College basketball coaches split on NCAA tournament expansion

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Michigan State coach Tom Izzo questions the value of expanding the NCAA tournament -- a move that could be made in the coming months -- beyond its current 68-team field.

Izzo said expansion could diminish the multibillion-dollar product that defines the sport. There have been conversations about a 96-team field in recent years.

"I just think it's going to get watered down," Izzo told ESPN on Thursday at the NBPA Top 100 Camp at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando. "I worry about that a little bit. It wouldn't bother me if they did that, but I do worry that if it gets watered down, it's not good. ... I think 68 has been a pretty good number. I think you get enough good first-round games. That's me."

But there was no consensus on the topic at the Top 100 Camp, a showcase for the best high school basketball players in America, including Flory Bidunga (No. 4 prospect in the 2024 class, per ESPN), Cam Boozer (No. 1 in the 2025 class) and Cooper Flagg (No. 2 in 2025).

At the Final Four in April, new NCAA president Charlie Baker said the committee deliberating the issue could make a recommendation on possible expansion by the end of summer or the beginning of fall.

Kansas coach Bill Self said the time to expand is approaching because the transfer portal is changing the depth of men's basketball.

"I think what will determine [expansion] is the portal because there are going to be more good teams because I think you'll be able to have less teams take dips," he said. "Everybody will stay at a higher level. ... It might be time to really get serious about [expansion]. If the portal does what we think it's going to do, it's going to make it so it will be time."

Miami head coach Jim Larranaga was a star at Providence in 1971 when his team lost to Villanova in a game that cost the Friars a chance to go to the NCAA tournament, which included just 25 schools then. Villanova reached the national title game, where it lost to UCLA 68-62. Larranaga, who led Miami to its first Final Four in April, said he still wishes he had a chance to play in the tournament.

"I've been saying we should go to 96 forever," Larranaga said. "If the NCAA tournament is the biggest goal for every college basketball team but only 18% of the kids get to experience it and each year at least half the field is from the year before and the year before that ... it only makes sense to expand it and give more college student-athletes the experience."

Even among the coaches in support of expansion, however, the number of teams to add is also a polarizing.

Bruce Pearl, who coached at UW-Milwaukee before stints at Tennessee and Auburn, said he would support only a minor expansion of the field.

"I think when we went from 64 to 68 [teams], it didn't hurt anything," Pearl said. "I would be [in favor of] adding a handful of teams. You can say, 'Well, every year, there are going to be four or five teams that are left out of the tournament.' OK? So let's add four. I'm not for blowing it up. I'm not for 96."

Some coaches at the camp in Orlando have firsthand experience with the challenges of a 68-team field. Although Micah Shrewsberry snapped Penn State's 12-year NCAA tournament drought last season after a strong finish that helped the Nittany Lions squeeze into the field, he had to lead his team to the Big Ten tournament title game to secure that 10-seed. He said expansion would ensure that the top teams in America, especially at the lower levels of the sport, would have a chance to compete for a national title.

"I do think it's time for us to just expand," said Shrewsberry, now the head coach at Notre Dame. "You don't want to mess with it because the tournament is so good. But there are good teams that are getting left out of it. It also gets more of the mid-majors into it. You want to get all of the best teams in it. You think about teams that have won their leagues at a lower level and just because they don't play well in those three days [of a conference tournament], they don't go to the NCAA tournament. That team could be a team that's in the Sweet 16."

While expansion of the NCAA tournament is one of the significant issues officials within the sport are weighing right now, the future of the NCAA itself is also a factor. Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams said it's unclear, if expansion unfolds, who will manage that move.

"It's the only thing the NCAA owns," he said. "And within all of the changes, what is the NCAA going to be in charge of going forward? Are they in charge of the transfer portal? Are they in charge of NIL? Eventually, are they going to be in charge of the tournament? So it's hard to know what it's going to look like in five years. Are we still going to have the NCAA tournament the way we know it?"