SALT LAKE CITY — The opening weekend of the NCAA tournament once again revealed flaws in the tournament field and the way it's selected.
Of course like with anything in life, it’s always easy to look back and see how things should have been done. But it seems like every year the same issues come up in regards to the NCAA tournament selection process.
What do you remember most about the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament?
Probably the same thing you remember about every NCAA tournament — the thrilling upsets by teams you’ve hardly heard of: Middle Tennessee State beating Michigan State . . . Stephen F. Austin knocking off West Virginia ... Arkansas-Little Rock coming from behind to beat Purdue ... Northern Iowa defeating Texas with that amazing half-court shot.
It’s the Davids beating the Goliaths, the little guys beating the big boys that make the first week of the NCAAs so exciting, even if it does spoil your office bracket.
On the whole, the NCAA Men’s Committee does a good job and gets it about 90 percent right every year. However, every year, the committee seems to favor the power conference teams over the “mid-majors” and so-called one-bid leagues.
This year, for instance, did we really need to see Michigan and Vanderbilt from the Big Ten and SEC, respectively, playing as 11 seeds in the play-in games? Those two teams combined for 25 losses during the regular season. Did we need to see seven Pac-12 teams, five of which lost in the first round as the better seeds, in the tournament?
Instead, it would have made more sense, and been more interesting, to have a team such as Monmouth, which won 15 games away from home or Saint Mary’s, which had a 27-5 record and tied for first in the West Coast Conference, playing in the tournament.
It seems like every year a few double-digit seeds from small conferences make a run in the tourney such as Georgia State last year and Florida Gulf Coast two years before that or VCU going all the way to the Final Four in 2011. That’s way more fun than the sixth-place team from the Big Ten or ACC winning a couple of games.
So what can be done besides changing the mindset of NCAA committee members?
One idea would be to limit the number of teams allowed from each conference. That may not seem fair, although we old-timers recall the days when you had to win your conference to get into the NCAA tournament. That’s unrealistic, but we probably don’t need seven or eight teams from the same conference in the Big Dance.
At the very least, NCAA tourney teams should have a winning record in conference play. That would have eliminated Cal and Oregon State from this year’s tournament. Whatever, we should have more schools from the one-bid leagues getting an extra NCAA bid.
POELTL’S PLANS: Utah center Jakob Poeltl is almost certainly going to turn professional within the next couple of months and forgo his final two years of college while he pursues a career in the NBA.
He could shock us all and say he’s coming back to Utah, but with his stock as high as it is after leading his team to a runner-up finish in the Pac-12, while earning some first-team All-America honors, he’s likely to move on.
However, Utah’s embarrassing loss to Gonzaga Saturday night might have cost Poeltl a few spots in the NBA draft as well as some big bucks, while giving pause to some NBA general managers.
In Saturday’s game, Poeltl appeared listless at times, particularly in the second half, when he looked like he was having a hard time getting up and down the floor. Perhaps it was the challenge of going up against another talented player his size, something he hadn’t had to face much this season.
However, the NBA is all about stamina, playing three or four games a week for six months and playing against talented big men.
Poeltl has improved significantly since last year with his offensive moves, using both hands around the basket and dramatically improved his free-throw shooting, going from 44 percent to 69 percent.
I think Poeltl will make it in the NBA, but at age 20, he still could be a few years away from making his mark.
KUDOS TO THE BRUINS: This past weekend had to be among the busiest ever on the sports scene in Utah with several prominent events for local teams.
Besides the Utah Jazz playing a couple of games in the Midwest and RSL playing in Portland, we had the Utes in the NCAA tournament, BYU men playing in the NIT and women in the NCAAs, Weber State men in the NCAAs and the Utah women’s gymnastics team competing for the Pac-12 championship.
Lost in all the shuffle was Salt Lake Community College winning the NJCAA basketball tournament in Hutchinson Kansas. For the Bruins, it was their second NJCAA title in the past seven years as Todd Phillips’ team won five games in six days after being ranked No. 13 in the nation.
Leading the way was Conner Toolson, the son of former BYU star and Utah Jazz player Andy Toolson, who was also a part of three high school championship teams at Lone Peak as well the high school national championship in 2013. Toolson earned MVP honors after scoring 28 points in the finals.