I just watched Binghamton beat UMBC to secure their conference's automatic bid the the NCAA tournament. It was a great moment, the crowd rushed the floor and the fans were celebrating as if they had just won the national title. Usually I love watching these things, they remind me of similar moments I've had as a fan.
I woke up in time to watch the last 4 minutes or so of this game. What I saw was not good basketball. Binghamton was up 6 with around 2 minutes left holding the ball after securing an offensive rebound. So what did they do? Fadeaway 17-footer with 25 seconds on the shot clock. Not to be outdone, UMBC ran straight down the court and threw it out of bounds off a player that wasn't even looking for a pass. Almost every possession I saw was a bad one. The teams were not fundamentally sound and full of undersized players at every position. Now, some of this may be explained by the fact that these teams were playing their third game in three nights, but I digress.
So where is Binghamton ranked by Ken Pomeroy?
To put that in perspective, Oregon is ranked at 153.
The main purpose of the Pomeroy ratings is to predict how teams will perform against each other. So according to those numbers, the worst team (by far) in the Pac-10 would probably beat the best team in the America East.
WSU, without a doubt, would handle Binghamton easily. There are a lot of bubble and just outside the bubble teams from major and mid-major conferences that would do the same. So the system of auto-bids is just assuring that the best 65 teams in the country will not be participating in the tournament.
Obviously, the NCAA has realized this and that is why they added that play-in game the Tuesday before the 64-team tournament starts. (By the way, if you are a 16-seed, wouldn't you rather play in that play-in game? If you win, you get to say you have a ".500" record in the NCAA tournament!)
Does this mean that I am against these auto-bids for low major conferences? Not really. It does make it harder to accept the fact that the Cougs might not be playing next week and the America East, SWAC, and Sun Belt champs will be. However, I know these "cinderellas" are what make College Basketball superior to College Football. The BCS ensures that only a handful of teams will have an opportunity to play meaningful postseason games. Conferences tournaments ensure that every team in the country (unless you are in the Ivy League) will have a chance to get into the tournament.
So the best we have as Coug fans is the knowledge that these low-major teams would have absolutely no answer for Aron Baynes in the post and the 6'6" Klay Thompson out on the wing.
Let's also give Binghamton thanks for winning their conference tournament, because that is one less auto bid that will be handed out for the NIT.