by Dean Hybl

It was pure joy for players and fans in Richmond when VCU punched their NCAA Tournament dance ticket.

There was a time when the weekend of the ACC and Big East men’s basketball tournaments was as anticipated as the opening week of the NCAA Tournament.

When I was a middle and high school student in Virginia during the early 1980s, the only time our teachers would ever bring a television into the classroom was on the Friday afternoon of the ACC Tournament so we could watch that opening game in between science, math or English lessons.

In the Big East you could always count on classic battles between Georgetown, St. Johns, Syracuse and Villanova as each looked to secure bragging rights in a conference that was built for basketball.

That, of course, was the days before the 64 team tournament (now 68) when only the best team or two from each league was assured of making the tournament field and even high quality squads had to make a deep run in the conference tournament to guarantee a spot in the NCAA field.

Since 1985 when the NCAA field expanded from 53 to 64 teams after having as few as 22 teams participating just a decade earlier, the role of the conference tournament in power leagues like the ACC, Big East and SEC in determining which teams make the NCAA field has steadily declined.

Now, instead of the third or fourth seeded teams in these tournaments feeling they needed to make a run to the title game to ensure a spot in the NCAA field, they now enter the tournament knowing an early exit won’t hurt them and the extra rest may actually be helpful for their NCAA run.

Occasionally, like Georgia in the SEC in 2008 or Connecticut in the Big East last year, a team that must win the conference tournament to make the NCAA’s can still emerge and capture the crowd. Read the rest of this entry →

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