The NCAA Tournament technically starts Tuesday with the "First Four," and because brackets don't count the play-in games, it's easy to overlook them. Remember, though, Virginia Commonwealth made the Final Four as a play-in in 2011, and this year's field is loaded with potential giant killers.
Here are four reasons why you don't want to miss Tuesday or Wednesday nights:
1) St. Mary's features Matthew Dellavedova, one of the premier guards in America and the only player in the country to have participated in the Olympics (for Australia). Middle Tennessee State has a counter in senior guard Bruce Masse, a pure lockup defender who will be glued to Dellavedova all night. Either one of these teams is capable of beating both Memphis and Michigan State, and both play very solid half-court basketball.
2) Perhaps my favorite matchup of the play-in games comes Wednesday when Boise State battles Atlantic 10 upstart La Salle. Boise hasn't been to the tournament since 2008 but is absolutely for real, having already beaten UNLV, San Diego State and Creighton. La Salle, meanwhile, will employ a four- and sometimes a five-guard lineup predicated on quickness. Something has to give, because Boise is a VCU-lite: a super-aggressive unit that will trap and pressure you for 40 minutes.
3) Boise State sophomore point guard Derrick Marks is having a monster year, averaging over 16 points and four assists. At 6-foot-3, he has good size and is a natural attacking point who could become a real star in this tournament if the Broncos can escape the Explorers.
4) I just can't stop gushing over Middle Tennessee. One of the best scoring defenses in America is the epitome of a grind-you-out, Big Ten-type of team. St. Mary's loves pick-and-roll and loves the three, something that the uber-physical Blue Raiders love to shut down. With 11 players who average at least 10 minutes each, they have depth to spare.