New postseason basketball format has its pros and cons

Jun. 24 — Whether we want it or not, change is here for the IHSAA basketball tournaments.

After having the same format since 2002, the IHSAA approved a new setup of the tournament Thursday. Out goes the two-game regional, one-game semistate format, and in goes a one-game regional, two-game semistate setup. This goes into effect for both the girls and boys tournaments starting with this winter’s 2022-23 season.

I’ve been going back and forth all week with how I feel about this new change. Pardon me if the next 600-700 words are a little scatter brained because of that.

Overall, I think this change is … fine. While I personally prefer a two-game regional / one-game semistate format, I understand the benefits of this move by the IHSAA.

The biggest plus for the new format is keeping more teams involved in the tournament for longer. Instead of having 16 regional champions now, there’ll be 32. That means 32 teams will also be playing on semistate weekend, which doubles the number of teams still alive to make the state title game in their respective class. In terms of keeping more fans interested in the tournament for longer, this is a huge step for the IHSAA.

It’s also a nice economic boost for semistate hosts. Instead of hosting just two semistate games, schools will now get three games and an all-day experience for two teams because of it. This will be nice for the local economies that tend to host semistate tournaments, like North Side Gym in Elkhart.

There’s also a cool factor of bringing back what the old tournament used to feel like. In the single-class system, both the regional and semistate rounds were two-game formats. While that’s not feasible really anymore with the move to multi-class basketball, being able to make the semistate round what it used to be is a move that’ll surely make the old-school Hoosier natives happy.

While all of these are positives for the new setup, I do have my concerns.

For one, it slightly diminishes what it means to be a regional champion now. It’s still a trophy that’s earned, no doubt, but winning only one game for the regional now instead of two does take away slightly from the accomplishment. This will also matter a lot when factoring if a program will go up a class due to success factor, as it’ll now be easier to win a regional title and earn those tournament success points.

And then, for the semistate championship game, I feel like a little bit of the excitement for that game gets lost with it being the nightcap of an all-day tournament. I’ve been fortunate to cover two girls basketball semistate games in my four years here, and there’s a different buzz during the week leading up to that game knowing that you’re one win away from the state championship.

With this new format, that buzz will only last a few hours. While it’ll still feel like a big game, obviously, it loses some of the allure for me being at the end of a very long day for both teams.

I also feel like the new format will cause fewer upsets in the semistate championship game. Typically, when you reach the semistate level, you’re seeing matchups between teams that haven’t faced each other during the regular season. The old format gave those respective teams a full week to prepare for the other, which helped with the competitiveness of the game I believe.

Now, with only 4-6 hours to fully prepare for a semistate final, it feels like the more talented team is going to win those games more times than not, causing less upsets.

In the two girls semistate games I’ve seen firsthand, both of our teams benefited from having a week to prepare for the game. In 2020, NorthWood excelled on defense, taking away what other teams did best on the offensive side of the ball. In the semistate contest, they held Benton Central to 22 points, which was 42 points below their season average.

If Adam Yoder and his staff didn’t have a full week to prepare for the Bison’s offense, would that game have gone differently? The Panthers were incredibly talented that season, of course, and I am by no means diminishing what they accomplished during that entire postseason run. Getting six days instead of six hours to game plan against Benton Central, though, probably helped their cause with how potent the Bison’s offense was that season.

And then, back in February, Fairfield nearly beat Frankton for the 2A semistate title after getting a week to prepare for the Eagles. In talking with Falcons coach Brodie Garber on Thursday, he even admitted that game may have gone differently if they didn’t have as much time to get ready for what Frankton did both offensively and defensively.

Whether I wanted the change to happen or not, it’s here. I guess time will tell if this was the right decision or not.

Austin Hough can be reached at [email protected] or at 574-538-2360. Follow him on Twitter at @AustinHoughTGN.

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