(RNN) – For those of you who tuned in Thursday to catch the NCAA basketball tournament and panicked when announcers said, "Welcome to the Second Round," you can relax.
You didn't miss much.
Two years ago, the NCAA Command Center and All-You-Can-Eat Buffet officials expanded the NCAA tournament field to 68 teams. To fit in the extra squads, they started playing two games on Tuesday and two on Wednesday – and dubbed that little tournament the "First Four."
It's cute right? Like the "Final Four" without all those marquee players holding it back. The Final Four has four teams and the First Four has four games, but whatever.
The winning teams move into the 64-team bracket we're more familiar with.
It would have been fine if the NCAA powers that be left it at that. But they went one step further and declared that these four games shall henceforth and forevermore be known as The Actual First Round of the Big Dance.
That made the real tourney kickoff – the 32 games Thursday and Friday, two of the greatest days in all of sports, the (insert dramatic music here) "Second Round."
The implication of calling the coolest, wildest free-for-all ever The Second Round implies that the other 60 teams in the tournament got some kind of free pass through round one.
The First Four are poorly attended and barely watched games. Four of the eight teams battle it out for the privilege of getting stomped by tournament favorites.
Defining that sad, little sporting event as a "round" is disservice to the English language. And if we want to get all grammatical about it, shouldn't the regular season have the dignity of being designated as a "round" too?
That would make the conference tournaments the second round, with First Four becoming the third round.
But why stop there?
What about preseason practices and exhibition games? Every team has them. And don't forget recruiting. That's very competitive and should count, so that's two more rounds.
And unless every team is starting from scratch, they have a player or two from the previous season, right? So shouldn't you count all those parts from last year?
Why stop at one season? Shouldn't you count every season, like, ever?
Let's take a look at 1985, a seminal year in the sport of college hoops.
That's when the NCAA expanded the tournament to 64 teams, which would put an additional 10 rounds (with six per tournament) per season until 2001. That's the year when they added team 65, making it 11 rounds per season since then.
The tournament consisted of 32 teams from 1975 to 1984 (nine rounds per year), and a 23-team field with byes before that since 1952 (also nine rounds). The 8-squad bracket (seven rounds) stayed in place from 1939 to 1950, and the tournament consisted of 16 teams in 1951 and 1952 (eight rounds).
So let us be the first to congratulate the players that made it to the 674th round of the NCAA tournament.
It's been a long road. A really long road. Dating back to many years before you were born. Don't worry, we repaved.
Or we could come to our senses and agree to start calling the first round "The First Round" again, since that's what it is.
First Four is good enough for the play-in games. It's a catchy name that perfectly describes what's going on.
It would save everyone a lot of confusion. More important, it would save a lot of math. Math is hard.
Here's a look at four of the Second 674th "Third Round" match-ups on Saturday and Sunday:
Syracuse Orange (1) vs. Kansas State Wildcats (8) – 12:15 p.m. EDT Saturday
The Orange almost ended their year on the wrong side of the record books Thursday. The team snuck by 16 seed UNC-Ashville 72-65, despite being behind with six minutes remaining.
No 16 seed has ever won in the tournament's history.
Syracuse has been forced to go without starting center Fab Melo, who was declared academically ineligible. That hurts them on both sides of the court, as he figured prominently in their offense and defense.
Guard Rodney McGruder led the Wildcats with 30 points in their close win against Southern Mississippi, 70-64. McGruder has scored more than 24 points in three of the team's last four games.
Kansas State rebounds the ball well and could be a tough match-up for the top seed in the East Region. Syracuse's senior guard, Scoop Jardine, may be asked to shoot the ball more and help fill the offensive void left by Melo.
Marquette Golden Eagles (3) vs. Murray State Racers (6) – 5:15 p.m. Saturday
Jae Crowder of Marquette may be the best player the Racers have faced this year. The Big East Player of the Year did not disappoint in the 88-68 win against BYU, compiling 25 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Murray State put together a convincing performance in the prior round as well, beating Colorado State 58-41 on Thursday. They dominated despite a mediocre game from their All-American guard, Isaiah Canaan.
The Racers will rely on their top-30 ranked defense to get them into the Sweet 16. The Eagles will look to Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom to carry the scoring load and lean on their experience against tough opponents.
Don't be fooled by the "mid-major" label on Murray State, they showed they have more than enough team speed to hang with anyone in the country.
Florida Gators (7) vs. Norfolk State Spartans (15) – 6:10 p.m. Sunday
Halfway through Friday, March Madness was looking a little … sane. But business was about to pick up in a history-making way.
Only four 15 seeds had won their contests (4-104) against the two seed since 1985, when the tournament field expanded. Then the Spartans and the Lehigh Mountain Hawks went out and did it in succession.
Norfolk State's victory against Missouri exposed the Big 12 champion's weakness against bigger, stronger players in the post. That's what pretty much everyone said after the upset.
What really won the game for the Spartans was their marksmanship, hitting more than 54 percent of all their shots and nearly 53 percent (10 for 19) of their 3-pointers.
Norfolk State center and new tournament darling Kyle O'Quinn ran across the court celebrating with teammates, then thanked his coaches for taking a chance with him.
He said no one recruited him except the Spartans, a decision many programs probably regret right now.
Unfortunately for him and the rest of his squad, their road gets no easier with the Gators. Florida has been somewhat of a disappointment this season; unable to live up to what many expected them to do.
The team has plenty of talent though and showed it in their 71-45 dismantling of Virginia. Guard tandem Bradley Beal and Kenny Boynton average more than 30 points per game combined, and Patric Young is a physical player beneath the basket.
Xavier Musketeers (10) vs. Lehigh Mountain Hawks (15) – 7:45 p.m. Sunday
In nearly every major upset, there is a moment where the tide could have turned and completely changed the outcome. For Lehigh, that moment came with 28.6 seconds remaining.
Duke had pulled the score within three, 67-64, after two free throws by Austin Rivers. The Blue Devils then pressured the inbounds pass hoping to force a turnover.
Unable to find an open man, Lehigh's B.J. Bailey threw a bad pass into a crowd of players. A Duke player reached out and got his hand on the ball, but he tipped it right to C.J. McCollum of the Hawks.
McCollum snatched it out of the air, flew past defenders down the court and found Jordan Hamilton alone by the basket. Hamilton slammed it home.
After some big wins earlier in the season, Xavier had gone 8-7 in its last 15 games. But the team showed resolve in their first tournament game against a tough opponent, Notre Dame
The Musketeers rely heavily on one of their guards for scoring. Tu Holloway finished with 25 points in his team's win against the Fighting Irish.
He also showed had has no fear of taking the big shot, knocking in the go-ahead basket with 20 seconds remaining to cap his team's rally.
Look for the battle between Holloway and McCollum (30 points vs. Duke) to decide the outcome between the two Cinderellas. Neither the Hawks nor the Musketeers were expected to reach the Sweet 16, but one of them is guaranteed a slot in the second weekend.
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