There was some predictable, dismayed reactions to the NCAA Division I Transformation Committee's official set of recommendations released on Tuesday. The most notable proposal is the option for D-I sports with 200-plus teams to allow championship brackets to fill by as many as 25% of that sport's membership. In college basketball, this means the bracket could grow as large as 90 teams.
But the NCAA Tournament isn't going to expand to 90 teams.
I doubt it's going to expand at all -- at least any time soon. My belief is buttressed by conversations with a handful of high-ranking sources across the industry.
"Going to 90, you'd roll on the floor laughing at the quality of teams," one NCAA source said. "It's unfathomable that someone could think that's a good idea."
There is stern belief among many NCAA Tournament power brokers that significant expansion (say, anything north of 80 teams) isn't desired and won't be happening, according to my sources. Minor expansion (going to 72 or 76) doesn't carry temptation right now either but would theoretically be more plausible way down the road if push ever came to shove.
"There's been no consideration, despite opportunities multiple times, for expansion," another source said. "It's never gotten a serious consideration. Not even remotely."
That's one part missing from this discourse. The NCAA didn't need the Transformation Committee's permission to consider expansion. It's always an option. The fact it's never grown beyond 68 speaks volumes, especially after a trial balloon about a 96-team tournament was roundly ridiculed in 2010.
Expansion isn't something that can be done over a few lengthy Zoom meetings. It would take years of planning and thousands of hours of coordination between dozens of very important people. Who ultimately decides? The Division I men's basketball committee (i.e. selection committee members), which has logically opted against expansion in the past 12 years. NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt, who oversees that committee, would be the biggest voice in the room, in addition to other senior NCAA staff. From there, the men's basketball oversight committee would have to approve any changes before a vote went to the Board of Directors.
But that's not in the plans right now.
In addition to myriad logistical alterations that would have to be accounted for, there is a humongous TV contract to consider. CBS and Warner Bros. Discovery Sports share men's March Madness rights through 2032.
Moving forward, remember that whatever change is made for the men's tournament will also be made for the women's. If you expand the men's field to 72, the same will happen with the women, particularly in the wake of the NCAA's gender equity review after the PR disaster the NCAA brought upon itself in 2021 regarding inequalities in women's basketball.
Additionally, skepticism abounds in NCAA halls re: more teams equaling more money to the organization's coffers. This is a bottom-line business. The men's NCAA Tournament is the only money-making championship the NCAA owns. (The College Football Playoff isn't an NCAA-run event.) The women's tournament annually operates in the red. More games means more cost and more money to split up to more schools until 2032 at least. That's not an outcome many in college athletics find satisfying. Relatedly, there are ongoing discussions about how tournament money should be changed/split up in the current system.
"The assumption that there's a whole lot more money there is a questionable assumption at best," an NCAA source said.
So why is this even up for discussion? I previously explained why here. The NCAA has discord within its ranks.
While the CFP had an understandable push to expand (even then it was a quagmire), it went from a three-game tournament to an 11-game event (beginning in 2024). The men's and women's tournaments already have 67 games apiece. Each one added carries marginal, decreasing value. We already have the best teams included. Adding more increases quantity but not quality. Putting 80-90 teams into a bracket would prompt scheduling and calendar conflicts, not to mention marring the natural shape of the bracket, a cosmetic appeal that plays a part in luring in the most casual of fans.
"Logistically, I think that would be a major challenge because of the amount of days that are even available to do that," a source said.
More key context: No one on the Transformation Committee (or the subcommittee that focused on championships) has ever served on the men's basketball committee. They don't understand most of what goes into making the Big Dance happen successfully each year -- the hundreds of levers that need to get pulled, the immense logistical nature of doing it right.
The tournament is a unicorn in that regard. Nothing matches it. The NCAA as we know it only exists, with hundreds and hundreds of schools fielding dozens of scholarship sports, because of how monetarily successful and vital March Madness become over the past four decades.
Recommendations be damned, a lot of people aren't looking to mess with that.
"If you expand, you're letting in very marginal teams," a source said. "It's highly competitive because it's incredibly select. The more you expand, you run the risk of having not so highly competitive games. You could upset the balance of what makes it so special."
Is Nick Smith Jr.'s college career already over?
This sport has been robbed of sweet one-and-done talent, and I'm not talking about guys who skipped college altogether. Michael Porter Jr., James Wiseman, Shaedon Sharpe, Darius Garland, Harry Giles and Kyrie Irving are just a few of the former five-stars who did a pit stop at this level, only to have their college careers cut well short due to injuries/other issues.
The next future lottery pick on this trend line is Arkansas' Nick Smith Jr. The class of 2022's best player, Smith is again dealing with a right knee issue that has plagued him dating back to Arkansas' trip to Europe in the summer.
Smith made his college debut Nov. 28 and last played on Dec. 17. On Dec. 21, the school announced he was out indefinitely due to "right knee management." There's a chance Smith can get healthy and confident enough to return to Arkansas -- and that's certainly what coach Eric Musselman is rooting for -- but Musselman told CBS Sports there is no timetable for a return, only that he's hopeful Smith comes back.
"We're here to support, we're here to help him any way we can get him drafted as high as possible," Musselman said. "If he's rehabbing his knee and isn't [ready], I trust him."
At the NBA level, however, speculation is increasing over whether Smith actually intends on playing again for Arkansas. A lot of that speculation is tied to Smith's representation, Klutch Sports Group. Rich Paul is running Smith's NIL deals; he figures to be his agent when Smith inevitably gets drafted top-10. Some believe Smith is the best NBA prospect in college basketball, even if he's not playing college basketball at the moment. And given Klutch Sports' history of handling prospects, there's waffling confidence that Smith plays competitive basketball again until Summer League.
"Look at his agent," one NBA general manager told CBS Sports. "Odds are probably against him coming back, because that's how Rich is. Klutch had Darius Bazley and held him out. They had Darius Garland and they shut it down."
Multiple NBA evaluators told CBS Sports they consider Smith a lock top-10 pick, maybe top-seven, even if he never suits up for Arkansas again. Not playing could hurt his stock with some NBA teams and cause him to slip, but it's unlikely he'd fall far. Part of why is not just Smith's talent, but his character, which is well-regarded in NBA circles. He's constantly around the team, and multiple scouts who watched Arkansas in Maui in November (when Smith did not play) said he was an engaged presence on the bench.
Arkansas' ceiling will unquestionably be affected if Smith can't, or decides not to, come back. The 13th-ranked, 11-2 Razorbacks host No. 20 Missouri on Wednesday night in a big SEC matchup. The Hogs have been hindered without Smith and Trevon Brazile, another NBA prospect whose season is over after tearing his ACL in early December.
"I love our team, love our energy, love how hard we play," Musselman told me. Arkansas, with six freshmen on the roster and only two returnees, only got one game this season with its full roster available (due to Brazile definitely not coming back). The SEC has five ranked teams and seven listed in the top 40 at KenPom. It's about to get tougher.
"We built the roster around them and tried to make the pieces fit, and unfortunately it's been bad luck," Musselman said of Smith and Brazile. "We haven't had the roster that we thought. One injury is sustainable. Two injuries, your team is still adjusting on the fly, but the work ethic, practices have been good."
One major concern is 3-point shooting. Arkansas ranks 319th nationally. Brazile and Smith were going to be the guys who made the majority of those shots. If Smith doesn't return, it will be a bummer for college basketball (he's such a tantalizing talent) and burdensome for an Arkansas program that's coming off back-to-back Elite Eight runs and looking to break through this year to its first Final Four since 1995.
No. 23 Charleston off to best start in history
Monday's AP Top 25 included Charleston at No. 23, marking the first time in 20-plus years the Cougars have been ranked. At 14-1, Charleston is off to its best start ever; the school joined D-I in '91. Not only is this its best start, it's the best run through 15 games by a CAA program since Richmond was 16-1 in the mid 1980s.
A stunner: Prior to Monday, the last time a CAA team was ranked was Navy in January 1987 -- 36 years ago. I couldn't believe it. Triple-checked. (Turns out, former CAA dwellers George Mason and VCU cracked the Coaches Poll, but never AP.) The Cougars brought back two of the CAA's best freshmen in Reyne Smith and Bennie Burnham. Dalton Bolton broke his foot in the team's third game last season and sat out. Now, the 24-year-old is leading the team in scoring and is one of five averaging double figures. They've got maybe the best defender in the conference, Jalen Scott, in addition to a Wofford transfer in Ryan Larson who arrived last year at Charleston with more than 100 college wins to his name.
The man in charge is Pat Kelsey, who's in his second season after overseeing Winthrop for nearly a decade and winning 186 games there. Kelsey has Charleston on a 13-game winning streak, longest in the country.
"Tough as crap," Kelsey told me about his team. "What we do defies human nature. We play 10 guys and they're all bought in and all selfless."
The Cougars have a chance to build an at-large résumé thanks to owning five victories over 2022 NCAA Tournament teams. In fact, Charleston's first six games came against tournament teams, and the non-con schedule included seven games against top-140 KenPom opponents.
That's not normal for a program like this. Most mids with the capability to build an at-large-worthy résumé don't get nonconference schedules with that many opportunities. Basically, coaches didn't think Charleston would be this good. Kelsey and his staff sort of pulled a fast one.
"You said it, not me," Kelsey joked. "When I got to Winthrop, I'm young, it's my first head-coaching job and guys are telling me how hard scheduling is. My first year I was like, 'This is the easiest thing ever.' Well, our first year there we weren't any good and everybody wanted to play us."
It wasn't like that for Winthrop soon thereafter and may not be for Charleston moving forward. Assistant Brian Kloman handles Charleston's scheduling, with some assistance from AD Matt Roberts.
"As they were putting this thing together, they'd come to me and I'd be like, 'Are you guys sure?' I thought they were nuts at times, but looking back at it, they're pretty damn smart," Kelsey said.
It might pay off with NCAA Tournament seeding 10 weeks from now.
In October, Charleston was picked fourth in the CAA preseason poll. Kelsey liked the team but never expected 14-1. Lofty win totals are nothing new there, though. Nineteen of Charleston's 32 seasons have finished with 20-plus wins. Because of its location, facilities and fan base, the job has ranked in the upper echelon of mid-major gigs for a long time. Home sellouts are now part of the experience at TD Arena.
"Virginia Tech was fire. The roof came off this place," Kelsey said.
Charleston won that game, its best W this season. This team's only loss is at North Carolina. The Cougars are dropping 80.5 points and sinking 10 3s per game. They play at North Carolina A&T on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.
The Court Report's mailbag! Find me, toss a Q and I'll answer some each week.
Hey @MattNorlander, as a UNC basketball fan, how much confidence should I have in my Tar Heels as they continue ACC play throughout the rest of the season? Also, I am a big fan of the Eye on College Basketball Podcast. It’s the best College Basketball podcast out there!— Cooper K (@CooperK07) December 24, 2022
Confidence level with North Carolina is a moving target. The 9-5 Heels got clipped at Pitt Friday. UNC's two biggest issues: inconsistent 3-point shooting and spotty team D over the course of 40 minutes. You should be semi-confident the Heels will get it together in ACC play enough to have a tournament résumé, but two months into the season, it's fair to say it would be a genuine surprise if the preseason No. 1 team in the country finished atop its conference ledger.
@EyeOnCBBPodcast The hype and expectations around Deion Sanders going to Colorado reminds me of Penny Hardaway getting the Memphis job. @GaryParrishCBS @MattNorlander How would you evaluate Penny's performance so far?— Amaar Burton (@Amaar_206) December 5, 2022
That's a good analog. Last April, as I do each year, I graded all the high-profile hirings from four years prior. Penny Hardaway's received a B-minus. Having escaped major IARP punishment and getting off to an 11-4 start this season, I'd knock that up to a B through 4.5 seasons. Hasn't been an outright success, and there's been a lot of off-court melodrama, but he's clearly done a solid job as a first-time coach. Hardaway is 96-47, his first tourney appearance coming last year. Moving forward, I don't know. Memphis is coming off a loss at Tulane. Tigers are 1-1 in Quad 1 games and might have to finish second to Houston in the American in order to validate at-large status. I think Deion about equals this at Colorado, FWIW.
I was surprised that Juwan Howard was ranked in the top coaches CBS poll (26th but still). As someone who follows both Wisconsin and Marquette, I think Gard and Shaka are at least as good. Where would they have been in your personal ranking of coaches?— Matt Birschbach 🦬 (@Wigatta) December 30, 2022
Matt's referring to our list from the beginning of the season where we collectively ranked the 26 best men's coaches. Given Michigan's woes, I think Howard wouldn't make that list now (and was not on my ballot then). I think it's a fair and winnable argument that Greg Gard and Shaka Smart are better coaches than Howard, and that stands to reason given how much more experience they have to this point. Michigan doesn't qualify as a tournament team at the moment, while Wisconsin is 11-2 and Marquette is 12-4. In October, neither were popular picks to dance in 2023, but both are now en route. I'd have Gard and Smart both somewhere in my 28-35 range.
• David Teel shows again why he's one of our greatest college basketball writers. Here's a lengthy piece on former Virginia coach Terry Holland, who has battled Alzheimer's for nearly four years and hasn't been able to witness Tony Bennett continue to lift the program Holland built into a national power 40 years ago. Bennett is tied with Holland for most victories in UVa history (326).
• With New Mexico losing late Tuesday night, no unbeatens remain. Here's a modern history of how the last undefeated standing fares once March arrives.
• A quiet resignation over the holiday week: Jay McAuley stepped down at Wofford. I was told players went to school admins and asked for a change. Dwight Perry will coach the team for the rest of the season.
• Rutgers' win at Purdue on Monday wasn't just a case of an undefeated No. 1 team going down, it also marked the first time a team ever ended the undefeated season of a top-ranked league foe in consecutive years.
• Rutgers winning at Mackey Arena is a top W this season. According to KPI, here are the best non-con wins through the first two months of the season:
1. Kansas @ Missouri
2. Alabama @ Houston
3. Rutgers @ Purdue
4. Houston @ Virginia
5. Weber State @ Utah State
• Mizzou at Arkansas is my most intriguing game of Wednesday night. Missouri is one of the feel-good stories of this season. The Tigers are third nationally in points per game (88.8).
• Georgetown is not a feel-good story. In fact, it's gotten so embarrassing that the Hoyas are having completely reasonable signs removed from games. If Georgetown loses Wednesday night against Villanova, it will mark the program's 30th consecutive loss against a high-major. Best I can tell, that's a modern-era record for any power-conference school.