Tuesday night's First Four opener of the first round of the NCAA tournament was new this year, giving the tournament championship three extra teams to bring the total to 68.
The choice of these teams was a little unorthodox.
Most consider the First Four four "play-in" games for the eight teams involved despite the NCAA's effort to call it the first round. More surprising is that the four games are not to earn the four No. 16 seeds available. Two of the games are played for No. 16 seeds, while one is played for a No. 11 seed and one is played for a No. 12.
Why do four teams seeded either No. 11 or No. 12 have to play an extra game?
This out-of-balance setup brought you the results from Tuesday night.
The first game featured two teams vying for the No. 16 seed in the Southeast. UNC Asheville fell behind early but rallied to take the game against Arkansas-Little Rock to overtime. It was a great way to start the tournament to have two equal teams battling for a chance at a Cinderella story. UNC Asheville completed the comeback and moved on with an 81-77 victory.
The next game was not so thrilling.
Game two of the First Four featured Conference USA's Alabama-Birmingham against...Clemson?
While it did not boast the greatest tournament résumé, Clemson finished the season as the fourth-place team from the ACC and narrowly lost to highly ranked North Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC tournament.
How did a team that finished fourth with a winning record in what is traditionally a stronger conference end up in the first round "play-in" game against a team from Conference USA?
Clemson dominated the game from the start, and only a flurry of UAB three-pointers kept the game reasonable. Clemson won 70-52 and will play again Thursday at 12:15 pm against No. 5 seed West Virginia.
The first game of the evening was spot-on. The teams were correct, and they were playing for the right reward.
The second game was a total failure of planning, and there can be no real sense made of the choices there.
How can this be corrected?
The First Four should be playing for the four No. 16 seeds. Clemson probably is a good fit for a No. 12 seed, but UAB was not. UAB would have played an excellent game against UNC Asheville or Arkansas-Little Rock, but not against the team that was one shot away from the ACC championship game.
Also, if the NCAA wants these games to be the first round and not four "play-in" games, they should add four seeds to the tournament. Currently there are 64 seeds, so if you start with 68, how can you say anything other than the First Four are "play-in" games?
Next season, instead of "No. 16 vs. No. 16", the NCAA should add a No. 17 seed to each region. This is the only way to ensure that each team has its own spot and is not playing to earn the seed it shares with someone else.
The 2012 "First Four" should feature the No. 16 vs. No. 17 matchup from each region. This will be a balanced and fair way to have a 68-team tournament, and someone needs to make the change.