The 82nd NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament field has been announced!
The Big Ten conference leads the field with 9 berths, including 5 teams seeded #1 through #4. The Big 12 also has 5 teams seeded #1-4 among their 7 total berths.
Two teams make their tournament debuts this season: the Grand Canyon University Antelopes and the University of Hartford Hawks. Grand Canyon (14-6) out of Phoenix, AZ won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament and regular season title. Hartford (15-8) from West Hartford, CT won the America East Conference Tournament.
This season marks UCLA’s 50th NCAA Tournament berth (3rd most) and Villanova’s 40th. Villanova passes Indiana for the 8th most tournament appearances. Kansas extends its streak of consecutive tournament appearances to 31 years. Duke’s consecutive streak ends at 24 seasons.
The COVID-19 pandemic still hovers over these proceedings. Three teams (Duke, Kansas, and Virginia) withdrew from their conference tournament due to positive cases within their programs. The possibility exists that these teams or others may be declared ineligible due to virus issues. The NCAA has documented rules for declaring teams ineligible due to positive tests within seven days of the tournament start. Ineligible teams will be replaced in the field prior to the tournament start, but once underway, a disqualified team will cause their opponent to automatically advance.
I believe the situations of Duke, Kansas, and Virginia demonstrate that conference tournaments should not have been held so close to the start of the national tournament. There are no guarantees about how the virus might spread, but sending eight-plus team entourages to a single site within days of the national tournament shows that “hope” was the containment strategy for the NCAA and its conferences.
The effected teams and tournament organizers can now only hope that their programs remain eligible and that the virus was not spread to their opponents and the other teams sharing the arena and its locker rooms. The fairness and integrity of the national tournament is at stake. The need to cancel a game and advance a team puts the fairness of the tournament at question. Was the ACC Conference Tournament fair? Georgia Tech and Florida State both advanced while playing fewer grueling games because their earlier opponents bowed out. We can only hope that the NCAAs are not tainted by similar forfeits.