College basketball’s month long odyssey of cinderella runs by mid-majors, shocking upsets, and heart-wrenching finishes has finally arrived. The 2015 installment of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship got underway last night in Dayton, Ohio.
The Hampton Pirates defeated the Manhattan Jaspers by a final of 74-64 to claim the opening game of the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Part of the newly formed First Four, this was the first matchup of a four game set that has opened the tournament since 2011.
The Pirates, out the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, put together a late second half charge to put away the Jaspers of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. With the win, Hampton must face the number one overall seed the tournament, the Kentucky Wildcats (34-0), on Thursday in Louisville.
The second pair of first four matchups will tip-off tonight as fellow NEC foe Robert Morris is set to face North Florida. Ol’ Bobby Morris is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010, while the Ospreys (the lone school from Florida in this year’s tournament) are set to make their first appearance in the big dance. The Colonials and the Ospreys will tip-off at 6:40 PM on truTV.
The Dayton Flyers, who will be playing on their home court, face the Boise State Broncos immediately following the matchup between Robert Morris and North Florida. Tip-off is set for 9:00 PM on truTV as well. Dayton fell in the A-10 Tournament championship to Virginia Commonwealth by a final of 71-65. Boise State earned an at large bid by way of reaching the Mountain West Conference semifinal round before falling to eventual champion Wyoming.
The Round of 64 certainly features some intriguing matchups but the final bracket came under scrutiny immediately following its release on Sunday. Speaking with CBS News, college basketball analyst Seth Davis said that his biggest surprise was “UCLA getting into the tournament. It was a team that only had one win against the top 100 teams in the computer rankings and only a few decent home wins”. Davis went on to say, “that this raises the issue of do these teams from these big major conferences have an unfair advantage?”. I would have to say yes to this question, which has been posed ever since the tournament expanded to include over sixty teams in 1985.
Teams like Murray State, Old Dominion, and Colorado State were considered bubble teams, but none of them made the tournament. Murray State (27-5) went undefeated in conference play and won 25 games straight until the Ohio Valley Conference final against Belmont. The Bruins knocked down a last second three to beat the Murray State and earn an automatic bid to the tournament.
ESPN’s Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas weighed in the situation shortly after the selection committee made their decision. Vitale supported Murray State’s effort by saying, “The kids won 25 games in a row and did not lose a game for three months. I mean, are you serious? …Any time you win 25 games in a row, you belong in the tournament”.
Jay Bilas responded convincingly, “It’s a head versus heart decision. Your heart says put them [Murray State] in but your head says, you know, they did get a chance to play people. They lost to Houston, who is not a tournament team, they got blasted by Valparaiso, and they were beat by 35 points at Xavier”.
Both sides made considerable points on the subject, but the problem has not been fixed. Mid-majors have to either be nearly perfect all year or suddenly get hot in late February to win their conference in order to get into the dance. The same circumstance applies Colorado State out of the Mountain West, who won 27 games and beat tournament team San Diego State during the regular season. Convincing victories of 15 or more points over Marshall and Western Kentucky preceded the Monarchs early exit from the C-USA tournament last week. Bubble teams will always ask questions if they fail to make the tournament, but the answer may always remain the same: they simply did not do enough.
Now that the bubble watch is officially over, it is time to start filling out that bracket once again. Here some of the intriguing first round games of the tournament, beginning with West Virginia and Buffalo in the Midwest Region.
The Bulls of Buffalo are coming off a very strong year on the glass, ranking 16th in the country in rebounding. A strong conference campaign is reinforced by close calls against Wisconsin and Ohio University. The Bulls might be poised to take down the fifth seeded Mountaineers out of the Big 12, who managed to beat Kansas, Oklahoma, and the UCONN Huskies during the regular year. I think the Mountaineers will eek out a close game and advance to face the winner of Maryland and Valparaiso. Tune in to TNT on Friday afternoon to see this matchup. Tip off is slated for 2:10 PM.
Another mouth-watering game to kick off the tournament features Texas and Butler on Thursday in Pittsburgh. Tip off is scheduled for 2:45 PM on CBS. Texas had an up and down year, making their selection a bid of a wild card. But Rick Barnes’ bunch will be up the challenge as the Butler Bulldogs come calling in the opening round.
Following a rocky start to the year, Butler turned things around in non-conference play by beating North Carolina and Georgetown. A substantial run in the Big East tournament helped the Bulldogs secure a sixth seed in the Midwest Region. This will also be a close game, but Butler may pull this one out and send their venerable opponent from the Big 12 home a little early.
The first week of the tournament will hopefully be as enjoyable as years past given the enormous slate of games over a two day period. Be sure to run through your bracket a few times, double check and triple check your choices and of course, enjoy the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
Pick Em: Here are few more matchups that I did not mention. Who do you think will win?
UCLA (#11 Seed in the South Region) vs. Southern Methodist (#6 Seed in the South Region)
Ohio State (#10 Seed in the West Region) vs. Virginia Commonwealth (#7 Seed in the West)
Utah (#5 Seed in the South Region) vs. Stephen F. Austin (#12 Seed in the South Region)
San Diego State (#8 Seed in the South Region) vs. St. Johns (#9 Seed in the South Region)