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Thankfully, the NCAA avoided depth-charging the preferred college basketball tournament by not expanding it to 96 teams, something that was quite feared shortly after Duke beat the Butler Bulldogs. While the basketball committee did decide to include more teams in upcoming editions, it won’t be a glut of schools that have no reason to challenge for a National Championship, regardless of name recognition.

According to a new article from Andy Katz, the expansion plans call for the addition of a new first round, one that will pit the last four at-large bid teams against the last four automatic qualifiers, in a newly-created round called the “First Four.” Some details:

The “First Four” will be played either the Tuesday or Wednesday after Selection Sunday. The winners of the four games will advance to what will now be called the “second round” on either Thursday or Friday. The newly named third round — with 16 games — will be Saturday and Sunday. The rest of the tournament — regional semifinals (Sweet 16) and regional finals (Elite Eight) — will remain as they have been, as will the Final Four, which is set for Houston in 2011…

[Tournament selection committee chairman Dan] Guerrero and [NCAA vice president Greg] Shaheen said the last four at-large teams would be put on the seed line the committee decided they earned. So, this could mean that two could be considered No. 12 seeds playing for the right to play a No. 5 and two could be No. 11s vying to play a No. 6 in the second round.

Essentially, these last eight teams will play each other in the “new” first round and the winner advances to play what we recognize as the old first round (now the second). Think of it this way, two teams will fight for the right to be a “12-seed” with the winner facing the traditional “5-seed” in the second round. The other two games will be an extension of the current “play-in game” scenario.

The “First Four” games will be shown on TruTV earlier in the week so they don’t interfere with the traditional start of the Big Dance.