The 2011 NCAA Tournament format was announced on Tuesday. This new 2011 NCAA Tournament format for college basketball could change a lot of things, but most notably it could increase the transparency of the selection process for schools. Earlier this offseason, it was announced that the 2011 NCAA Tournament would increase the field from 65 up to 68 schools, and now the format with which those schools will play out the first few rounds has also been released.
Called the “First Four”, there will be four games played on either the Tuesday or Wednesday following Selection Sunday beginning in 2011. Those four games will be played between the final four at-large teams that make it into the tournament, as well as the final four automatic qualifiers. This is a major change from how things have been done in the past, where people had to guess which of the schools were the last bubble teams to make it into the tournament. Now the NCAA Selection Committee is going to make it public in the coming season or seasons, and that could really show what the final criteria for making it into the NCAA Tournament might be.
There is a big question about the wording used to describe the four schools that they will play against in the “First Four.” As it is written, it sounds like they would be playing against the last four automatic qualifiers to make it into the tournament, not necessarily based on how good that school might be. That would mean that if the Big East Tournament was last to finish, the champion would have to play on the very first day of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. That wouldn’t make much sense though, because they would most likely be one of the Top 10 teams in all of college basketball. The logical interpretation of what they are trying to say would be the lowest ranked automatic qualifiers.
This change is going to make the 2011 NCAA Tournament even more interesting, but it could also remove some of the arguments that bubble teams felt they had in the past to get into the tournament. After that “First Four” date in the tournament, the second round could begin on Thursday or Friday of the same week, with those four qualifying teams placed into the tournament in the No. 16 slots. That might be a big mistake, because it would suddenly give the No. 1 overall seeds stiffer competition in their first NCAA Tournament game. There are probably some details that they still need to work out before the 2011 NCAA Tournament gets here, which will take place in Houston.