In the next two days Joel and I are going to break down the bracket, region by region. We'll tell you who is overseeded, underseeded, fun to watch, easy to hate, and all the other things you need to know before parking yourself in front of the tele on Thursday afternoon. That (and whatever else comes to mind) is coming your way on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Today though, is the time to look at the bracket as a whole. By the time this hits your computer or mobile device, the bracket will be a little over 12 hours old. People will be talking about their Final Four, who is going to win, the biggest upset, and all that good stuff. Those people are to be ignored, matchups are the purvey of Tuesday and Wednesday of Opening Week. Monday is for staring at the bracket, flawless in its incomplete form, and just imagining the possibilities. Pencil in the ones and twos if you really must, but just sit down and look at thing for a bit first.
Then take note of who isn't there. Iowa, Baylor, Maryland, and UK all failed to make the tournament this year. What you think of that likely depends on which rankings system you use. KenPom devotees will balk at MTSU making it over the Hawkeyes and Virginia. Fans of the BPI are equally aggrieved that Stanford didn't make. RPI backers as misinformed, but that won't keep them from being upset that Southern Miss isn't going dancing.
For my money I'm still a bit mystified as to how Middle Tennessee State got in ahead of Tennessee, Kentucky, Maryland, or really any of those teams listed above. The Blue Raiders played exactly four games against the RPI top 100 and won only one of them. That, coupled with an astounding 21 sub 150 wins and a sub 150 loss, should have been enough to take the shine off their 28-5 record. Nevertheless, they're in and they get St. Mary's in the play in round.
Speaking of which, it seems a bit cruel to award a team an auto bid only to send them to Dayton and make them play on a Tuesday in front of no one. Teams making the tournament on the strength of a conference championship should not be subjected to Dayton. Both Dayton as the idea of the play in round and Dayton the actual place are a slap in the face to the likes of LIU Brooklyn, who earned the right to get destroyed by a one seed with a little bit of dignity. Sending a team that celebrated their accomplishment to Dayton just feels a little dirty.
And yes, Xavier isn't in there this year. It's bound to happen from time to time, I guess, but that doesn't make it easier to take. Still it frees everyone up to just take in the spectacle that is the tournament. On the positive side, this means no stomach wrenching tension, no terror when Lehigh (Lehigh!) jumps out to an early lead, and no watching a comeback fall just short. Of course it also means no Semaj on the grand stage, no chance for Tu hanging over jack Cooley, no Jordan Crawford from just inside half court, and no getting to explain to all your friends that your team is the one no one can pronounce.
Other than that, enjoy the next few days. As good as the tournament is to watch, it's almost better in the anticipation. I'm looking forward to Marshall Henderson, but disappointed he drew Wisconsin, I'm waiting to see if UCLA can win without its second leading scorer, I'm pulling for Butler to lose nearly as hard as I am for Akron to win, I'm eager to see which Missouri shows up and equally eager to watch an announcer have to swallow the fact that Phil Pressey isn't that good, I can't wait to watch Florida defend and Kenny Boynton shoot them right our of winnable games, I'm looking forward to one of those absurd upsets that really has no business happening, and I'm hoping to see Creighton take out two teams I really can't stand.
But mostly Butler losing.