What is the First Four? And why is it a thing?

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The NCAA tournament bracket has been revealed, and 68 of the best teams in the country are set to face off in weeks’ worth of intense, terrifying, and beautiful single-elimination play that always thrills.

You read that right: it’s 68 of the best teams in the country, not the 64 many of you grew up with. While the vast majority of the field is set to start on Thursday, we’ll be treated with a four-game appetizer Tuesday and Wednesday.

These play-in games are known as the First Four.

Why is there a First Four?

More teams, more fun, more money, etc.

When the Mountain West Conference was added to Division 1 in 1999, the field was expanded from 64 to 65 teams. That added the first play-in game for the lowest seeded teams. The more the merrier, right?

Fast forward to 2011, and the NCAA decided to cut down on the tournament snubs, and give three more teams the chance to play. Though of course, we still have a handful of snubs every year.

How do they decide who plays in these games?

Eight of the tournament’s weakest teams play in these games. The first step the NCAA tournament committee takes in forming a bracket is seeding all teams from No. 1 through No. 68. The committee then takes the four lowest-seeded teams who received automatic bids and four lowest-seeded at-large bids, and have them play in the First Four.

The automatic bids become No. 16 seeds in the big bracket. The at-large teams generally come in around No. 11 or No. 12 in the main bracket. This year, the winners in both at-large qualifier matchups (St. Bonaventure or UCLA, and Syracuse or Arizona State) will become No. 11 seeds.

This doesn’t seem fair!

Well, maybe your team should’ve been better in the regular season. And actually, for 16-seeds it’s a nice opportunity to add a tournament win to their resume. For at-large teams, playing in the First Four hasn’t precluded success in the rest of the tournament.

Some First Four teams actually do *really* well

For seven consecutive seasons, at least one team from the First Four has also won its next game. In 2011, VCU, as a No. 11 seed, made it all the way from the First Four to the Final Four. They are the first and only team to pull that off, and it was in the First Four’s inaugural season.

Where are these games played?

Since 2011, Dayton, Ohio, has hosted the First Four.

Dayton seems to be the perfect location, central in the country with a fanbase that loves basketball. A current agreement ends this year though, and there’s a chance the First Four moves away from Dayton in 2019.

Who is playing in them this year?

Here is the two-day schedule for the 2018 First Four:

  • Tuesday, March 13

(16) LIU Brooklyn vs. (16) Radford, 6:40 p.m. ET

(11) St. Bonaventure vs. (11) UCLA, 9:10 p.m. ET

  • Wednesday, March 14

(16) Texas Southern vs. (16) N.C. Central, 6:40 p.m. ET

(11) Syracuse vs. (11) Arizona State, 9:10 p.m. ET

How do I watch these games?

On TruTV! You know, that channel you can never find.

What 2018 First Four team should I pick to make a run?

The winner of Arizona State/Syracuse is a popular pick to upset TCU in the First Round, but it’s tough to pick any among that group with confidence.