Wednesday, March 20, 2013

First Four Showing it's Value with Great Basketball

When the "First Four" was first conceived for the 2011 NCAA Tournament it was met with a who cares attitude and a healthy dose of skepticism. Rightfully so in my book, after all the NCAA was messing with perhaps the most perfect tournament ever organized. 64 teams were plenty and these games were just meant to increase TV revenue for the new contract - or so the narrative we were told by talking heads went.

However as we sit here soaking in the results of year three of the "First Four" I have to say this thing is growing on me. Instead of getting bad basketball games against teams that "don't belong" we've gotten some great basketball games and some of the madness that makes March so much fun and it extends the  fun for nearly the entire week of the opening rounds of the tournament.

It all started in 2011 with the team everyone thought didn't belong - VCU - winning emphatically over USC (a team everyone thought belonged in the tournament proper), 59-46. That was the start of one of the most magical runs in NCAA tournament history as the Rams went from the First Four to the Final Four - a feat that puts them in the record books and something every First Four team is going to shoot for from here on out.

That's all fine and dandy, a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while, right? That was the common thought. After all, the 16 seed games were the only ones that were competitive in the final score. Who cares those 16 seeds ain't ever winning a game, right?

Fast forward to 2012 and we had three games that were great basketball, including a 12 seed battle between South Florida and Cal. The Bulls won that game and went on to pull off what's becoming a near annual tradition - the 12 over 5 seed upset - yet again proving that playing your way in has it's benefits.

Now we look back at the just completed First Four in 2013 and I've come to accept these games for what they are - eight teams fighting for their lives to continue playing basketball on the biggest stage possible in their sport (and don't give me the NBA playoffs are a bigger stage crap). What we got this year was some highly competitive basketball, a near buzzer beater, and a team riding it's star player for one half of great basketball to make the field of 64.

It hasn't hurt the NCAA cause that in the three years and 12 games we've gotten we've seen close games and/or great basketball being played. When it comes to March and the NCAA Tournament isn't that what it's all about?

For all the NCAA as seemingly gotten wrong in the past few years, this has been a stroke of genius. Of course, had these games all been blowouts or resulted in none of these teams advancing in the tournament we'd be calling them idiots for failing.

But, instead it's time to give credit where credit is due, so congrats NCAA on adding something of value to what was already the perfect tournament. Let's just hope it continues that way for many years to come.

Perhaps it's time more people get behind these games in Dayton and who knows maybe years from now we're looking back on LaSalle or Saint Mary's as the next set of teams to ruin your brackets and create memories as at-large teams that played their way into the tournament?

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