Dayton was hoping for a little regional flavor — or at least a marquee name or two — to bolster its NCAA tournament First Four games Tuesday and Wednesday and got neither.
But as UD Arena director Tim O’Connell pointed out, there are no complaints about the tourney field coming this way for the second and third rounds this weekend. No. 1-seeded Indiana and No. 2 Ohio State along with Notre Dame and North Carolina State will all begin their NCAA journeys here Friday.
“The second and third rounds are really nice,” O’Connell said. “(Former UD ticket director) Gary McCans is starting to get messages from people he doesn’t even know because his number comes up. ‘Can you secure me a couple tickets?’ It’s funny. But that’s going to be a tough ticket come Friday.
“Our fans and those who bought tickets are going to have a great week of basketball.”
The NCAA tournament selection committee recognized the parity in college basketball Sunday, giving 11 of 37 at-large bids to teams outside the power conferences for the second straight year. Four of those schools will be coming to Dayton to play in the First Four games: Middle Tennessee State (28-5) will meet St. Mary’s (27-6) on Tuesday and La Salle (21-9) will face Boise State (21-10) on Wednesday.
Those games will be the second of a pair of double-headers. North Carolina A&T (18-16) will play Liberty (15-20) at 6:40 p.m. Tuesday, while LIU-Brooklyn (20-13) and Colonial Athletic Association champ James Madison (20-14) will tip off at 6:40 on Wednesday.
La Salle is one of five Atlantic 10 schools to make the 68-team field, the most bids for the league since also getting five in 1997 and ‘98.
All First Four games will be broadcast on TruTV and are sold out, thanks to the help of the Local Organizing Committee, which bought the 6,000 surplus of tickets after the public sale.
This is the third installment of the First Four, and crowds have ranged from 10,192 to 7,218 in the 13,000-plus-seat arena.
“Having a sold-out event is always a feather in the cap, but it’s also a sigh of relief,” O’Connell said. “You’ve gotten out there and have done your work. We couldn’t have done it without our season-ticket holders and the LOC.”
Middle Tennessee State, which is located in Murfreesboro, Tenn., is the nearest of the First Four at-large teams this year, and it’s located about 350 miles away. Before that, only Western Kentucky has been within a 400-mile radius of Dayton.
But while a Kentucky or Tennessee would have created more buzz, the games themselves have always generated top-drawer entertainment.
“One thing you miss unless you’re here is just the overall excitement and emotion of these First Four teams,” O’Connell said. “They have really battled hard to advance.
“These teams are going to be chartered in by the NCAA. We use the Wright Brothers (regional airport), and that’s been set up for this. They’re going to see that, hop on a bus and go to a hotel that will be like their second home. Our hotel partners are the best. And everyone knows how the arena will be. It’ll be full.
“They’re going to be the focus of Tuesday and Wednesday night for the tournament because nothing else is going on. There’s not going to be a better atmosphere anywhere.”