One year removed from the trial run of a new postseason format, the Horizon League has once again upped the stakes for Motor City Madness.
This year, both the league’s men’s and women’s basketball teams will be competing on a neutral floor at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit for the Horizon League Championship, concurrently running from March 3 to March 7.
This is the first time since 2006 that the women’s Horizon League Championship will not be played in Green Bay. Traditionally, the regular season conference champion would host the conference tournament, a nice reward for coming out on top in the regular season. However, according to deputy commissioner Julie Roe Lach, Green Bay was more than okay with switching the format.
“(Green Bay’s athletic director) Mary Ellen Gillespie actually serves on the women’s basketball selection committee,” Roe Lach said. “She’s made the point that she thinks this will actually help them if in fact they do advance to the NCAA Tournament because now they’re going to have the benefit of having played on a neutral court prior to their first NCAA game on a neutral court.”
In addition to teams gaining experience, comfortability and momentum prior to NCAA Tournament play, the inception of Motor City Madness has its other benefits.
“The Horizon League has such a strong history in basketball,” Roe Lach said. “As we look at those leagues that have also continued to make a strong push nationally and have had teams make some runs in the (NCAA) Tournament, they have moved towards this destination-style tournament. Whether it’s the MAC (Mid-American Conference) that has a home in Cleveland, or the Missouri Valley, or the Atlantic 10 which also have destination tournaments...if we want to be on the national scene in basketball, which we do, then that’s only going to help our teams.”
As more leagues shift towards tournaments with predetermined destinations, the Horizon League feels that it must adapt if it wants to gain the same respect and recognition as other conferences.
Furthermore, having a predetermined destination helps with organizing, planning, and in theory, attendance, as teams and fans can plan ahead for where they know they are going to be, instead of having to wait until the final weeks of the season to find out.
And perhaps most importantly, Motor City Madness has provided a unique experience for Horizon League student athletes.
“I was in one of the locker room tunnels after a (No.) 9 or (No.) 10 seed had lost (last year),” Roe Lach said. “I can’t remember which game it was, but they were happy to be there. One of their players came up to me and said, ‘Even though we lost and we’re going home, I just want to tell you this has been the most exciting tournament game of my four years. You guys have rolled out the red carpet and made us feel like champions.’ That was our goal. We want to give them a memory and a real experience that they can cherish for a lifetime.”
The women joining in on the madness won’t be the only change to postseason play, as the bracket will be different this year for both competitions.
Last year the top two seeds had double-byes, as the rest of the field began playing Saturday in the men’s tournament. Both No. 1 Valpo and No. 2 Oakland would not play until the semifinal round Monday and both would lose. This year, the Nos. 1-6 seeds all will receive first-round byes. Thus, Valpo as a No. 2 seed will be required to win not two, but three games to punch a ticket to the big dance.
The Valpo men’s team will play its first game in the quarterfinal round Saturday. If they win, they’ll get a day off Sunday and continue play in the semifinal round on Monday. This could work well for the high seeds as they will play earlier and get adjusted to playing on a neutral court sooner, while not getting rusty and potentially gaining momentum.
Meanwhile, seeds Nos. 3-6 are at a disadvantage as they will not play until Sunday, and will have to win three days in a row, without any days off, in order to win a conference championship. The same changes were made to the women’s bracket.
Though the conference tournament ultimately decides who from the Horizon League gets a bid to the NCAA Tournament, Roe Lach stresses the importance of the regular season.
“The regular season is critical not just in terms of where your seed’s going to be in our bracket, but also how tough it’s going to be to make it to that final game,” Roe Lach said.