The NCAA Tournament is now underway with First Four games played on Tuesday night and two more coming on Wednesday.
In those games, two 16-seeds will be eliminated. In addition, 11th-seeded Wake Forest was knocked out by Kansas State on Tuesday and another 11th seed will be knocked out on Wednesday when USC plays Providence.
It makes sense to have the 16 seeds play in what are de facto “play-in games.” But it also seems like a cruel punishment to be seeded 11th and be forced to win a game before the Big Dance really gets started.
The reason for the cruel fate of the 11-seeds is not bad luck. It is based simply on how the tournament selection committee fills out the bracket, and something that was changed for the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
There are three steps for the committee in filling out the NCAA tournament bracket:
- Select the 36 at-large teams.
- Seed every team 1-68.
- Place those teams in the bracket.
The first two steps is how they determine who plays in the First Four.
Once the 68 teams are all seeded, the bottom four teams (Seeds 65-68 overall) get placed in the First Four. Those are the lowest-seeded teams to receive automatic bids to the Big Dance by winning their conference tournaments.
The selection committee then takes the four lowest-seeded teams from among the teams receiving at-large bids. Those teams happen to be seeded 11th and will face each other with the winners getting to face 6-seeds in the next round.
In other words, the First Four games are played by the four lowest-seeded automatic bids and the four lowest-seeded at-large bids. It’s that simple.
Prior to the 2016 tournament, the four at-large teams chosen to play in the tournament’s opening games weren’t necessarily the four lowest-ranked at-large teams. Rather, it was the four teams that were last voted into the tournament by the committee.
Interestingly, how the actual match-ups in the First Four are determined is not as you would assume. From the NCAA:
The last four at-large teams on the overall seed list, as well as teams seeded 65 through 68, will be paired to compete in the First Four games on Tuesday and Wednesday following the announcement of the field. (If allowed, the last at-large team on the seed list will be paired with the second-to-last at-large team on the seed list. The other First Four games will consist of the third-to-last at-large team on the seed list playing the fourth-to-last at-large team on the seed list, as well as seed 65 versus 66; and seed 67 versus 68).
Being a First Four team is not always a bad way to start. A team playing in the First Four has advance to at least the Round of 32 in every tournament since first introduced in 2011. That includes Virginia Commonwealth who went to the Final Four in 2011.
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