The bracket you see here is not quite accurate. This will be explained below.
The biggest news in hoops this off-season is that the number of teams in the tournament has been increased from 65 to 68.
The new NCAA tournament is made up of 31 automatic bids and 37 at-large berths.
The automatic qualifiers are the winners of each of the 30 conference tournaments plus the Ivy League's regular season conference champion. The at-large berths are awarded to the teams the NCAA selection committee deems the best 37 of the remaining field.
Now, all these teams are ranked, roughly, from first to 68. The last dozen of these teams are always automatic qualifiers from weak conferences like the Big South, the Northeast, etc. Back when there was 65 teams, the bottom two of these teams, 64 and 65, got their own matchup, and the winner would face a #1 seed team. That was the "play-in game".
This year, there will be four play-in games ("the First Four", which will be played at the University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio), and not all of these games are the same.
Two of these play-in games will be played between the last four automatic qualifiers, teams 65 through 68. The winners of these two games will face a #1 seed team, a set-up similar to the play-in game that we've known for many years.
The other two "first four" games? That's where things get interesting. You know how they always talk about the "last four teams in" when March nears? They are referring to the last four teams to receive at-large berths. These teams usually get inserted as #13 or #14 seeds. Now, these "last four in" get their own two play-in games, but the winners of these two games will not face a #1 seeded team, but rather, a #3 or #4 seed team, and where these two play-in games will be placed on the bracket will be determined by the selection committee when the time comes.
So the bracket pictured above isn't exactly accurate. Two of the play-in winners will indeed face a #1 seed, but the other two play-in winners will face a #3 or #4 seed. The actual bracket we will see come March will be a little odder looking than you're used to, but the two at-large "First Four" games promise to deliver a couple of intriguing matchups that will get everybody warmed up for Madness.
These changes have a ripple effect on the rest of the tournament. The fields of 64 and 32, previously referred to as the first round and the second round respectively, will now be called the second round and the third round. So now you have:
First Four (last four automatic bids, last four at-large berths)
Second Round (field of 64)
Third Round (field of 32)
Final Four (at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas)
So, do you like the change? If you were Czar of the NCAA, how would you lay out college basketball's postseason?
Also, "Drive for 65" is obsolete. "Skate for 68"? Any other suggestions?