Sports Today: First Four fun, Bengals questions, WBC rocking, UFC rallying, etc. 


Sports Today: First Four fun, Bengals questions, WBC rocking, UFC rallying, etc. 

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DAYTON, OH - MARCH 14: The Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers mascot and the New Orleans Privateers mascot perform during the First Four game in the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 14, 2017 in Dayton, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

It was a fun time at the University of Dayton Arena for the beginning of the First Four last night. 

Both games were competitive most of the way as Mount St. Mary’s beat New Orleans 67-66 and Kansas State pulled away from Wake Forest late. 

I know pooh-poohing the First Four is fashionable in some circles, but I don’t really get why. 

From a fan perspective, I look at it as two bonus nights of the tournament. If you don’t want to watch, your overall tournament experience is really no different than it ever was, so I don’t really see the point in complaining about them. 

Even though they were facing a long travel day going to California to face Cincinnati on Friday, he told his players getting to play in the First Four was a positive. 

That might sound funny considering they had to play an extra game just to make the field of 64, but the alternative was not playing in the tournament at all. 

And of course VCU going from the First Four to the Final Four in the inaugural year of the former was a godsend for the NCAA, which doesn’t have to manufacture hope for teams who find themselves in Dayton two or three days after Selection Sunday. It’s not just something that could happen — it did. 

The First Four does need one significant change, though: No teams with automatic bids should be part of it. 

If K-State sounded lucky to be there last night, well, they were. They could have easily been left out, a la Syracuse or Indiana. Meanwhile, Mount St. Mary’s and New Orleans earned their spot in the field and should get the full tournament experience (although I should point out they both seemed grateful for the experience, nonetheless). 

So the First Four should be the last eight at-large teams in the field. 

That is not only more fair, it also stands to reason it would make the games a better TV draw because schools like KSU and Wake Forest have far larger fanbases and more name recognition than the small conference winners, and there is good reason to think any of them could go on and win another game. That is not the case with the teams in the 16 seed games, which makes watching them less appealing to the casual fan... 

We had a flurry of Bengals news late yesterday afternoon, and it served to leave us with more questions than answers. 

Bringing in Andre Smith seems like a low-risk, high-reward move, and Rex Burkhead’s exit did not come as a great surprise. 

Carlos Dunlap’s questions are only natural. 

I’m still not convinced they will be able to rely on the offensive line, so they might miss a versatile weapon like Burkhead more than expected if they have to rely on being more of a ball-control passing game. 

But if Smith is healthy and Jeremy Hill can bounce back (or they draft someone like Leonard Fournette…), perhaps they can get back to being a ground-and-pound team that relies on Andy Dalton’s arm primarily for deep shots to A.J. Green and third-down lasers to Tyler Eifert rather than asking him to be Drew Brees or Ben Roethlisberger…

Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap celebrates after tackled an Oakland Raiders player. The Bengals defeated the Oakland Raiders 34-10 during their Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012 game at Paul Brown Stadium. file photo Staff Writer

Generally an afterthought since its inception in 2006, the World Baseball Classic has been generating a lot of buzz this year thanks to a series of classic games and dramatic moments. 

Paul Goldschmidt, Giancarlo Stanton, Buster Posey, Eric Hosmer, Marcus Stroman, Chris Archer and Danny Duffy are among the players on the US roster… 

As for the Reds, they lost 6-5 to the Dodgers yesterday, mostly because Tim Adleman was touched for five runs in 3 1/3 innings. His ERA is 11.17 this spring. 

On the bright side, Robert Stephenson allowed only one hit in two innings to lower his ERA to 5.63. 

Although Billy Hamilton is off to a slow start in spring training (4 for 27), reports he is happy with his approach at the plate, which he and hitting coach Don Long agree is more consistent than it was earlier in his career. 

Cody Reed is set to pitch today… 

Perhaps the return of some big names — even if Anderson Silva and Georges St.-Pierre are past their prime — can give the UFC a shot in the arm. 

Silva is back in the news this week after using his Instagram to call for fights with Nick Diaz and Michael Bisping. 

The middleweight champ, Bisping is already set to fight GSP later this year, but Silva wants a rematch of a decision loss. 

Meanwhile, UFC president Dana White continues to deny his current cash cow, Conor McGregor, will be fighting retired boxing champ Floyd Mayweather Jr. any time soon. 

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