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John Blanchette: Doc Ball answers all your First Four questions

Learned and wise about college basketball as he is, Charles Barkley can’t cover everything, especially when it comes to all that’s complicating Gonzaga’s merge from the on-ramp to the fast lane of the NCAA Basketball Tournament this March.

Good thing, then, that ol’ Doc Ball is here to answer your many questions and craft a primer to get you through this First Four chicane. So fire away.

Q: Two years ago it was the men’s bracket that got leaked. On Monday, ESPN blundered and spoiled 68 watch parties by spilling the women’s field prematurely. Where does the blame belong?

A: Hillary’s email server. C’mon, people, it’s March Madness. These things happen. Focus.

Q: Who does Gonzaga play in its tournament opener on Thursday?

A: Either Fairleigh Dickinson or Prairie View A&M.

Q: I’m an old-school Zags fan — I go back to the Adam Morrison years. I know my way around the bracket. Since when did the first round become multiple choice?

A: During the Dan Dickau years, actually. In 2001, the old WAC splintered into two conferences, and rather than cut into the number of at-large bids and leave out one of those .500 ACC teams everyone enjoys watching underachieve, a 65th team was added to the bracket. Naturally, they made the two lowest-rated auto-bid teams play it off on Tuesday of tournament week.

Q: Hey, Doc, I remember Dan Dickau. Why don’t I remember this?

A: Because they televised the first game on Spike TV. That had even less penetration than Pac-12 Networks.

Q: You seem a little puckish about this development. They were still a part of the tournament, true?

A: Two lonesome teams showing up in Dayton on a Tuesday for what amounted to a play-in? No buzz, no tournament atmosphere that you get with the eight-team first-round pods? No chance for the losing team to ever get a taste of being in the same orbit with Duke and Kentucky?

Q: You say two teams. So what’s this First Four I keep hearing about?

A: Oh, well, the inevitable bellyaching from eighth place SEC teams and Jim Boeheim about getting “snubbed” on Selection Sunday got so loud that they added three more teams and now play four games in Dayton.

Q: That’s got to be better, right?

A: You know those kids who waited to see if their college applications would be accepted while Lori Loughlin bribed her daughters’ way in? Well, those kids are the First Four.

Q: Doc, did you say one of the teams the Zags might play is Fairly Ridiculous?

A: That’s an old joke. Hey, don’t sleep on Fairleigh Dickinson. Back in 1985, it was almost UMBC before UMBC was cool – losing the 16-vs.-1 seed game just 59-55 to Michigan.

Q: But what is a Fairleigh Dickinson?

A: Who. Medical technology magnate. Philanthropist. Rich guy.

Q: Has the school ever won an NCAA Tournament game?

A: No. But don’t go bowling with them. The women’s team has won two national titles. And they have their own shoes.

Q: And that other school? Pay Per View A&M?

A: OK, that’s pretty good. Think of it this way: they have as many Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductees as Gonzaga, though you probably don’t remember Zelmo Beaty.

Q: Are they good at bowling, too?

A: Yeah, not bad. But they once lost 80 football games in a row. The band rocks, though.

Q: Isn’t this a basketball tournament, Doc?

A: Right you are. So check it out: Prairie View won 21 of its last 22 games, sweeping the Southwestern Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles. FDU did the same thing in the Northeastern Conference, winning 14 of the last 16 games.

Q: But aren’t they at a big disadvantage against Gonzaga, and not just because they’re 16 seeds?

A: Sure. They have flights to Dayton and then Salt Lake City. They’ll be playing on just a day’s rest. But you can bet the crowd will be on their side if they keep it close — remember what happened to the Zags in 2013 in Salt Lake when they couldn’t put away Southern.

Q: You haven’t mentioned their mascots, Doc. Do you even know them — without looking?

A: Uh, no. But we sought help from a few of the Zags players on that score.

Q: How did that go?

A: Well, Killian Tillie tried to read the answer in the reporter’s notebook while asking, “Is it like an animal?” Josh Perkins got the colors mostly right — purple for PV, red (actually burgundy) for FDU. And Brandon Clarke had a pretty good stab at Prairie View’s.

Q: What’s that?

A: “Prairie Dogs.”

Q: What are they really?

A: PV is the Panthers, FDU is the Knights.

Q: Do you think they even have a chance?

A: Not really. But I’m hoping ESPN can show the final score prematurely, too, so I can at least clean up on a point-spread bet.

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