Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer 1004d

First lesson of 2016 NCAA tournament: Beware the underseeded

Let's bury the hatchet.

It has been five days already. It's time. There's no going back now, anyway, right? No correcting the mistakes of Selection Sunday, no righting the committee's (numerous) wrongs. Monmouth ain't walkin' through that door. Tulsa missed the NIT registration deadline. What's done is done.

Precedent dictates any airing of bracket grievances, from at-large selections to seeds, be confined to a 48-hour window after said bracket is revealed. So what if the 2016 edition was the committee's most baffling in recent memory? The tournament is here! We're one day in! Is civility dead?

It's time, after the first 16 games of the 2016 NCAA tournament, to discuss the pertinent and recurring opening-day theme. The one thing that just kept coming up, over and over again: Beware the underseeded.

The first results produced by this hotly debated bracket was a reminder of the gloriously weird things about the NCAA tournament: Seeding is both massively important and totally meaningless.

After all, exertion wasn't the only thing that soaked Arizona coach Sean Miller's shirt. His team, a young group rebounding from the loss of four star starters last offseason, had taken a few lumps this season. Miller had called out his players publicly after a home loss to Oregon. Star freshman guard Alonzo Trier missed significant time with injury. The Wildcats emerged from all that, and a strong top half of the Pac-12, to enter the NCAA tournament with 25 wins and an overtime conference tourney loss to No. 1 seed Oregon.

Good season, coach. Your reward? A No. 6 seed. Oh, and Wichita State.

"From the statistics that we looked at," Miller said after a not-even-that-close 65-55 loss to the Shockers Thursday night, "they're the nation's No. 1 defensive team."

The Shockers also, of course, feature two of the nation's best guards. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker -- both of whom happen to be fourth-year seniors who played star roles in a recent run of success comprising a Final Four appearance (2013), a 35-1 season (2014) and an upset of Kansas en route to the Sweet 16 (2015). The numbers Miller was almost certainly citing, the ones that believed the Shockers played the nation's stingiest defense -- adjusted for tempo, adjusted for competition -- also maintained, before the game, that Wichita State should have been favored.

As an 11-seed. That advanced from the First Four. Facing Arizona.

Agreeing or disagreeing with the committee's appraisal of Wichita State is beside the point now. The Shockers guard like crazy and have star senior guards and they're moving on to face No. 3 Miami in the round of 32. They shouldn't be much of an underdog in that game. If at all. From here on out, their seed has nothing to do with it.

The same is true of Kentucky. Seriously, did that look like a No. 4-seed to you? The Wildcats treated their first-round opponent -- a top-100 team with a legitimate star big man, in Jameel Warney, who scored 43 points on 18-of-22 shooting in America East title game -- like a team from the SWAC. Stony Brook was on the No. 13 line, and reasonably so. Against, say, the interior woes of No. 4 seed Duke, they would have been a popular upset pick. One 85-57 UK win later, and the Seawolves looked more like Hampton.

You know who else romped through its first-round matchup Thursday? Indiana. The outright Big Ten champions who ended up stuck with a No. 5 seed in the same first-weekend site as Kentucky. That's a game worthy of the Elite Eight, at least, if not the Final Four. Instead, it will happen in the second round.

Seeding unleashed that matchup. Now that it's here, the seeds might as well be invisible.

Other examples lurked elsewhere in the bracket Thursday. Fittingly enough, two of them came from the setup's most bizarre historical quirk: The No. 5 versus No. 12. Yale's win over Baylor and Arkansas Little Rock's come-from-behind, double-overtime blitz past startled Purdue both reinforced the strange paradox of the seed.

The Bulldogs' win over the Bears comes with a handy narrative: It was Yale's first-ever NCAA tournament win. (It also gave us Taurean Prince's intricate analysis of the art of the rebound, and will be immortalized accordingly.) But it was, at the end of the day, a brutal matchup for a Bears team that feasted on offensive rebounds all season -- only to meet a top-10 team in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Little Rock, meanwhile, played the exact kind of hassling half-court defense it needed to erase Purdue's late lead in regulation -- and rattle the Boilers in overtime.

Bad matchups? Sure. But both of Thursday's Cinderellas -- little as they may seem with those No. 12s next to their name -- were, by any metric, good.

The night closed, once and for all, with No. 11 Gonzaga's win over No. 6 Seton Hall. And you know what? There was nothing wrong with Gonzaga's seed. Or, really, Seton Hall's. The Zags are, not unlike Kentucky, much better now than they were throughout much of the season. It happens.

"We lost to an excellent team," Miller said in Providence a few hours earlier. "The seeding in this tournament, you can almost throw them out. I think it's almost unfair to try to worry, is it a good seed or bad seed, because there are so many good teams. And Wichita State, I think, is good enough to win several more games in this tournament."

Seeding created the situation in which Miller found himself, fresh shirt in tow, talking about why Wichita State's seed was meaningless.

It's not a complaint. It's the paradox at the heart of the bracket -- especially this bracket.

The underseeded are everywhere. Beware.

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