Shanoff's WUC: Best Tournament Tip-Off Ever?

Today's Calls: 14 over 3 vs. 13 over 4, Ohio U. vs. Your Bracket, The Big East vs. Oblivion, Murray State vs. Google, Ali Farokhmanesh vs. Quincy Pondexter, Cornell vs. Cinderella, Your Bracket vs. Your Friends' and More. ↵

↵The Opening Pitch: The best case for expanding the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams came yesterday. If the No. 9 seed of the MAC Tournament can knock off a No. 3 seed of the NCAA Tournament, there's plenty of wiggle room for a few more teams. Instead of two days of 16-game frenzy, imagine doubling that -- more upsets, more close finishes, more ducking out of work. ↵

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↵The story of the first day of the Tournament was a thrilling display of the flattening of the college hoops world: Ohio over Georgetown. Murray State over Vandy. Old Dominion over Notre Dame. "Bobby Mo" taking Nova to the brink. ↵

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↵To claim that the 34 at-large teams represent the limit of the excitement denies what we could all see plainly: The strength and vitality of the Tournament goes way deeper than that. ↵

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↵The day was an affirmation that the name on the front of the jersey matters a lot less than the number of the seed next to the name: Fans love "14 over 3" and "13 over 4." That "Murray State" sounds exotic is a bonus. ↵

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↵They also love buzzer-beaters -- again, it's not like many of yesterday's games were examples of end-to-end brilliant basketball. But close games, ideally with a get-up-out-of-your-seat finish, make this Tournament. ↵

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↵(Two words: Ali Farokhmanesh. Also: Note that Washington nullified an entire underwhelming season -- both for itself and the Pac-10 -- by edging Marquette. Fans don't care about bona fides; they see "11 over 6 at the buzzer.") ↵

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↵Nothing about expanding the field precludes upsets or buzzer-beaters, no more than it precludes people from the one time of year they get to engage in socially acceptable gambling or shirking work. ↵

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↵In fact, yesterday's results were a reminder that the anti-expansion prudes who claim to be defending the sanctity of the NCAA Tournament paternalistically diminish the essential elements that make the Tournament so unique. ↵

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↵But fans know what the real strength of the NCAA Tournament is: It's the unexpected upset busting your region. It's the buzzer-beaters. It's skipping out of work mid-afternoon to the bar on the corner. It's "How's your bracket look?" ↵

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↵And it has nothing to do with the number of teams in the field. ↵

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↵Big East: What the ... ?! Georgetown, out. Marquette, out. Notre Dame, out. Villanova, nearly KO'ed by a 15-seed. No matter what happens today, the country's top conference from the regular season has been thoroughly humiliated. (When they expand the Tournament to 96, let's remember not to include 8 Big East teams. What a waste.) ↵

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↵Was that the best first day ever of an NCAA Tournament? It certainly felt like it, and that's kind of all that matters. Though the late-night set featured no upsets (9-over-8 doesn't count), the games were close -- even little Lehigh had a brief but wonderful lead over uber-favorite Kansas. ↵

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↵Bracket Update: 9-7 Like virtually everyone else, I missed Georgetown -- like probably half of you, I had Georgetown getting past Ohio State into the Elite Eight. Gack. On the plus side, my sleeper Sweet 16 team Washington advanced over Marquette. (Also missed: NIowa, Tenn, Murray, Wake, ODU, St. Mary's.) ↵

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↵Obama Bracket Update: 12-4 in the 1st round. Kudos to the President, who called Murray State over Vanderbilt and St. Mary's over Richmond. (Alas, the POTUS was among the folks who picked Georgetown to the Elite Eight.) ↵

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↵Previewing today's games: ↵
↵* - DS-predicted winners ↵

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↵12:15 2 West VA* vs. 15 Morgan St (East@BUFF) ↵
↵Like K-State, ready to take care of biz. ↵

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↵12:25 6 Xavier* vs. 11 Minnesota (West@MILW) ↵
↵X-Men are perennially Tourney tough. ↵

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↵12:30 5 Temple vs. 12 Cornell* (East@JAX) ↵
↵Big Red is a sentimental upset fave. ↵

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↵2:30 4 Purdue vs. 13 Siena* (South@SPOK) ↵
↵"With/without Hummel" debate ends. ↵

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↵2:35 7 Clemson vs. 10 Missouri* (East@BUFF) ↵
↵Mizzou has become a tough Tourney out. ↵

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↵2:45 3 Pitt* vs. 14 Oakland (West@MILW) ↵
↵Pitt needs to take lesson from Nova. ↵

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↵2:50 4 Wisconsin* vs. 13 Wofford (East@JAX) ↵
↵Badgers play a brutal style to prep for. ↵

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↵4:45 5 Texas A&M vs. 12 Utah St* (South@SPOK) ↵
↵Watch upset vibe from Spokane crowd. ↵

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↵7:10 8 Gonzaga* vs. 9 Florida St (West@BUFF) ↵
↵Nifty offense vs. stingy defense. ↵

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↵7:15 7 OK St* vs. 10 Georgia Tech (Midwest@MILW) ↵
↵Most contentious game of 1st round. ↵

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↵7:20 5 Michigan St* vs. 12 New Mex. St (Midwest@SPOK) ↵
↵Don't look for a classic 12-5 upset. ↵

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↵7:25 1 Duke* vs. 16 AR-Pine Bluff (South@JAX) ↵
↵ARPB won't be afraid. But it won't matter. ↵

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↵9:30 1 Syracuse* vs. 16 Vermont (West@BUFF) ↵
↵No Onuaku means Cuse fans hold breath. ↵

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↵9:35 2 Ohio St* vs. 15 UC Santa Barb (Midwest@MILW) ↵
↵Evan Turner won't be denied (yet). ↵

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↵9:40 4 Maryland* vs. 13 Houston (Midwest@SPOK) ↵
↵Gary Williams can't coach, Mr. Prez? ↵

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↵9:45 8 Cal vs. 9 Louisville* (South@JAX) ↵
↵Cards better as fiesty 9 than 1. ↵

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↵Quick glance at other stories on the radar: Welcome to MJ, Owner (sure you don't want to suit up?)... Is THIS the most intriguing team in baseball this season? ... Should the Seahawks trading for Charlie Whitehurst eliminate them from the Tebow Derby? ... Who's running Toyota's PR? ... Mr. Tony decides to punch up a weight class and gets KO'ed. ... Did you see the "Tiger texts?" Wow. ↵

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↵The Last Word: It is a phenomenon unique to the NCAA Tournament. Rationally, you picked a favorite to go to the Elite Eight. Irrationally, you love big upsets. And so you find yourself simultaneously rooting for Ohio to win but lamenting what it will do to your bracket. In the end, it is very easy: You never remember how your brackets finished, but you ALWAYS remember those big upsets. Root for the upset, bracket be damned. ↵

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↵Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/danshanoff. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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