What is the First Four in March Madness?
The First Four was introduced in 2011, and it was originally called the "First Round." The NCAA added the First Four to the tournament in order to include more teams in the tournament. Learn more about how it works.
The NCAA basketball tournament is one of the most exciting and popular events in all of U.S. sports. Each year, 68 teams from across the country compete in a single-elimination tournament to determine the national champion.
In recent years, the NCAA has added a new wrinkle to the basketball tournament: the First Four. We will explain what the First Four is, how it works, and why it matters to fans of college basketball.
What is the First Four in the NCAA Tournament?
Before diving into the First Four, it's important to answer the question of what is March Madness? March Madness is the nickname given to the NCAA basketball tournament that takes place every March and April. The tournament features 68 teams from across the country, all competing in a single-elimination bracket to determine the national champion. The tournament is divided into four 16-team regions (East, West, Midwest, and South).
March Madness First Four History
Introduced in 2011, the First Four was originally called the "First Round." The NCAA created the First Four so that four additional teams would have a chance to play their way into the traditional 64-team field. The First Four games, which take place before the official start of the tournament, are played in Dayton, Ohio.
How does the First Four work?
The First Four is essentially a play-in round for the tournament. The four lowest-ranked teams in the tournament (as determined by the NCAA selection committee) are paired up in two games, with the winners advancing to the official tournament bracket. The other two First Four games feature the last four at-large teams selected for the tournament, with the winners advancing to the official bracket as well.
What teams participate in the First Four Round?
As previously stated, the First Four includes the tournament's lowest-ranked teams as well as the last four at-large teams. As a result, teams that participate in the First Four are frequently teams that earned automatic bids from smaller conferences and are usually not considered to rank among the best teams in the country.
How are the teams chosen?
First Four teams are chosen by the NCAA selection committee -- a group of coaches, administrators, and conference commissioners. The committee looks at a number of factors when choosing each team, including the team’s win-loss record, strength of schedule, and key wins and losses throughout the season.
Why does the First Four matter?
The First Four might not feature the best teams in the tournament, but it is still an important part of March Madness. For the teams that participate, it is a chance to make a statement and prove that they belong in the tournament. For fans, it is an opportunity to watch some exciting basketball and potentially witness an upset. And for the NCAA, it is a way to include more teams in the tournament and generate more excitement around March Madness.
The First Four and the NCAA Tournament Bracket
Winners of the First Four games advance to the official NCAA tournament bracket, where they are seeded according to their ranking. The First Four winners are usually seeded No. 11 or No. 16, and they are often matched up against higher-seeded teams in the first round. However, there have been instances where a First Four team has gone on to win multiple games in the tournament and make a deep run.
How to watch the First Four?
First Four games are broadcast on television and online, just like the rest of the NCAA tournament. They are typically shown on CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV. The games are also available to stream on the NCAA's website and through the NCAA March Madness Live app.
Memorable Moments from the First Four
In addition to the 64-team tournament’s many historic upsets, there have been a number of memorable March Madness First Four moments over the years:
- In 2011, VCU made it to the Final Four after winning a First Four game and then upsetting several higher-seeded teams.
- In 2012, BYU's Jimmer Fredette scored 32 points in a First Four win over Iona.
- In 2013, 13th-seeded La Salle made it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen after starting its tournament run with a First Four game.
What to expect from the First Four in the Future
The First Four is still a relatively new addition to March Madness, so it remains to be seen what the future holds for the play-in round. However, it seems likely that the NCAA will continue to include more teams in the tournament and potentially expand the First Four to include even more games.
The First Four is an important part of March Madness, even if it is often overlooked by fans and casual viewers. For teams that participate, it’s a chance to make a statement and prove that they belong in the tournament. For fans, it is an opportunity to watch some exciting basketball and potentially witness an upset. And for the NCAA, it is a way to include more teams in the tournament and generate more excitement around March Madness.
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