Well OK. In their never-ending quest for "inclusiveness", the NCAA expanded the potential field a while back. Of course, adding a few games also comes with extra cha-chings for somebody. Never forget the almighty buck aspect.
So instead of just naming the 64 team field, lining them up in seeds and brackets, we now have four "play-in" games. One could logically expect the eight teams involved, having to play an extra game just to get into the dance proper, to be of the lowest permissible variety.
They would be half right. The winners of two of the games will enter the tourney as #16 seeds, have a "first" round date against a #1, and likely be blasted into oblivion for their trouble. Fair enough.
But the other two games are teams vying for #11 seeds. Stop right there. How can it be that these four teams start off at the lowest echelon, but with a victory zoom past five other teams (#12 through #16) in their respective "zones" to a more favorable position? Who are the collective geniuses that came up with this brilliant piece of strategy?
Alas, yours truly stands corrected. In my last post, see UM/MSU stage right, it was with confidence I asserted Michigan State would not make the field. They certainly didn't deserve it. With a mediocre conference record of 10-8, and getting blown out early in the conference tournament, they didn't appear worthy. Add to that that of their 19 overall wins, at least a third of them came against "garbage" teams, see non-conference patsies. The Spartans had a reputation of being pretty good for quite a long time, but they've obviously taken a huge step backwards. Translation? They're not very good this year. But still they got invited to the tournament as a #9 seed, no less. So I was statistically and morally right, but factually wrong as it turned out.
Nevertheless, perhaps a bit of justice looms not far down the road. If MSU can find a way to beat #8 seed Miami (Fla), a possibility, their next game will be against #1 Kansas. And that will be the end of the road they never deserved to travel in the first place. Beat the Jayhawks out in their own neck of the woods? Not a chance. They'll get ground up like Soylent Green.
On the other hand, the Michigan Wolverines suddenly appear capable of great things. True, they played a few patsies themselves, and seemed to choke on the road against even mediocre opponents. But they were tough at home. Yet most had them as a "bubble" team at best, and few thought them capable of much against good competition, especially away from home.
Then something strange happened. The team was on an airplane getting ready to head to Washington, DC. for the Big 10 tournament, and they had a near disaster. Though details are sketchy, the take-off was problematic, had to be aborted, and the plane crashed into an airport barrier. Luckily, no one was hurt. But on eventual arrival in DC, they seemed to be totally focused. Through the Big 10 field they sailed, including knocking off regular season champ Purdue, and Wisconsin in the final to win the tourney outright. For that matter, they not only defeated the Badgers, but pummeled them by a 15 point margin. A beatdown NOBODY saw coming. This wasn't supposed to happen. So of course they barged into the NCAA, and rightfully so.
What did they get as their reward? A #7 seed. They'll face off against #10 Okla St. in their opener.
But here's the thing about Michigan. While many likely don't expect them to go far, if they can keep playing like they did in the conference tourney, the Wolverines are capable of beating anybody. They could conceivably be Final Four-ish.
If they get past the Cowboys, their big test will quickly come against #2 seeded Louisville. It's winnable, if they play like they can. Or they could get blown out themselves if they revert back to their old ways away from home.
Right now, the Wolverines are a team that not many would look forward to facing. A "wildcard", that can be really good -- or really bad on any given night.
It will be interesting to see how it plays out indeed.
So like all the other crazed college hoopster fans out there, by all means -- bring it on and let's see what happens.
PS. Personally, I've long been a closet Gonzaga fan, and can't get enough of Geno's bambinos at UConn, but that's just me. Pretty sure one of them has a good shot at winning a championship this year.