Thursday, March 20, 2014

NCAA Tournament's "First Four" Should All Be At-Large Teams

We just finished up the First Four of the NCAA Tournament and today begins the "real" tournament.

That's what it feels like.  Because of the NCAA's weird bracket of 68 schools, we get a four game first round that people mistakenly call play-in games and then call the second round the first round and the third round is the second round.  Blah blah blah blah.

I get it all.  I get why we have 68 teams in.  I think.  I get why the NCAA is a bit bent that we refer to the first round or First Four as play-in games.  I do understand that.  I also understand why the NCAA doesn't have the First Four games all a fight for 16-seeds ... which is what a true bracket does.  But let's just try to all get on the same page on this one.

Despite what they may say, the NCAA likes that we have name schools facing off in half of those First Four games.  We had Texas Southern against Cal Poly and Mount St Mary's facing Albany.  Did anyone know anything about those schools before this week?  Do you know their nicknames?  What city the school is in (ALBANY!!!)?  Did you even care about the games?  Not really.  They were a little appetizer to the "real" tournament.

Maybe you didn't care about those 11 and 12 seed matchups either.  However, they featured name schools that can win in the "real" tournament.  NC State beat Xavier and Tennessee topped Iowa.  We know these schools.  They have rather large fan bases.  And those schools could do damage in the "real" tournament.  Tennessee blew out Virginia earlier this year.  NC State just beat Syracuse.

I, like pretty much everyone else, would rather see the Tennessee-Iowa game than the Texas Southern-Cal Poly tilt.  No offense to the latter.

So why not just have the First Four with at-large teams?  That seems fair.  It would almost ensure we get games between teams we know of but it is also fair to the Cal Polys, Texas Southerns, Albanys and Mount St. Mary'seseses that earned an automatic bid to the "real" tournament.  Even if they get there and are slaughtered by Florida, Arizona or Wichita, it is a much better story to their kids than the time they lost to Cal Poly in Dayton, Ohio in front of a half-empty arena.

This year, would have had Dayton vs Stanford.  Nebraska vs BYU.  Maybe Arizona State plays one of them instead.  Sure, maybe those games aren't barn burning matchups but it is a bit better to ask teams that didn't automatically qualify for the tournament to play in these games.

Who knows?  Maybe the NCAA will then decide to add two more games ... meaning two more teams ... and we just have a 70-team tournament.  Sounds better than 68.  Then we could have had SMU or Wisconsin-Green Bay in the tournament but having to face off against an NC State or Tennessee that just barely made it in.  

Maybe it is splitting hairs, but I think it makes the tournament more fair and more entertaining.

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