The NCAA Basketball Tournament technically gets underway tonight in glorious Dayton, Ohio when the first two of the “first four” games take place, with spots in the actual NCAA Tournament on the line.
I say this every year and stand by it, but these games are bad, and are insanely unfair to half of the team who are forced to play in them each year.
My biggest problem is that these games rob small schools of the trip to the actual NCAA Tournament’s Round of 64 that they earned by winning their conference tournaments and earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, not play-in games where they are the warm-up act for the type of teams who actually should be in these games.
LIU-Brooklyn, Radford, North Carolina Central, and Texas Southern all won their conference tournaments, but instead of getting their shot to take on Villanova or Xavier, they have to play each other and knock two more small schools out, mainly so a couple more big schools could get into the field of 64 automatically.
Seriously, if you win your conference, you are exempt from the play-in games, no matter your record. Even if you’re something trash like 12-22, if you are a champion of your league, you are in the field of 64. You shouldn’t have to play-in to anything when you earn your spot in the tournament by claiming your league’s automatic bid. That’s crap.
But instead of getting to gravel to Dallas, San Diego, Detroit, Nashville they’re going to Dayon.
Oh, and the game is on TruTV which gets 98% of it’s viewership this week thanks to basketball.
Now, Arizona State, Syracuse, UCLA, and Oklahoma are the exact type of teams that should be in these games. Teams who didn’t win their league and were on the bubble for a spot in the field of 64.
You want to make these games more exciting? Make all four play-in games the Last Four In vs. First Four Out, that way you find out who really belongs in the tournament with a head to head matchup. This year’s games would have been something like Syracuse vs. Arizona State, UCLA vs. Oklahoma, St. Bonaventure vs. St. Mary’s, and Texas vs. Notre Dame, or swap in what other teams you think might be deserving of a play-in game to prove they belong.
You get those matchups and I guarantee more people are scrambling to find TruTV or buy tickets to see it in person than they are for a pair of 16-seeds who finished a couple of games over .500. It’s a win-win for all of the schools involved, and for those who are no longer in the games.
But more than anything, what irritates me most of all is these games just feel like a gimmick. Like the NCAA made these up just as a cash grab, and also probably a way to get two small teams out of the way quickly, so they don’t take a spot from a team that brings in more fans or TV viewers.
Anyway, these games are bad, but I’ll be watching. Here are my picks for the games:
LIU Brooklyn over Radford; St. Bonaventure over UCLA
NC Central over Texas Southern; Syracuse over Arizona State.