Players fine by 68, but not 96

San Diego State Aztecs guard D.J. Gay basked in the glow of playing in the NCAA tournament this season, but also knows the feeling of being snubbed far too well. In 2009, an Aztecs team with 23 wins and a high RPI that advanced to the Mountain West Conference title game failed to make the field of 65.

So Gay welcomed news Thursday that the tournament is set to expand to 68 teams and wistfully wished that that the NCAA had done so one year earlier.

But in no way does that mean he, or other players who might have seen their bubbles burst, would have supported the tournament expanding to 96 teams.

“I haven’t met not one that likes 96,” Gay said. “It goes from the Big Dance to just a dance.”

“Not one person that I talked to,” Arizona State guard Jamelle McMillan said.

(OK, so Dana O’Neil did find at least one player who liked the idea.)

Again, McMillan is speaking from the perspective of having his team in 2008 be one of the final teams left out of the tournament. He should have reason to want more teams to make it.

But not 96.

“It was more of being competitors,” McMillan said. “Guys around here and from other teams definitely did not agree with that many teams in the tournament, and for good reason. We want to play for something, and (96) seems like it’s given. It’s the easy way, so to speak. Ninety six was completely far-fetched.”

McMillan, the son of Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan, agreed that a 68-team tournament is reasonable and should help a few more deserving teams.

Adding too many more would diminish the importance of scratching and clawing the whole way through a conference schedule, he said. More tournament games would add to the wear and tear on a player's body.

And by the way, for the teams advancing in such a tournament, keeping up in the classroom -- a top priority for McMillan -- would become even more difficult.

“It kills us a lot of times,” McMillan said. “Even just with the conference season, gone from Wednesday to Saturday, it does have a huge affect. You’re missing the in-class work and constantly trying to make stuff up, and you’re behind.”

Even at Santa Clara, a program that has had to rely on winning the West Coast Conference tournament to make the NCAAs and hasn't gone dancing since 1996, the sentiment among players is that making a tournament field of 96 just wouldn't be the same.

“It just ruins it,” Santa Clara forward Niyi Harrison said. “Once you make it, it’s not the same feeling you get.

“I’ve followed the tournament my whole life. If they made it 96, that would just kill the whole feeling.”