Since 2001, the NCAA Tournament has had one "opening round" game in which the two lowest-seeded teams play each other for the fourth #16 seed and the right to play the #1 overall seed in the tournament. With the game being in Dayton each year, I've always wanted to go, but never had a chance to until this year.
Let me tell you first about the problems I have with this play-in game. The NCAA and the media will insist on calling it an opening round game. However, it's not a round; it's one game. Beyond that, it seems silly to me to have an "opening round" and then the "first round" two days later. So let's call a spade a spade: it's a play-in game. Secondly, this game always pits two champions from low major conferences. For the low majors, getting into the NCAA Tourney is their one shot at a taste of glory. When these kids win their conference tournament, they should get a shot at the big boys--UCLA, Kansas, North Carolina, etc.--on a neutral floor. They shouldn't have to kill someone else's dream of doing the same just to get there. They've already played their way in. I'd much rather see it as a true play-in game: Let a couple of marginal bubble teams, like Kentucky and, say, Oregon, battle it out to get in. Sad as it may be, that game, between two middle-of-the-road teams with big names as opposed to two obscure conference champions, would probably get better attendance and TV ratings anyway.
All that said, it was a treat to be able to attend this game. I love college hoops, and getting to see a couple of good teams go at it was fun. The atmosphere was great--the arena wasn't packed, which isn't surprising for two teams from Maryland playing in Ohio, but there was a pretty good crowd, and they were definitely into the game. Also, Coppin State's pep band was very good. Both teams were well coached and played really well together, and there were some amazing, athletic plays. I think there were more high-flying dunks in this game than in any MAC game I saw this season. They matched up pretty well against each other. It looked early in the first half like Coppin State was going to run away a little bit, but Mount St. Mary's came back and pulled within 1 at halftime. Then they cranked up their defensive pressure in the second half, and that was the ballgame. It was close right up to the end, but the Mountaineers really controlled the second half.
If I go to this game next year, I need to remember to call earlier to get my ticket. I called on Monday afternoon, and my ticket was for a seat in the first couple of rows of the upper part of the arena, on the end...when I sat down, there was a guardrail right in my way. I ended up moving a few rows up and one section over so I could see better. And really, it didn't help a whole lot. UD Arena really isn't a fantastic place to see a game if you're up that high. The lower arena is fine, from what I remember (this was my first time there in a few years), but the upper arena isn't angled steeply enough to let you see over the people in front of you without a struggle. Personally, I think the Nutter Center would be a better Dayton venue in that regard, but otherwise, UD Arena is a great place for this game to happen each year.
Anyway, with the "opening round" out of the way, it's time to move on to the main event. The tournament starts in earnest on Thursday, and I'll be on the couch for it. Mount St. Mary's, the winner of the play-in game, will get their reward, a date with the UNC Tar Heels, on Friday evening.