So what exactly is the First Four?
Remember that is the name the NCAA came up with when it announced in April that the NCAA Tournament would be expanded from 65 to 68 teams, that there would be 37 at-large teams instead of 34, that Turner Sports would partner with CBS on a $10.8 billion, 14-year deal that would televise every game live on CBS, TNT, TBS or truTV.
The first four games in the tournament will be in Dayton, doubleheaders on Tuesday, March 15 and Wednesday, March 16. The field of 64 then will assemble as normal on March 17 and 18. By Sunday night, the field will be down to the Sweet 16.
It was announced in July that the "First Four" would include two games between what the tournament committee determines are the final four at-large teams and two games matching teams on the 16-seed line, essentially the weakest four teams in the field. All four games will be on truTV.
The final at-large teams likely will be on the 11- or 12-seed lines. So the two winners will move into the main draw to play a No. 5 or No. 6 seed. The winners of the other games will play No. 1 seeds. The Wednesday winners will not play until Friday. The Tuesday winners could play Thursday or Friday.
This time last year, a field of 96 seemed like a real possibility. Nobody, except coaches, liked it. The field of 68 was a palatable compromise for what the NCAA's Greg Shaheen called "the most valuable property in sports." It does add three at-large teams, which will make at least three coaches happy. Yes, those teams will have little time to prepare and now will have to win a game to get into the main draw. Last year, of course, they would have been in the NIT.
The winners in the Dayton games will have to win three games in a week to get to the Sweet 16; not easy, but again, better than the NIT. No 16-seed has ever won a game. But the at-large survivors are going to be good teams, which should make for good matchups in Dayton. How the winners do in quick turnarounds also will be interesting to follow.
The original bracket might look a bit more crowded, but everybody will get used to it. The tournament has evolved through the years from eight teams (1939) to 16 (1951) to between 22 and 25 from 1953 to 1974 to 32 (1975, when one team other than the champion from a conference could get into the field) to 40 (1979), 48 (1980), 64 (1985), 65 (2001) and now 68.
First-round games are in Washington, Charlotte, Cleveland, Chicago, Tampa, Denver, Tulsa and Tucson. The regionals are Newark, N.J.; Anaheim, Calif.; New Orleans and San Antonio. The Final Four will be held in Houston at Reliant Stadium.