NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Opening Round
The Opening Round game (commonly known as the Play-In Game) of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship was the first official game of the tournament, played between two of the lowest-seeded teams to qualify for an automatic bid to the tournament. Beginning in 2001, the game was typically played on the Tuesday following the Sunday selection of the other teams for the March tournament and was played at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio. The winner of the game was awarded the No. 16 seeded position in one of four regions of the tournament and next played the No. 1 seeded team of that region on the following Friday. No winner of that game has upset the No. 1 seeded team. However, three of the top seeds to beat the opening game winner advanced to the national championship game and all three won the national championship (2002 Maryland, 2005 North Carolina and 2010 Duke). North Carolina was the only No. 1 seeded team matched against the opening round winner more than once (2005 & 2008). On April 22, 2010, the NCAA announced that the tournament would expand to 68 teams, with four "Play-In Games" beginning with the 2011 tournament.
The game was conceived after the Mountain West Conference, which had been formed in 1999 following the split of the Western Athletic Conference, was given an automatic bid for its conference champion, which made it the 31st conference to receive an automatic berth into the men's tournament. Unlike the women's tournament, which accommodated this change by eliminating an at-large bid to keep their field at 64 teams, the organizers of the men's tournament elected to keep their at-large entries at 34. In order to eliminate one of the teams to have a 64-team bracket, it became necessary for another game to be played between the two lowest-ranked teams among the automatic bid leagues.
Prior to the announcement of the new contract for television, ESPN carried the Opening Round game beginning in 2002. The National Network (TNN, formerly known as The Nashville Network and now called Spike), at the time a corporate sibling of NCAA Tournament carrier CBS, aired the first game in 2001.
Florida A&M (2004 & 2007) and Winthrop (2001 & 2010) were the only teams to appear in the game more than once. The 2003 game was the only one to end in overtime.
Although analysts' initial reactions to the concept were skeptical, the first game, played on March 13, 2001, was a success, and few complaints were lodged. The games are prominent by attracting viewers on nights in which no other NCAA games are played. Prior to the proposal of expansion, Syracuse University coach Jim Boeheim had advocated for an expansion of the tournament from 64 to 76 teams, which would include four opening round games for all of the 16th and also added opening round games for the 14th and 15th seeded teams. The expansion of play in games faced logistical challenges and lukewarm acceptance from NCAA President Myles Brand and the corporate and media partners of the NCAA. However, on April 22, 2010, the NCAA announced, as part of a new 14-year, US$10.8 billion agreement between CBS Sports and Time Warner's Turner Sports division, that the tournament will include three more play-in games, which would come to be known as the "First Four."
The opening round games have also been criticized as a handicap for teams among the historically black colleges and universities. In all but one of the games played from 2001 to 2010, at least one of the teams has been a HBCU. However, the two conferences which are made up of HBCUs, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference, are often two of the lowest-rated conferences in the RPI.
Opening Round or play-in game
The two teams aren't officially in the tournament before the game is played. As recently as 1991, the NCAA has conducted play-in games (usually between champions of what were considered to be the weakest conferences) prior to the announcement of the brackets; the losers were not considered to have been in the tournament. Note that the losers of the current opening round game aren't credited with a tournament appearance for purposes of sharing in the NCAA basketball contract revenues, while the winners receive a share for being in the round of 64. Consequently, in 2001, Northwestern State technically became the first No. 16 seeded team to win a game in the men's NCAA tournament by virtue of the team's opening round victory.
Although the new format, beginning in 2011, expanded to four opening round games, not all games feed into a No. 16 seed for the winner; nor, does each of the four regions necessarily have an opening round game. In 2011, for example, the East Region featured two opening round games and the West Region featured none. Also, the winners in two of the openers were awarded a No. 11 seed and No. 12 seed, respectively, in their designated region. Two of the games feature the four lowest-seeded automatic bids, as before. These games feed into two of the four #16 seeds. The other two games feature the last four teams to receive at-large bids. These teams have been seeded anywhere from the 11 seed to the 14 seed in their region since the switch to the new format and at least one of the teams has made it past the round 64 each year.
In 2011, the broadcast media began calling these games "The First Four" (as opposed to the "Final Four"); and, also used the term "first round games" interchangeably with "opening round games." Formerly, the term "first round game" specifically referred to the first games played by the final 64 teams, not the teams in the opening round. Through the 2015 tournament, these games were known as "second round games," resulting in some confusion for those more accustomed to the round being known as the "first round" and the "second round" being used for the regional quarterfinals (field of 32). Effective with the 2016 tournament, the NCAA reverted to the traditional usage of "First Round" as referring to the first games played by the final 64 teams, and began officially using "First Four" to refer to the opening round games.
Single game results (2001–2010)
|Denotes that team went on to win the national championship|
||Game went into overtime|
|Year||Date||Winner||Loser||No. 1 seed faced|
|2001||March 13||Northwestern State||71||Winthrop||67||Illinois|
|2002||March 12||Siena||81||Alcorn State||77||Maryland|
|2003||March 18||UNC Asheville||92||Texas Southern||84*||Texas|
|2004||March 16||Florida A&M||72||Lehigh||57||Kentucky|
|2005||March 15||Oakland||79||Alabama A&M||69||North Carolina|
|2007||March 13||Niagara||77||Florida A&M||69||Kansas|
|2008||March 18||Mount St. Mary's||69||Coppin State||60||North Carolina|
|2009||March 17||Morehead State||58||Alabama State||43||Louisville|
|2010||March 16||Arkansas–Pine Bluff||61||Winthrop||44||Duke|
Appearances by conference
Results since 2011
Unless noted otherwise, the University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio, has hosted all games. The results of the opening round games since the tournament's expansion to four games are as follows:
|Year||Winner||Score||Loser||Team faced (seed)||Tournament Exit - Team(seed) Score|
|2011||UTSA||70–61||Alabama State||Ohio State (1)||Round of 64 - Ohio State(1) 75-46|
|Clemson||70–52||UAB||West Virginia (5)||Round of 64 - West Virginia(5) 84-76|
|UNC-Asheville||81–77 (OT)||Arkansas-Little Rock||Pittsburgh (1)||Round of 64 - Pittsburgh(1) 74-51|
|VCU||59–46||USC||Georgetown (6)||Final Four - Butler(8) 70-62|
|2012||South Florida||65–54||California||Temple (5)||Round of 32 - Ohio(13) 62-56|
|Brigham Young||78–72||Iona||Marquette (3)||Round of 64 - Marquette(3) 88-68|
|Vermont||71–59||Lamar||North Carolina (1)||Round of 64 - North Carolina(1) 77-58|
|Western Kentucky||59–58||Miss. Valley St.||Kentucky (1)||Round of 64 - Kentucky (1) 81-66|
|2013||La Salle||80–71||Boise State||Kansas State (4)||Sweet 16 - Wichita St (9) 72-58|
|North Carolina A&T||73–72||Liberty||Louisville (1)||Round of 64 - Louisville(1) 79-48|
|James Madison||68–55||Long Island U-Brooklyn||Indiana (1)||Round of 64 - Indiana(1) 83-62|
|Saint Mary's||67–54||Middle Tennessee||Memphis (6)||Round of 64 - Memphis(6) 54-52|
|2014||Albany||71–64||Mount St. Mary's||Florida (1)||Round of 64 - Florida(1) 67-55|
|Cal Poly-SLO||81–69||Texas Southern||Wichita State (1)||Round of 64 - Wichita State(1) 64-37|
|North Carolina St.||74–59||Xavier||Saint Louis (5)||Round of 64 - Saint Louis(5) 83-80|
|Tennessee||78–65 (OT)||Iowa||Massachusetts (6)||Sweet 16 - Michigan(2) 73-71|
|2015||Dayton||56–55||Boise State||Providence (6)||Round of 32 - Oklahoma(3) 72-66|
|Mississippi||94–90||Brigham Young||Xavier (6)||Round of 64 - Xavier(6) 76-57|
|Hampton||74–64||Manhattan||Kentucky (1)||Round of 64 - Kentucky(1) 79-56|
|Robert Morris||81–77||North Florida||Duke (1)||Round of 64 - Duke(1) 85-56|
|2016||Florida Gulf Coast||96–65||Fairleigh Dickinson||North Carolina (1)||Round of 64 - North Carolina(1) 83-67|
|Holy Cross||59–55||Southern University||Oregon (1)||Round of 64 - Oregon(1) 91-52|
|Michigan||67–62||Tulsa||Notre Dame (6)||Round of 64 - Notre Dame(6) 70-63|
|Wichita State||70–50||Vanderbilt||Arizona (6)||Round of 32 - Miami(3) 65-57|
|2017||Cal-Davis||67–63||North Carolina Central||Kansas (1)||Round of 64 - Kansas(1) 100-62|
|Kansas State||95–88||Wake Forest||Cincinnati (6)||Round of 64 - Cincinnati(6) 75-61|
|Mount Saint Mary's||67–66||New Orleans||Villanova (1)||Round of 64 - Villanova(1) 76-56|
|Southern California||75–71||Providence||Southern Methodist (6)||Round of 32 - Baylor(3) 82-78|
|2018||Radford||71–61||Long Island U-Brooklyn||Villanova (1)||Round of 64 - Villanova(1) 87-61|
|Saint Bonaventure||65–58||UCLA||Florida (6)||Round of 64 - Florida(6) 77-62|
|Texas Southern||64–46||North Carolina Central||Xavier (1)||Round of 64 - Xavier(1) 102-83|
|Syracuse||60–56||Arizona State||Texas Christian (6)|
- "NCAA plans to expand tournament from 65 to 68 teams". Sports Illustrated. April 22, 2010. Archived from the original on April 28, 2010. Retrieved April 24, 2010.
- "Jeff Sagarin computer ratings". USA Today. April 8, 2010. Retrieved May 20, 2010.