For all the romantic notions of the NCAA men's basketball tournament -- and all the recent bad-mouthing of the "First Four" games -- we are settled into this position: a lot of the Round of 64 games are garbage, while the play-in game tonight between Tennesee and Iowa has a much greater potential to be very good.
If you believe Ken Pomeroy's ranking system, and there are good reasons to do so, Tennessee is the 11th-best team in the nation while Iowa is No. 28. That equates to more like a No. 3 seed vs. a No. 7 seed, the caliber of matchup you might see for the right to go to the Sweet 16, not merely stay alive and join the real party in their game at 8 p.m. on TruTV.
Even if you don't go quite that far, these are two exciting teams who, at their best, can play with the top teams in the country. Iowa beat Michigan and won at Ohio State. The Hawkeyes also lost very close games at Iowa State, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Before their collapse, we thought they were one of the Big Ten's best teams. Tennessee is even more curious, as Pomeroy writes about for Deadspin. They lose close, and they win big. They beat Virginia by 35 [redacted] points. Maybe that makes them college basketball's version of the Wolves -- capable of greatness, prone to breaking down when it matters.
Whatever the case, this is a game worth watching. Don't dismiss it in favor of some of the lesser scraps of games on Thursday and Friday.