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NCAA opening-round salvos

Skip Peterson / AP
Should teams like Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Winthrop be the ones who continue playing opening-round games?

The 68-team field for the men's NCAA tournament has the go-ahead, but there are still a few questions remaining.

Logistics, for one. Dayton has hosted the play-in game since 2001, but moving the three additional games to their various regions probably makes more sense. Those sites are covered here.

More contentious is who those eight teams will be.

The play-in game always featured two low-major teams that won their conference's automatic bid, but were seen as the two weakest teams in the field. The winner became fodder for a No. 1 seed two days later.

Yet immediately after the 68-team field leaked on April 22, there were pundits and fans calling for the four opening-round games to feature teams that received at-large bids.

On the surface, that sounds appealing. Instead of tuning out a game between Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Winthrop, fans could see the likes of Virginia Tech and Florida or UTEP and Minnesota. The winners of those games could then play the 5 seeds in a 12-5 matchup.

Then again, is that fair? Both Chris Littman and John Gasaway argue that the opening-round games should continue to feature the eight weakest teams, a.k.a., the worst of the low-major teams involved. I'll let John explain:

We know in advance that eight teams in that bracket will have to win seven games to be crowned as national champions. It's harder to win seven games than it is to win six. Placing seven opponents in front of a team puts them at a disadvantage relative to the rest of the field. The question is who should face that disadvantage?

You may ask: What's the difference? Bubble teams won't last long enough to worry about the "unfairness" of asking them to win seven games. I know it seems like bubble teams always lose early in the tournament, but in truth that's not necessarily the case. George Mason, of course, made the Final Four as an at-large 11-seed in 2006. So too did LSU in 1986. Not to mention teams like Wisconsin and North Carolina in 2000, both of whom came close to not making the tournament at all yet made it to the Final Four that year. Yes, these example are few and far between, but they do exist.

Conversely 16-seeds are now 0-104 in the NCAA tournament since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Placing an extra opponent in the path of such teams is rough justice, to be sure, but the operative word here is "justice," especially if the field is seeded correctly.

I admit: Part of me would love to see opening-round games involving major-conference teams. But the tournament's not just about first-round upsets. It's about crowning the best team in the nation.

And if that's the case, it should be about the eventual winner, not creating first-round drama.

Mike Miller's also on Twitter, usually talkin' hoops. Click here to follow him.