When the NCAA first introduced the play-in games, I was 100 percent opposed to the entire concept. The NCAA Tournament is and already was the greatest sporting event known to man, as close to perfection as it gets. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
I still feel that way in regard to expanding the field. Personally, I think 64 was just fine, and 68 is more than enough. Moving to a field of 96, which has been bandied about for a few years now, would be one of the most insanely unnecessary things ever. If that were to happen, let me tell you, I don't want to hear how the 97th team got screwed over. Seriously. If you can't make a field of the 96 best teams, you didn't deserve to be there in the first place. Please, do not screw up my March Madness.
However, I have to admit that last night's games absolutely got the 2012 NCAA Tournament off on the right foot. Two insane comebacks, two epic collapses, and a few truly great performances — none of which I saw coming for a second. I should have known better. It is the NCAA Tournament, after all.
The first game between Western Kentucky and Mississippi Valley State facing off for a 16 seed and the right to get their brains beat in by Kentucky got off to such an ugly start that I could barely pay attention to it — especially with the Flyers on the other TV. The two combined for 42 total points in the first half, and by the time Sean Couturier was scoring what turned out to be the only goal the Flyers really needed thanks to Ilya Bryzgalov's third straight shutout, a great defensive performance against the Devils and some tremendous penalty killing by the Flyers, the Delta Devils were up 16 points and looked to have the game in control. Next thing I know, there's only about two and a half minutes left and suddenly it's a three-point game.
Moments later, the Hilltoppers completed the comeback with a 22-5 run, edging Mississippi Valley St. by a point. It was some wild stuff.
No way the second game could live up to that first one, right?
Well, it sure didn't look like it, as Iona came out aggressively, determined to show all the naysayers wrong and prove they belonged. No team that made the field of 68 came under as much criticism as the Gaels. Many pundits complained that Drexel deserved the nod over Iona. Clearly, the Gaels heard the criticisms and came out fired up. Like, build a 25-point lead fired up.
Point guard Scott Machado was emphatically making his case for the NBA, doing damn near everything. He finished the game with 15 points, 10 assists, 2 steals, 2 rebounds and shot 6-9 from the field. Machado led the charge and moved the Gaels at lightning speed to build a huge lead.
But in the second half, Iona shot like it had a lid on the basket, as BYU's defense stepped it up a notch. That gave the Cougars a jolt, and the dynamic duo of Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies simply took over the game.
Iona's lead starting slowly slipping away, and before you knew it, BYU was right back in it, tied it and then took the lead on a clutch three by Hartsock — a lead the Cougars wouldn't relinquish.
Wow. In the first half, there was no question at all who the best player on the court was. Machado owned the first 20 minutes of action. But it was all Hartsock and Davies in the second half. Hartsock scored a game-high 23 points on 10-14 shooting, including the go-ahead three-pointer that capped off the epic comeback, while Davies was a terror inside, going for 18 points and 15 boards and generally abusing the Gaels inside.
It was the kind of stuff the tournament has become known for, play-in game or not.
Last night was the epitome of why we all love the NCAA Tournament so much, and I can't wait to see what's in store next.