Even if your office pool doesn't take notice, the 2012 NCAA Tournament schedule tips off on Tuesday evening and not Thursday afternoon. After debutting in 2011, the "First Four" returns to Dayton, Ohio with a slate of four so-called play-in games.
Although the initial July 2010 announcement of the "First Four" didn't exactly generate much enthusiasm, VCU went a long way toward legitimizing the concept by surging from the First Four to Final Four last season, upsetting Kansas in the Elite Eight. Here is your schedule for the 2012 "First Four:"
Wednesday, March 14
6:40 PM ET -- Lamar vs. Vermont
9:10 PM ET -- California vs. South Florida
These eight teams just snuck into the tournament and are vying for four spots in the field of 64. While the games in the "second round" -- previously the "first round" before the advent of this format change -- pair mismatched teams, the "First Four" pairs teams of relatively equal strength -- or mediocrity. Each will face a stern test if it can advance. Is there a team among this year's crop that can duplicate the success of Shaka Smarts' Rams? Paul Daugherty of SI.com doesn't seem to think so, going as far as to state that "VCU was a fluke, not a trend." While not going out on a limb to claim that any of these teams are destined for a VCU-like run, Tom Fink at The Big Lead found no shortage of reasons to tune in to these games, ranging from superlative Iona point guard Scott Machado to the combustibility of Lamar coach Pat Knight.
Will you be watching? Can any of these teams make a deep run?
CLICK HERE for a printable 2012 NCAA Tournament Bracket