As the curse goes, “May you live in interesting times.” It’s sure been an interesting few days for those following Youngstown State basketball.
The Penguins survived their first-round matchup of The Basketball Classic on Wednesday night in a 70-65 victory over Morgan State. Then, the fun began.
The Basketball Classic’s website initially showed that YSU was set to play at Wofford last night. That alone would’ve been a tough sell, as it would have given the Penguins just Thursday to travel. Then, the game was set for today at 2 p.m.
Obviously, that isn’t happening. The game was removed from the Classic’s website late Thursday night, and since then, Wofford has withdrawn from the tournament entirely. Neither YSU nor Wofford formally announced the matchup.
YSU announced late Friday night it would play at Fresno State on Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the Basketball Classic.
There were a few stated reasons for the cancellation — if you can even call it that — and for the Terriers’ decision to just not play in the tournament at all.
To the former, Wofford said, “The Terriers were slated to host a second-round matchup in Spartanburg (SC) on Friday, March 18, at the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium and had also attempted to play the game on Saturday, March 19. Due to a variety of logistical factors, including last-minute travel issues with potential opponents, a matchup was not able to be finalized by the organizers.”
To the issue of pulling out entirely, Wofford’s statement read, “After working diligently with the tournament organizers over the past week, it was determined that it was in the best interest of Wofford to not continue in the event.”
Disappointing, to be sure. Wofford is a phenomenal mid-major, and it would have been a great opportunity for YSU. For context, the Terriers went to the NCAA Tournament five times between 2010 and 2020, including as recently as 2019.
That said, you can hardly blame Wofford. The Terriers’ first-round game never materialized due to COVID-19 protocol with their prospective opponent, and then their game with Youngstown State never came to fruition either.
All of that, though, is simply a microcosm of how this tournament has gone since conference tournaments ended.
The Basketball Classic, which replaced the CollegeInsider Tournament (CIT), originally was supposed to be a 32-team event, but only 21 programs chose to take part. That delayed the announcement of the tournament field.
There’s no set bracket, either — the tournament is attempting to follow the NIT’s old model of reconfiguring each round. While that can generate some excitement and suspense, things have felt disorganized since this thing got underway.
The shame is the tournament could serve a great purpose if things were to go correctly. After all, making the NCAA Tournament as a low- or mid-major program is hard. Nearly all of the participating programs come from one-bid leagues, and to be able to afford those teams opportunities to have a meaningful postseason is a great idea.
If it’s to go forward, though, some things need to be figured out.
First, cut down on the field if necessary. Trying to secure 32 teams, in hindsight, was perhaps a bit ambitious. The CIT itself hadn’t secured 32 teams since the 2015 tournament.
The College Basketball Invitational (CBI) has a 16-team field that this year is playing at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Fla. You don’t necessarily need a single venue, and in fact, home courts often feel more fun anyway. But cutting down on the field size would make things a bit more manageable on that end.
Second, try to space the rounds out a bit more to give teams time to figure out travel logistics. If you lower the size of the field, you’ll eliminate rounds and have more time to do so.
And finally, consider using a bracket and making it regional until the later rounds. Kent State visited Southern Utah in the opening round Wednesday, while today New Orleans visits Portland and Western Illinois visits UTEP (El Paso, Texas). All the while, Merrimack, located in North Andover, Massachusetts, had a first-round forfeit victory over UMBC.
Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but in a tournament like this, creating regional matchups is not just logistically easier, but can generate some extra excitement, too.
Preserving the opportunity for mid-major programs to have a postseason is an idea worth keeping. Hopefully in the future, it’s an idea that goes much more smoothly.