The value of early tournaments

Syracuse learned a great deal about themselves at MSG this year, even if it was November. Getty Images

This column appears in the December 14, 2009 issue of ESPN The Magazine. To access Jay Bilas' regularly updated blog, please go here.

Years ago, before computer ratings and "bodies of work" became the obsession of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, life was simpler for college basketball coaches: Succeed in conference play, you get an invite to the Dance. So savvy coaches prepared their teams for the games that mattered by arranging tough early slates.