Gophers’ Ben Johnson ‘all for’ NCAA Tournament expansion

The NCAA Tournament has already expanded from 64 to 68 teams, and it might not be done.

Reports emerged earlier this week that college basketball experts are preparing for bigger tournament fields, and sooner rather than later. The options are to go to 72 teams, or 76 teams.

It’s music to the ears of Minnesota men’s basketball coach Ben Johnson. The more, the merrier. Especially since the Big Ten Conference is expanding from 14 to 18 teams, starting next season.

"I like it. We expand in everything else. We’re going to have a monster league and when you’re eliminating a Power 5 conference, I don’t know how you don’t expand it. It is entertainment, and I don’t see how adding more games and causing more entertainment is a bad thing. I don’t see it, it gives more people opportunity on the biggest stage," Johnson said. 

It’s not a surprise to hear that Johnson is in favor of an expanded field. After all, the Gophers haven’t heard their name called on Selection Sunday since 2019. They’ve made the NCAA Tournament seven times since the 1997 team that made a run to the Final Four. The Gophers have been to the Big Dance 14 times in program history, but just seven times in the last 25 years.

There are 32 automatic bids from conferences every year. Another 36 are at-large bids. Next year, the Big Ten Tournament has been altered with the addition of USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington. The bottom three teams at the end of conference play, which wouldn’t be dancing anyway, are not eligible for the league tournament.

Conference tournaments give teams that had regular season struggles one final chance to compete for an automatic bid. More bids and bigger conferences also means a longer conference tournament. 

The NCAA Tournament adjusted to the 68-team field by hosting play-in games the Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, before the real first round starts Thursday and Friday. In Johnson’s mind, do whatever needs to be done to expand March Madness. 

"I’m all for if you’ve got to make it extra days or an extra week. People were mad about the play-in game, now that’s exciting, it’s the build-up to the tournament. We have to be open-minded to changing and having new ideas and what can we do to push the envelope. It’s such a huge event, why can’t we make it bigger? How do you do that? You just add more games that are competitive," Johnson said.

Johnson and the Gophers have one goal every season: Hear Minnesota called on Selection Sunday. This might be the newest path to get there.