First, expanding the tournament to 96 basically waters down things to ridiculous proportions. On top of the fact that you'd make filling out a bracket next to impossible (seriously, I think more folks would be rushing to do their taxes than filling out a 96 team field). It also makes conference tournaments virtually worthless. If you're having the 'everyone can and will get in', why waste time playing a conference tournament? Let the regular season play out, have teams clinch spots and boom. The best 96 teams go in. By the way, how many bids between how many conferences are we talking about here? Getting a headache yet? No? How many of you think too many bids are already going to the Big East, Big XII, SEC, ACC, Big Ten, etc.? You're going to absolutely blow your top if this expansion thing takes effect.
Secondly, allow me to make a point as to why conference tournaments matter and why March Madness isn't just encompassed to the middle of March to the beginning of April. Let's say you're a team that goes 9-7 in conference play and hasn't done much in the way of really blowing the Committee's minds with your non-conference wins. The conference tournament is your last chance to either play your way in or leave it in the Committee's hands. More often than not, these tourneys are great because this team can and usually will either find a way to make a deep run towards the tourney. Or, more often than not, they just fall by the wayside and a hungrier team emerges in its place. Conference tourneys are great because it eliminates the "maybe" factor from the equation altogether. One game determines it all. If you're as great as you think you are, you'll win. Period. End of story. Besides, after the all encompassing nothing that the regular season is...why aren't more people happy with the whole Conference Tournament setup. I'm honestly shocked that the Ivy League hasn't gotten one yet, but I guess their regular season matters in the grand scheme.
Third, it's a coach's worst nightmare. Think about it. A field expanding to 96 teams means even if you're so-so, you SHOULD be able to get in. Generally, a team gets 3 maybe 4 years to get Dancing before the coach gets the axe. (Hey Todd, maybe you should've stayed at Butler.) If the field expands to 96, coaches no longer have a 4 maybe 5 year window to operate under. Pile on the notion that you're operating with mercenaries out of high school (basically a year or two MAX before they chase the NBA dollar), being a college coach at any school that's not any of the "Usual Suspects" suddenly takes on a whole new, daunting look.
Fourth, people barely care about the NIT as is. We look at them as the "not quite good enough to make the 64 field tourney" tournament. Hell, even the Women's tourney gets an hour on ESPN. The NIT selection show? Well, before ESPNU, I'm not sure it even got its own show aside from a mere mention on Sportscenter when the field was picked. Does anyone really want to sit through the Disco being merged into The Big Dance to form The Huge Big Ass Clusterfuck? Take a page from college football, folks. Aside from "The Big Four" (Orange, Rose, Fiesta, Sugar) and the National Title game itself, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who could give you the name of FIVE bowl games played before then. LESS IS MORE FOLKS!!!
Now, that said, I'm stumped as to this year's field. I know Duke's the weakest #1 out of the 4. I think Villanova's probably one of the weaker #2s, but they're one I'm not willing to look past. Especially considering how long they spent hovering around the Top 10 all season long. They made a Final Four run last March and I'm not ruling it out this year. Purdue is one of two things. A sitting duck that Siena will pick off, or a wounded Boilermaker that's going to come out swinging that sledgehammer like Triple H on acid. Beyond that, I don't know. Syracuse has done better historically when it hasn't been expected to do well, a lot. So even though I really back Da 'Cuse...I'm not willing to back them winning it all. Not completely anyway. Oh and to those teams crying that they were snubbed, here's a thought that serves me well when I play NCAA Football 09 for PS2.
Schedule tough games and WIN THEM. I mean sure, it's great to throw Cupcake Tech and My Little Pony State just to get your team's wins up. Sure. But just like banging the random pretty girl at the club night after night, it's not bringing you any closer to being married. Maybe closer to a trip to the free clinic, but I digress. Va Tech's schedule was ranked 330th or something like that. That's like...PITIFUL. That, multiplied by the fact that the ACC wasn't near its usual standards and short of winning the ACC Tournament...they were finished. (Yet another reason why conference tournaments are absolutely imperative.) Sans maybe Miss State, which finished ahead of Florida in the SEC, beat Florida and was a possession away from snuffing out the Memphis Wildcats...I don't see any team that had a legitimate beef. Unless you're a 25 plus win team with a nice resume and a conference affiliation that keeps you out, even though most won't admit as much (Akron a few years ago and Saint Mary's last year come to mind), shut up. Most conference tourneys, if not all, come equipped with an automatic "Get Out of NIT Jail" free card. Win and you're in. Simple as that.
I'll be back tomorrow afternoon with my bracket or the one I have the most confidence in for public consumption.