OK, so nobody has to actually pick these Tuesday and Wednesday play-in games. That's the good news. The bad news is that no matter what, the NCAA tournament committee will believe that college hoops fans actually like the idea of having an extra four teams added for no other reason than to make the field larger or more competitive, when all along the idea was just to fill empty space in some network's otherwise dull content.
These games offer nothing to the brocketologists out there except to make their lives a little more difficult. All of the bracket challenges, in either online form or though your work or office are set up to just include the winner of these games, no matter which team wins. The problem is that one or the other may win, and set up a completely different match-up in (what now is) the second round. It's just confusing and the NCAA should go back to the straight 64-team format that has worked so well for so long.
Actually, adding these extra teams and games somewhat backfired on the NCAA selection committee only because they chose the wrong teams! Colorado should be in the tournament, along with Harvard and probably Virginia Tech and St. Mary's.
Whatever the outcome of these games, they're unnecessary and will likely have almost no impact on the overall tournament, so, be that as it may, let's analyze what we've been given.
Tuesday, March 15:
Play-in Game 1: North Carolina-Asheville vs. Arkansas Little Rock (Southeast Region) 6:30 pm ET - this gets a really, really big WHO CARES? because the winner will be up against the tp seed in the region, the Pittsburgh Panthers and they will lose, badly. If it's any consolation, the NC-Asheville Bulldogs got the automatic bid by winning the Big South tournament over Coastal Carolina in the final. They are however one of the dreaded 13-loss teams in the tournament and show pretty substantial losses to North Carolina, Georgetown and Ohio State. The Buckeyes nearly doubled them over, winning 96-49 back in December. The Bulldogs beat Auburn the first game of the season. Big whoop! They are, however, on a six-game winning streak.
Their opponent, Arkansas-Little Rock snuck into the tournament by beating North Texas in the Sun Belt tourney final, 64-63. The Trojans won four straight in the tournament and shocked even themselves and their coaches. Making these guys even more improbable, is their 19-16 record, not even a game against a ranked opponent and they finished with the 8th best record in their conference, at 7-9.
ADVICE: Take the kids from Asheville. At least they lost fewer games. Pitt will murder either of these teams.
Play-in Game 2: Clemson vs. UAB (East Region) 9:00 pm ET - This one is even worse. The Blazers blazed their way through the most overrated conference in America, Conference USA, winning the regular season with a 12-4 record. They lost to East Carolina, 75-70 in OT in the first round of their conference tournament (eventually won by Memphis). The Blazers did finish the season with a 22-8 record, though the bulk of those wins were over weak C-USA competition.
Clemson (21-11, 9-7) had a pretty solid season and sports a fine back-court, led by point guard Demontez Stitt, who led the Tigers in scoring, assists and steals. Clemson should be able to dominate the Blazers inside as well and it's a wonder the line is only -4 1/2. Clemson has an idea about winning tournament games and could easily advance in the next round, against a leaderless West Virginia squad. We'll have to wait and see.
ADVICE: Take the Tigers here and over WVA in the next round if you are playing some wide open brackets.
Wednesday, March 16:
Play-in Game #3: UTSA vs. Alabama State (East Region) 6:30 pm ET - Seriously, Alabama State was 17-17. There should be a rule that you can't get in if your team is .500 or worse, but the Hornets won the SWAC Tournament, so they get to play another game. The UTSA Roadrunners (let's hope there are no Wile E. Coyotes in the field) won the Southland tournament and here they are, complete with 19-13 record.
ADVICE: Hope the game is cancelled and Ohio State is given a bye, because neither of these teams stands a change against the Buckeyes.
Play-in Game 4: VCU vs. USC (Southwest Region) 9:00 pm ET - This game is at least interesting in that either team can win and have a chance against Georgetown, the #6 seed in the East, because Georgetown faded in the stretch and while they will have the services of point guard Chris Wright, but he has been out of action since mid-February and the Hoyas lost five of their last six, beating only South Florida.
VCU finished 4th in the Colonial Athletic and lost in the tourney final to Old Dominion. They sport some senior leadership and and compiled a 23-11 record over mostly nobody. They did beat UCLA and Wofford, though, and merit some respect. USC finished 4th in the PAC-10 with a 10-8 record and managed to beat both Texas and Tennessee and lost by just two points at Kansas. The Trojans have been up and down, but they're far more athletic than VCU and should win this one going away. Oddsmakers have them as a 4 1/2 point favorite, but they probably did that to encourage more people to take VCU.
ADVICE: USC played spirited ball down the stretch, winning six of their last seven and lost to Arizona in the conference tourney. They are surely well-rested and should also give Georgetown fits n the next round.
Check back tomorrow and every day for frequent updates on the Road to Houston and the Final Four.