BRACKET BLOG: First Four

Take cover, Dayton: The Mormons are coming.

Whether you call it the opening round, the first round, Hatin' Dayton or the First Four, the NCAA Tournament kicks off tonight with four play-in games in Dayton.

Both nights start with a play-in game between the final automatic bids for the right to be a 16th-seeded massacre victim later this week.

The nightcaps will be slightly more attractive contests between the last four at-large teams selected to the field.

Previews and predictions follow after the jump.

The Teams

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The Site

  • Dayton, Ohio

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The Breakdown

No. 12 California (24-9) vs. No. 11 South Florida (20-13)
March 14 | 8:10 p.m. CST | Midwest Region | truTV
Ian Eagle | Jim Spanarkel

As bad as the Pac-12 was this year, Cal actually was a pretty decent team. If you had to make a case for an at-large selection from the league, they had the best case.

By making the Golden Bears prove it in Dayton, the committee made the right choice.

The same cannot be said for South Florida. For a body that supposedly values non-conference strength above all else, the committee must have fallen asleep when they seeded the Bulls.

I'm not going to recap the terrible losses USF had in the non-con or the multiple sweeps of horrible Big East teams they benefited from in conference play. You guys can look that stuff up.

But what it tells me is that they don't really belong. They like to ugly it up, which Cal might like to oblige on the defensive end, but where USF's defense is about forcing tempo, Cal's is about actually playing solid man D.

GAMER: Cal 68, USF 66
Pomeroy: Cal 59, USF 55
Sagarin: Cal 64, USF 60

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No. 14 Brigham Young (25-8) vs. No. 14 Iona (25-7)
March 13 | 8:10 p.m. CST | West Region | truTV
Jim Nantz | Clark Kellogg | Steve Kerr

Tune in to this game tonight. Trust me, it will be worth it.

Not so much for BYU, which in its post-Jimmer Fredette era so far is an unimpressive, unaccomplished mid-major team that probably didn't deserve to be in the field. But for the sugary, fattening goodness that is Iona basketball.

Scott Machado is the nation's assists leader. Lamont "MoMo" Jones started ably for Arizona last season. This is a talented team and one that also is offensively explosive.

The Cougars won't know what hit 'em. I like the Gaels to be this year's VCU by advancing and at least giving Marquette a scare.

GAMER: Iona 80, BYU 79
Pomeroy: BYU 83, Iona 82
Sagarin: BYU 83, Iona 82

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No. 16 Lamar (23-11) vs. No. 16 Vermont (23-11)
March 14 | 5:40 p.m. CST | Midwest Region | truTV
Ian Eagle | Jim Spanarkel

Not sure how much I can say about this game. Vermont didn't impress me too much in a championship game against Stony Brook that it tried to give away multiple times late by not scoring much in the last eight minutes.

Plus, I like the momentum Lamar is riding ever since Pat Knight ripped the team's ass. Five straight now, I believe.

This will be the last time Lamar gets to pick on someone its own size. North Carolina awaits the winner in Greensboro, N.C. Oh, joy.

GAMER: UVM 68, Lamar 67
Pomeroy: Lamar 66, UVM 65
Sagarin: Lamar 62, UVM 60

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No. 16 Mississippi Valley State (21-12) vs. No. 16 Western Kentucky (15-18)
March 13 | 5:40 p.m. CST | South Region | truTV
Jim Nantz | Clark Kellogg | Steve Kerr

I'll let you in a little secret. More often than not (hell, most of the years since it was instituted), the winner of the play-in game has been the team with the worse record.

In this brave new First Four era, I define the play-in game as the one matching the two worst seeds on the S-curve, with the winner advancing to play the No. 1 overall seed. That's this little gem.

As bad as Western Kentucky was for most of the year, the coaching change has rejuvenated the Hilltoppers, and it showed with a vengeance last week in the Sun Belt Tournament.

Considering the SWAC champion rarely, if ever, wins an NCAA Tournament game, I'd feel pretty safe taking WKU.

GAMER: WKU 69, MVSU 66
Pomeroy: WKU 73, MVSU 69
Sagarin: WKU 70, MVSU 67

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