by Paul West
One of the play-in games in this year’s March Madness tournament was the Xavier Musketeers against the North Carolina State Wolfpack, two bubble teams who have at some point in this season been considered threats to win a round or two. The Wolfpack won their, then took 5 seed St Louis to overtime in the first (I refuse to call it the second, as least until further notice) round. The first day of the first round was packed with tight, dramatic games, there were two lopsided games–including a 40 point blowout in the 15-2 game. This furthers the question: why is an 11 seed being determined by a play-in game in the first place? The play-in game used to be between the ‘last four in’ teams, usually from relatively unknown conferences. It was often the case that hardly anyone watched who wasn’t a fan of either school. Deciding to make the play-in game involve higher-ranked teams, and determine a higher seed, was probably meant to draw more attention to the game. But it’s against the very idea of a play-in game, which essentially is a ‘we can’t decide on the last spots, you guys play it out’ game. To have anything but the 16 seeds decided by a play-in game belies the notion that the seeds are reflective of the relative ordering of teams. While we’re at it, if winning your conference tournament gets you an entry, then it shouldn’t be a play-in entry. If winning your conference tournament means something, it should get you to the first weekend–not a ‘congratulations, you got to extend your pre-tournament playoff!’ booby prize.
The play-in game shouldn’t expose the seeding as suspect; it should be a chance for the ‘last four in’ to sort it out among themselves.