5 reasons the madness starts tonight
by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
Welcome to another session of Bracket Briefing, our attempt to provide you with essential information on the Big Dance — forecasting the Ali Farokhmaneshes before they spark the stunning upset we’re talking about for days.
Soundtrack: Before you read any further, listen to today’s jam of the day.
The first word: If you’re one of many casual fans, there’s a strong chance you haven’t filled out your bracket yet. That means you’re likely to pick a play-in winner for Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s matchups tipping off the 2013 NCAA tournament by circling a team with a 50/50 chance of getting the small-but-mighty one point in your bracket pool. The thought process that play-in games don’t matter is both a typical and amateur move. The field of 64 starts Thursday, but the dancing starts tonight.
Listen to Jay Bilas: In 2011, the ESPN analyst went on a furious rant — questioning if the NCAA tournament selection committee knew “if the ball was round” when little-engine-that-could Virginia Commonwealth was given a questionable ticket to the NCAA tournament. Was Bilas wrong by thinking VCU didn’t belong in the NCAAs simply because that Shaka Smart-led team proved all doubters wrong by … wait for it … MAKING THE FINAL FOUR?
Actually, Bilas still might be right in suggesting the Rams were unworthy based on their body of work. Most Cinderellas need the ticket and the right matchup to stage a magnificent run. Now, two years later, Bilas is picking VCU in his Final Four (go figure) and selected another team to rip on: Middle Tennessee, a 28-win, on-the-bubble-until-Gumbel-calls-its-name team that has plenty of ingredients to become an NCAA darling.
Why do play-in games matter?
Middle Tennessee might have Cinderella potential, but just like it snuck into the field of 68, now it has to prove itself against a similarly unproven Saint Mary’s team that’s only lost to one team (Gonzaga) since Christmas. If VCU doesn’t beat Southern Cal in a “first four” play-in game in 2011, there’s no Final Four run and it’s difficult to see the Rams gravitating to a much stronger Atlantic 10 … [For more on Bracket Briefing: 5 Reasons the madness starts tonight, click here.]