Sports Today: In defense of conference tournaments

Back in the saddle today after a few days in Indianapolis, where I watched many future millionaires speak about the next steps in their careers and saw an Ohio State basketball team win its second trophy of the season. 

But we begin with the Wright State Raiders. 

WSU has a shot at a Horizon League tournament double championship in Detroit.

The WSU women will face top-seeded Green Bay at noon at Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit, while the men will take on a huge underdog in Cleveland State at 7 p.m.

The Wright State men have already set a program record for wins since joining Division I, but I’m sure they would rather have an invitation to the NCAA tournament. 

That will come if they beat Cleveland State tonight. 

RELATED: Raiders top Milwaukee to reach Horizon League final

The surprising Vikings are in the final despite finishing in a tie for next-to-last in the regular season standings. They knocked out No. 1 seed Northern Kentucky on Saturday and outlasted No. 4 Oakland last night. 

One of CSU’s 12 wins so far is against Wright State as the teams split the regular season series. 

Wright State is the No. 2 seed… 

›› 5 takeaways from Wright State’s semifinal rock fight against Milwaukee

The women’s team has a much more daunting task today. 

Coach Katrina Merriweather’s Raiders will face No. 1 seed Green Bay, a winner in 24 of the last 25 matchups between the two teams. 

WSU finished No. 3 and knocked out No. 2 IUPUI in the semifinals

While the debate about the fairness of using the conference tournament to award bids to the Big Dance will no doubt rage on this week and beyond, it could work out pretty well for Wright State this time around. 

I used to find the conference tournaments to be a waste of time, but I decided I like giving everyone a do-over. 

Some folks say it’s unfair, but ultimately, everyone still controls their destiny. Go out and win and you’re in. 

Sometimes the most talented team doesn’t emerge until later in a season because of youth or injuries or whatever else, and now of course unbalanced league schedules can play a role in who wins the regular season crown in some leagues. 

Plus, obviously upsets are part of the magic of March and this 10 days or so of appetizers before the main course helps make the NCAA tournament even more enjoyable. 

›› ARCHDEACON: X-factor Simmons powers WSU women into title game

However, I am a big fan of regular season excellence, too, so I hate seeing that fall entirely by the wayside. 

To me the answer is not to take the automatic bid from the conference tourneys to encourage the selection committee to be far more interested in inviting more deposed smaller-league champs, especially when they enjoy truly dominant seasons. 

What if a significant bonus were awarded to regular seasons champs so they stand out to the committee when it is comparing at-large resumes? 

There has to be some way to do that that would make sense without making the conference tournament also meaningless to the regular season champions. 

(And while we’re tweaking things: No one who won their league tournament should be in the First Four. That should be all at-large teams, which likely also happens to mean more schools with big names and larger fanbases. Wouldn’t that be good for TV ratings on Tuesday and Wednesday night before the rest of the tournament kicks off?) 

West of Wright State’s campus, we find Dayton basketball fans both able to curse the current system (maybe) and look forward to a second chance. 

The Flyers were the dominant team in Atlantic 10 women’s basketball for most of the season but were upset in their conference tournament while the men need an early March miracle to be able to play on after this weekend. 

ESPN’s Charlie Creme still has the UD women solidly in the tournament as a No. 9 seed, for what it’s worth, while he sees Ohio State having played its way up to a No. 3 while winning the Big Ten tournament over the weekend

The Buckeyes got over a three-game slump in January to end up winning the regular season title, too, and they present an interesting team heading into the NCAA tournament. 

They lack depth, but they have two dominant players in Kelsey Mitchell and Stephanie Mavunga plus all of their “role players” are significant talents as well (which is what separates them from those Jim Foster teams that used to lose earlier than they should have every year in the tournament). 

Of course, the fact the Final Four will be in Columbus only adds to the intrigue…  

My favorite story from the NFL Scouting Combine came from Mike McCray II, the former Trotwood-Madison standout who turned his father into a Michigan fan for five years by signing with the Wolverines. 

Turns out Mike McCray Sr., who was a captain for the Buckeyes in 1988, didn’t waste any time getting back into the flow of Ohio State fandom, though. 

“He for sure went back right after the South Carolina game,” McCray said, referring to Michigan’s loss in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1. “He was talking trash about us, and we were at dinner and Ohio State was playing in a bowl game [beating USC] and he was like, ‘Yeah, there we go.’ So he’s definitely back to Ohio State, but my mom and my fiancé are with me, so that’s all that matters.”

All’s fair in love and rivalries, right? 

Anyway, here’s a look at other stories from the Combine. 

I came away convinced the Bengals can get a lot better up front quickly but should still consider drafting Lamar Jackson, too, and the Browns would be foolish to pass on Saquon Barkley with the No. 1 pick. 

The rest? 

We’ll have plenty of time to debate between now and late April. 

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