Why one ACC basketball coach wants a 128-team NCAA tournament

Why one ACC basketball coach wants a 128-team NCAA tournament

AMELIA ISLAND — After sitting through presentations and meetings explaining analytics and formulas and metrics that could get more ACC men’s basketball teams into the NCAA tournament, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton walked away with his own, much simpler idea.

“Add more teams,” Hamilton said.

Sixty more, in fact, to get the March Madness bracket up to 128.

Though plenty of ideas have circulated about tournament expansion, the scope of Hamilton’s idea is, admittedly, “absolutely totally radical.” But hear him out.

Non-conference games are a significant factor in which bubble teams make the current 68-team field and which ones don’t. The resume of USF, for instance, was damaged by November losses to Central Michigan, Maine and Hofstra.

Emphasizing out-of-league games makes sense; it’s a clear head-to-head comparison between two conferences. But it’s also imperfect, if not flawed, because of the calendar. Most of those games happen early in the season.

“Quite naturally, you’re going to be a different team in February than you were in November,” Hamilton said at this week’s ACC spring meetings at The Ritz-Carlton.

His statement has always been true, but it’s more evident now because of the transfer portal and the rapid rate of roster turnover. Hamilton said FSU could have as many as nine new players this season. That much fluidity has meaningful, practical impacts.

Suppose the Seminoles add a transfer who spent two years somewhere else. The previous school coached the player one way; Hamilton will coach him differently. The systems and playing styles will be different, too; what if the player’s first school prioritized slower set pieces while Hamilton wants an up-tempo offense with harder cuts and quicker decisions?

“Now he’s got to come in and make the adjustments,” Hamilton said. “That’s not as easy as one would think.”

And that means it will take time for that new player and any other incoming transfers to figure things out. If the turned-over roster and coaches don’t click until January, it’s too late to affect their non-conference results — the same non-conference results that will burst bubbles on Selection Sunday.

Hamilton’s idea fixes the issue; there will be plenty of room for late bloomers in a 128-team field.

He also recognizes the growing movement for players’ welfare, from new compensation models to an emphasis on mental health. Giving 60 more players the opportunity to play in one of the country’s biggest sporting events is one way to help (beyond the extra revenue he foresees).

USF played in the First Four in 2012. [ AL BEHRMAN | AP (2012) ]

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Hamilton envisions doubleheaders set up across the country on the same days as the First Four play-in games in Dayton, Ohio. The TV situation could be complicated, Hamilton said, but “if we can put somebody on the moon, I think we can figure it out.” Regardless, the field would winnow to 64 teams by the traditional Thursday tip-offs. The rest of the tournament schedule can remain unchanged.

One criticism Hamilton has heard is that almost doubling the field dilutes the regular season. Hamilton’s response: Who cares?

Glance at the unimpressive TV ratings for regular-season games, and you get his point.

“If that’s the only negative you’re going to see …” Hamilton said. “(There’s) more money, more experience, more opportunities for the kids. It makes it better for everything and everybody.”

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