Gene Smith takes over as chairman of the NCAA Division I basketball committee and next week and the first item on his agenda is determining the configuration for the NCAA Tournament, which expands from a field of 65 to 68 next season.
Smith, the Ohio State athletic director, has polled the commissioners of each conference for input. Once Smith gets all the surveys back, he will begin formulating a plan to present to the committee.
In the interim, the committee is trying to determine where the four preliminary-round games will be played and the decision could be a difficult one. When there was only one game in the preliminary-round game, the 64-vs.-65 matchup was played at Dayton and enjoyed great success despite pitting relatively unknown teams from low-major conferences. Last season's game between Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Winthrop drew 8,205 to Dayton Arena.
However, the NCAA is leaning toward playing the new "play-in" games at part of either a quadruple-header or two double-headers at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Smith, though, says it is not a situation that the committee is making lightly.
"It's going to be real hard because all of us have this emotional tie to what Dayton has done for us," Smith told the Columbus Dispatch. "They've been unbelievable. But then there's the thought of playing it at one place, maybe in Indianapolis. I don't know where it's going to end up. I, right now, would probably lean toward doing them all in Indianapolis because they're easier to operate. They're easy to get to. You've got the NCAA staff there that can run them."
Some members of the committee would like to play one preliminary-round game at four of the eight first- and second-round sites. That way, the play-in winner would not have to travel again for its second game of the tournament. However, Smith said the chances of that happening are slim.
The bigger decision Smith and the committee will need to make is which eight teams will play in the preliminary-round games. His personal preference is for the 16th and 17th seeds to play each other with the winner moving on to the play the region's No. 1 seed. However, some committee members have proposed that the final eight at-large teams play each other in the opening round.
"The teams on the 17th and 16th and 15th lines, they're (low-major) conference champions," Smith said. "The last eight in are fifth in their league, sixth in their league, maybe seventh in their league. They're not champions. I'm really anxious to see what we get from our membership so I can frame my thoughts better on what is right."
Colorado Hoops Happy to Join Pac-10
Colorado has been nothing more than a blip on the Big 12 radar in recent seasons. The Buffaloes finished under .500 in conference play in each of the last four seasons and their 6-10 record last winter was their best since 2005-06. They went 3-13 in both 2006-07 and 2007-08 and 1-15 in 2008-09.
With that in mind, it is easy to see why new coach Tad Boyle is excited about Colorado moving to the Pac-10, effective at the start of the 2011-12 season. However, Boyle says his excitement doesn't stem from the Pac-10, at least recently, being a weaker league.
"I think it's a great move for our institution and a great move for our basketball program. And those two aren't always the same. But in this case it is good, for the school and the team.," Boyle told the Denver Post. "Academically, we line up much better with the Pac-10 schools than the Big 12 schools. From a basketball standpoint, we're going from one great league to another great league. But it'll allow us to recruit deeper into California, which was important for us to begin with. Now we'll be able to go deeper. It's a great move for a lot of different reasons. But it doesn't change our approach. We still need to prepare at the highest level. Instead of having to beat Kansas, now we have to beat UCLA and Arizona. The Pac-10 is a heck of a league, top to bottom. It might be a little bit different, with where we recruit and how many, but it's not going to change a whole lot."
Colorado had only one Californian on its roster last season, freshman forward Keegan Hornbuckle, and he left the program in April.
Boyle also says he would like to play in-state rival Air Force on a regular basis. The two schools did not meet during the past two seasons.
"(Air Force coach) Jeff Reynolds and I have talked about the importance of the Front Range match-ups, letting fans have some interest," Boyle said. "That might be a little different philosophy than with previous coaches at CU. I'd like to play all the local schools. We won't play them all in one year. But a few each year would be great. We have a duty as college coaches in this state to get people interested in local basketball."
Nebraska Also on the Move
The other school to bolt the Big 12 was Nebraska, which will begin play in the Big Tenstarting in the 2011-12 season.
On the surface, Nebraska doesn't seem to be bringing much to the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers' history is a spotty at best as they have never won an NCAA Tournament game and haven't been to the big dance since 1998.
However, Michigan coach John Beilein told the Flint Journal that he believes Nebraska will be a good addition to the conference.
“They've got tremendous tradition as an athletic department,” Beilein said. “It's the state school. It's like if Michigan only had one university, could you imagine the importance? So, I'm sure it's going to be a great atmosphere.”
Beilein said he is not necessarily hoping that the Big Ten would bring in a stronger basketball program if it expands again.
"(Commissioner) Jim Delany and our presidents and our athletic directors study this so much,” Beilein said. “Whatever they think is right for the Big Ten, that's where I go.”
Pullen Eager to Play Point
The biggest void Kansas State needs to fill after going 29-8 last season is replacing point guard Denis Clemente, who was a senior. Wildcats coach Frank Martin will ask senior Jacob Pullen to move over from shooting guard after he averaged a team-high 19.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 31.6 minutes in 2009-10.
Pullen is excited about the change and is spending the summer working more on his passing than shooting.
“It’s just a great chance for me to make plays,” Pullen told the Kansas City Star. “If my points average goes down, that’s fine as long as I’m getting assists, I’m getting my teammates involved and our team wins. I look forward to leading in that way.”
Kansas State lost to Butler in the Elite Eight last season. Pullen believes the Wildcats are ready to take the next step and make it to the Final Four next season for the first time since 1964.
“The sky is the limit for this team,” Pullen said. “We’re going to start the season as a top-five team, and as the season goes on I think we will be the No. 1 ranked team in the nation.”
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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