Does the NCAA basketball regular season matter?

Regular season champs across the country being left in the cold

One of the biggest stereotypes of college basketball is that the regular season doesn’t matter and that no one pays any attention until March. Fans of the Austin Peay Governors just may agree with the former statement, as their team finished the regular season with an 18-18 record, including just 7-9 in conference play. However, the Ohio Valley Conference’s automatic bid for an NCAA tournament spot comes down to who wins the conference tournament at season’s end, not who ended the regular season with the best record. Austin Peay, the lowest seed in the conference, took the tournament title through a series of stunning upsets and made an appearance in the big dance.

Of the 31 conferences that get an automatic bid for an NCAA tournament spot, only 10 conference tournament champions were the same teams that won their conferences’ regular season titles this year. Of the regular season title teams that failed to win their conference tournaments, only six got at-large bids into the NCAA tournament. The result is 15 teams that won the most conference games through the season getting no tangible reward for their efforts.

For the power conferences in the country, this isn’t a problem for the most part. For example, the PAC-12 got seven teams in the big dance this season. In those cases the result of the conference tournament is minimal. In the Western Athletic Conference, however, it does make a difference. New Mexico State, with a conference record of 13-1, went unrewarded for their hard work as they were upset in the conference championship game by Cal State Bakersfield.

This isn’t to say that the system is broken. For the mid-major conferences that only get one bid to the tournament, it’s simply an extension of March Madness; an earlier opportunity for unlikely upsets. In some cases, these storylines carry through to the national spotlight. Middle Tennessee State won the Conference USA tournament and went on to upset Michigan State in the NCAA round of 64 and shatter millions of brackets, all while Conference USA regular season champ UAB sat at home.

In the sport of college basketball, it’s all about the madness: the odds-fighting upsets that shock the world. Conference championship week only adds to the March experience of the sport. While it may diminish the results of the regular season to some extent, the reward is more than worth it.

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