Tuesday, Sports Illustrated published Stuart Mandel's reporting on NCAA tournament expansion, and it's one of the better expansion-related pieces you'll read anywhere. There's plenty of new information there, like the fact that NCAA tournament ratings have actually gone down since the NCAA signed its original contract with CBS, so the chips aren't all on the NCAA's side of the table. There is new stuff about a cable model -- cough, ESPN -- and the benefits of subscription fees therein. And there's also this bit of hilarity on regular-season dilution from Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski (no relation, of course, to Soda Popinski): "I understand why people would make that argument, but I don't know how you could prove that one way or the other," he said. "You can look at the other side of that -- instead of lessening the importance of the regular season, maybe [expansion] would increase the importance? It makes it a very challenging topic." This is a little like Owen Wilson's Eli Cash in the Royal Tenenbaums, as he reads his ridiculous book on Charlie Rose: "Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is... maybe he didn't." Bobinski actually has a point here -- there's nothing to prove that expansion will dilute the regular season; it's reasonable to believe the regular season will retain its importance in deciding NCAA tournament seeds, not to mention settling rivalries -- but the counter-intuition of the quote is still very entertaining.
Speaking of tournament expansion, Jeff Eisenberg runs down the list of soft bubble teams and posits that maybe we should be thinking about contracting this tournament rather than expanding it. If the 2009-10 season had a 96-team tournament, there would be a lot of chaff in that 65-96 group.
Is Wesley Johnson coming back for another season? He certainly seems to think so: "Nah," said Johnson (when asked if he had just played his final game in the Carrier Dome Tuesday night). "It's a wonderful feeling playing for this crowd. I saw the 34,000 come out for (Villanova), and with all the fans giving me that support, who wants to leave?" Of course, NBA draft commitments are a little like announcing your run for president: You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. This is the only answer Johnson can give right now; he's not going to come out and say "Well, jeez, it looks like I'm a surefire top 10 pick, so I'd be pretty dumb to come back for another year and risk injury. Of course I'm leaving!" But that doesn't mean Johnson isn't being sincere, either. Just that Syracuse fans probably shouldn't get their hopes up, is all.
Meanwhile, here's one argument for why Andy Rautins is more valuable to the Syracuse -- and a better Big East player of the year candidate -- than his aforementioned teammate. It's not that unreasonable.
Villanova is fading a bit down the stretch -- in other words, their bad defense (caused by a prodigious number of fouls) is catching up to them in the won-loss column -- while Jay Wright says he and his team are still "evolving."
South Carolina fans and media are taking stock of Devan Downey's remarkable career, which has seen the undersized guard turn in one of the country's most impressive (if not most efficient) offensive seasons in 2009-10.
Ballin Is A Habit runs down what it calls the "real March Madness" -- the automatic bid conference tournaments, which began Tuesday night.
FanHouse's Matt Snyder says, thanks to Robbie Hummel's injury and a truly horrific couple of months by the Hoosiers, that tonight's Indiana-Purdue feels "lifeless."
A Sea Of Blue reminds its denizens just how important tonight's game at Georgia is. Not only is the game important, but it's going to be difficult; few seemingly "bad" teams have been as tough an out as Mark Fox's Georgia team this season.
And, finally, a trip around the ESPNTubes: Pat Forde's latest cribs-heavy edition of The Minutes is, per the usual, a must-read. Joe Lunardi explains his latest bracket update (Insider). Andy Katz delivers a primer on the mid-majors you should probably start paying attention to. And Rick Reilly dips his toe in the college basketball waters, weighing in on everyone's favorite topic: court-storming in college basketball.