NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Opening Round game

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The Opening Round game, (commonly known as the Play-In Game) of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship was the first official game of the tournament, played between two of the lowest-seeded teams to qualify for an automatic bid to the tournament. Beginning in 2001, the game was typically played on the Tuesday following the Sunday selection of the other teams for the March tournament and was played at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio. The winner of the game was awarded the No. 16 seeded position in one of four regions of the tournament and next played the No. 1 seeded team of that region on the following Friday. No winner of that game, nor any other No. 16 seed, has upset the No. 1 seeded team. However, three of the top seeds to beat the opening game winner advanced to the national championship game and all three won the national championship (2002 Maryland, 2005 North Carolina and 2010 Duke). North Carolina was the only No. 1 seeded team matched against the opening round winner more than once (2005 & 2008). On April 22, 2010, the NCAA announced that the tournament would expand to 68 teams, with four "Play-In Games" beginning with the 2011 tournament.1 Consequently, the uniqueness of the single, opening round game lasted from 2001–2010.

History

The game was conceived after the Mountain West Conference, which had been formed in 1999 following the split of the Western Athletic Conference, was given an automatic bid for its conference champion, which made it the 31st conference to receive an automatic berth into the men's tournament. Unlike the women's tournament, which accommodated this change by eliminating an at-large bid to keep their field at 64 teams, the organizers of the men's tournament elected to keep their at-large entries at 34. In order to eliminate one of the teams to have a 64-team bracket, it became necessary for another game to be played between the two lowest-ranked teams among the automatic bid leagues.

Prior to the announcement of the new contract for television, ESPN carried the Opening Round game beginning in 2002. The National Network (TNN, formerly known as The Nashville Network and now called Spike), at the time a corporate sibling of NCAA Tournament carrier CBS, aired the first game in 2001.

Florida A&M (2004 & 2007) and Winthrop (2001 & 2010) are the only teams to appear in the game more than once. The 2003 game is the only one to end in overtime.

Criticism

Although analysts' initial reactions to the concept were skeptical, the first game, played on March 13, 2001, was a successcitation needed, and few complaints were lodged. The games are prominent by attracting viewers on nights in which no other NCAA games are played. Prior to the proposal of expansion, Syracuse University coach Jim Boeheim had advocated for an expansion of the tournament from 64 to 76 teams, which would include four opening round games for all of the 16th and possibly added opening round games for the 15th seeded teams too.2 The expansion of play in games faced logistical challenges and lukewarm acceptance from NCAA President Myles Brand and the corporate and media partners of the NCAA. However, on April 22, 2010, the NCAA announced, as part of a new 14-year, US$10.8 billion agreement between CBS Sports and Time Warner's Turner Sports division, that the tournament will include three more play-in games, which would come to be known as the "First Four."

The opening round games have also been criticized as a handicap for teams among the historically black colleges and universities. In all but one of the games played from 2001–10, at least one of the teams has been an HBCU. However, the two conferences which are made up of HBCUs, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference, are often two of the lowest-rated conferences in the RPI.3

Opening Round or play-in game

The reason the game is not officially referred to as a "play-in" is because the two teams are officially in the tournament before the game is played. As recently as 1991, the NCAA has conducted play-in games (usually between champions of what were considered to be the weakest conferencescitation needed) prior to the announcement of the brackets; the losers were not considered to have been in the tournament. Note that the losers of the current opening round game are still credited with a tournament appearance for purposes of sharing in the NCAA basketball contract revenues, while the winners receives a share for being in the round of 64. Consequently, in 2001, Northwestern State technically became the first No. 16 seeded team to have a win in the men's NCAA tournament by virtue of the team's opening round victory.

Additional games

Although the new format, beginning in 2011, expanded to four opening round games, not all games necessarily feed into a No. 16 seed for the winner; nor, does each of the four regions necessarily have an opening round game. In 2011, for example, the East Region featured two opening round games and the West Region featured none. Also, the winners in two of the openers were awarded a No. 11 seed and No. 12 seed, respectively, in their designated region.

In 2011, the broadcast media began calling these games "The First Four" (as opposed to the "Final Four"); and, also used the term "first round games" interchangeably with "opening round games." Formerly, the term "first round game" specifically referred to the first games played by the final 64 teams, not the teams in the opening round. These games are now known as "second round games," resulting in some confusion for those more accustomed to the round being known as the "first round" and the "second round" being used for the regional quarterfinals (field of 32).

Single game results (2001–2010)

Denotes that team went on to win the national championship
*
Game went into overtime
Year Date Winner Loser No. 1 seed faced
2001 March 13 Northwestern State 71 Winthrop 67 Illinois
2002 March 12 Siena 81 Alcorn State 77 Maryland
2003 March 18 UNC Asheville 92 Texas Southern 84* Texas
2004 March 16 Florida A&M 72 Lehigh 57 Kentucky
2005 March 15 Oakland 79 Alabama A&M 69 North Carolina
2006 March 14 Monmouth 71 Hampton 49 Villanova
2007 March 13 Niagara 77 Florida A&M 69 Kansas
2008 March 18 Mount St. Mary's 69 Coppin State 60 North Carolina
2009 March 17 Morehead State 58 Alabama State 43 Louisville
2010 March 16 Arkansas-Pine Bluff 61 Winthrop 44 Duke

Appearances by conference

Conference Appearances Wins
SWAC 5 1
MEAC 4 1
Big South 3 1
MAAC 2 2
NEC 2 2
Ohio Valley 1 1
Patriot League 1 0
Southland 1 1
Summit League 1 1

Results since 2011

The results of the opening round games since the tournament's expansion to four games is as follows:

2011: All four games were played at the University of Dayton Arena. On March 15, UNC Asheville (UNCA) defeated Arkansas-Little Rock (UALR) 81–77 in overtime, advancing to the No. 16 seed in the Southeast Region to face No. 1 seeded Pittsburgh. Interestingly, at the time, UNCA had been involved in the only other opening round game to end in overtime in 2003. In the East Region, Clemson defeated UAB 70–52, advancing to the No. 12 seed to face No. 5 seeded West Virginia. On March 16, also in the East Region, UTSA defeated Alabama State 70–61, advancing to the No. 16 seed to play No. 1 seeded Ohio State. In the Southwest Region, VCU defeated USC 59–46, advancing to the No. 11 seed to face No. 6 seeded Georgetown. All of the opening round winners, with the exception of VCU, were eliminated in the next round. VCU ultimately advanced to the Final Four, becoming the first opening round winner to compete beyond its second game.

2012: All four games were played at the University of Dayton Arena. On March 13, Western Kentucky overcame a 16-point deficit in the final 5 minutes to defeat Mississippi Valley State 59–58, advancing to the No. 16 seed in the South Region to face the tournament's overall No. 1 seed, Kentucky. This was the largest comeback within the final 5 minutes in NCAA Tournament history. President Barack Obama and guest, British prime minister David Cameron, attended this game. In the following game, BYU came back from a 25-point first-half deficit to defeat Iona 78–72, advancing to the No. 14 seed in the West Region to play No. 3 seeded Marquette. BYU's comeback was the largest in NCAA Tournament history. The winners of the remaining two games, both played on March 14, qualified for the Midwest Region. Vermont defeated Lamar 71–59, advancing to the No. 16 seed to face No. 1 seeded North Carolina. South Florida defeated California 65–54, advancing to the No. 12 seed to play No. 5 seeded Temple. South Florida was the only winning team to advance past the second round; however, after defeating Temple 58–44, the Bulls lost to Ohio 62–56.

2013: All four games were played at the University of Dayton Arena. On March 19, North Carolina A&T edged Liberty 73-72, advancing to the No. 16 seed in the Midwest Region to face No. 1 seed Louisville. Saint Mary's defeated MTSU 67-54, advancing to the No. 11 seed in the Midwest Region to play No. 6 seed Memphis. On March 20, James Madison defeated LIU-Brooklyn 68-55, advancing as the No. 16 seed in the East Region to face the No. 1 seed Indiana. La Salle beat Boise State 80-71, advancing as the No. 13 seed in the West Region to play No. 4 seeded Kansas State. Of the four winning teams, only LaSalle advanced beyond the second round. They were eliminated in the fourth round (Sweet Sixteen) by Wichita State 72-58.

2014: All four games were played at the University of Dayton Arena. On March 18, Albany defeated Mount St. Mary's 71-64, advancing to the No. 16 seed in the South Region to face No. 1 seed Florida. In the following game, North Carolina State defeated Xavier 74-59, advancing to the No. 12 seed in the Midwest Region to face No. 5 seed Saint Louis. On March 19, Cal Poly defeated Texas Southern 81-69 to advance to the No. 16 seed in the Midwest Region to face No. 1 seed Wichita State, while Tennessee defeated Iowa 78-65 to advance to the No. 11 seed in the Midwest Region to face No. 6 seed Massachusetts. For the fourth consecutive year, only one of the four winning teams, Tennessee, advanced beyond the next round. They were eliminated in the fourth round (Sweet Sixteen) by Michigan 73-71.

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