The NCAA tournament is an over saturated grouping of mostly average basketball teams every March. The 64 team field is exciting for fans who want to binge watch basketball instead of their favorite show on Netflix or Hulu. Because of the live aspect to each of these games, the tournament is also particularly lucrative to the television networks and the various advertisers sponsoring each contest. Indiana as a state has an obsession when it comes to basketball. The more local teams included in the tournament, the more likely respective fan bases are to watch the coverage in support of their school.
But if Indiana manages to secure a spot in this year's tournament a couple of issues become pretty obvious with the NCAA. First, the competition of the tournament is severely watered down for including teams that have not done enough to rightfully deserve a spot. A team cannot lose 12 of 13 games at any point in a season and justify their case for a bid.
Even with Indiana's late season push where they beat Wisconsin and completed their sweep of Michigan State at Assembly Hall, it's not worthy of a spot. While late season trends should mean more in the committee's eyes, it's still not enough. Smaller teams from weaker conferences have fewer chances to build their tournament resume. If a team like Indiana with all of their issues and struggles throughout this year secures a bid, it demonstrates major flaws with the NCAA's tournament selection process.
If Indiana does in fact get in, the NCAA will have to admit there is a shift in picking teams for the tournament's pairings. This shift by the NCAA is the movement toward favoring teams who have collectively struggled, but have individual star players who audiences want to watch in games. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, it is a decision that goes against past habits seen in college basketball before the NCAA tournament.
The NCAA has always put their focus on highlighting teams instead of individual players. But the last few years have shown the opposite in their tournament selection process. If Indiana some how manages to get in, it's not because of Indiana's team. Romeo Langford being a projected lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft is the reasoning for the kind of draw he brings for building television audiences.
It has become more about highlighting individual players for the NCAA in it's marquee event as opposed to overall teams like in previous years. It's worked for the NBA by focusing on stars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The NCAA seems to be drifting this direction and has already applied this formula to last year's field.
Oklahoma making the tournament last season was an utter joke. The Sooners were given a bid despite losing 8 of their last 10 games down the stretch of the 2017-2018 regular season, before getting bounced in the first round of the Big 12 tournament. Oklahoma followed that loss up with an opening round elimination in March Madness to Rhode Island, ending their season.
The NCAA granted a sub par team like Oklahoma a bid despite their inconsistent play for one reason and his name was Trae Young. Young from the beginning of the season was seen as a top NBA prospect and was drawing comparisons to Steph Curry from scouts. Fans want to see star players perform on the biggest stages and the NCAA delivered on that expectation by including Oklahoma. But if the NCAA tournament is an event based on finding the best teams across the country, than Oklahoma should have been snubbed in favor of a different squad.
Indiana has their argument for getting a berth. The Hoosiers have had to confront a stiff level of competition from top to bottom in the Big Ten. There was evident improvement from yearly bottom feeders like Penn State and Illinois. But many of Indiana's key wins helping their resume right now could have easily been losses. Indiana only managed to beat Northwestern, Penn State, Louisville, and Butler by an average scoring margin of two points. Other than Indiana's first real challenge of the season against Marquette on November 14th with Indiana winning 96-73, the Hoosiers have not impressed in the least bit.
Teams that deserve NCAA tournaments bids have to show a positive upward trend. Purdue has shown that trend this season, having a won 16 of their last 19 games down the stretch of their regular season schedule. Purdue's consistent winning should be the focus of media coverage. But teams like Indiana with their massive following, still rely on a stale winning reputation from more than 20 years ago in an attempt to please their hopelessly optimistic fan base.
If the Hoosiers can win against Rutgers and have a strong performance in the Big Ten Tournament, they very well could get a bid for March Madness. The bid will be granted though based on Indiana's vast alumni support throughout the country and the individual stardom of Romeo Langford.
Including Indiana in this year's tournament would be a move by the NCAA intended to generate a larger television audience for an already over saturated product. It's always a positive to see local teams take part in March Madness. But those local squads should rightfully deserve that opportunity based on team performances throughout an entire season. The financial incentive to favor including popular team brands and star players on losing products will likely be too much though for the NCAA to ignore in future pairings.
Jimmy Kennedy, who believes the NCAA is focused more on generating revenue than having a quality March Madness, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org