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NCAA blogging – Thoughts on St. Mary's and a 96-team Big Dance

Tenth-seeded St. Mary's just knocked off No. 2 seed Villanova 74-68 in the second round of the NCAA tournament, putting away a Wildcat team that should have been beaten by Robert Morris in Round 1.

The Gaels probably only made the tournament by beating Gonzaga in final of the West Coast Conference tournament, but they controlled the entire game against Villanova, and they made enough clutch shots to leave little doubt which team was better.

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If that isn't further proof the Big East was overrated this year, it's at least proof that Villanova owed their high seed to the success of Syracuse and West Virginia, not actually based on their own resume.

There has been a lot of talk lately about expanding the NCAA tournament to 96 teams, and you'll likely hear St. Mary's two victories used as evidence in favor of that expansion. Although St. Mary's earned an automatic bid, they really got in because Gonzaga had a resume of doing well in the tournament for more than a decade. (If the situations were reversed, I doubt St. Mary's gets an at-large bid.) I'm actually willing to listen to the argument that supports 96 teams if it means more teams like St. Mary's and Cornell would make the Big Dance, because their success is what makes the NCAA tournament the best event in sports. Nothing makes me smile like seeing a goofy point guard banking in 3-pointers late in the game when a higher seed is on the ropes and asking the refs to bail them out every time down the court.

But don't believe for a second that expansion is about giving the little guys a chance. The NCAA executives who want to expand the tournament are more interested in giving an at-large berth to the eighth team in the Big East or the seventh team in the ACC than they are throwing the West Coast Conference or the Ivy League an extra bone. There is simply too much money at stake for the major conferences, who have all the power and always will. It's the reason why we don't have a playoff in college football and are instead stuck with 30-plus bowl games. If the sixth team in the Pac-10 or the SEC or ACC gets to a bowl game, it protects the status quo. Coaches keep their job, alumni continue to make donations, and everyone is happy.

That's what the big schools want with basketball, not more opportunities to be embarrassed by little schools. Just remember that if someone uses the Gaels as an example of giving more small schools an opportunity to dance. That's almost certainly not the reason the proposal is being floated.

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