The NCAA Tournament is back after a year away and that’s great news for basketball fans everywhere. March Madness is most sports fans’ favorite time of the year, and for good reason. With the brackets being announced and the regions full of terrific matchups, the same can be said for the First Four.
Previewing the First Four in the NCAA Tournament
The First Four is actually full of terrific matchups, especially when it comes to the 11-seeds. Let’s start there as we discuss the games and breakdown why each team could come away with a victory and head to the Round of 64.
First Four Game 1: Texas Southern vs Mt. St. Mary’s
Two sixteen seeds to kick things off, but don’t worry, this will be a thriller (hopefully). While it’s always hard to predict these 16-seed matchups, this one should be Texas Southern’s to lose.
The Tigers finished 16-8 and have won their past nine games, which is always a good sign heading into the tourney. Micheal Weathers leads the team with 16.5 points a game and John Walker averages 11.9 on a terrific 59.7 percent from the field.
As far as Mt. St. Mary’s is concerned, their situation is a bit different. They finished third in the Northeast Conference and earned the automatic bid after topping Wagner and then Bryant in the conference title game. However, their record of 12-10 is questionable at best.
Their best scorer is Jalen Gibbs, a transfer from Drake, who is averaging 16.5 points per game and shoots 42 percent from the field and beyond the arc. Damian Chong Qui is their second-leading scorer at 15.1 points a game and it’s really up to those two to get the job done.
Whoever wins gets the opportunity — or punishment — of playing Michigan. Yikes.
Prediction: Texas Southern by double digits
First Four Game 2: Drake vs Wichita State
This is arguably the best game of the day between a pair 0f 11-seeds fighting for a shot to play USC. The pair of mid-majors both had solid cases to earn a bid in the tournament. However, they will face off in the second game of the First Four on Thursday.
Drake fought tooth and nail with Loyola Chicago but ended up losing by 10 points as Loyola went on to win the conference tournament. Drake’s resume speaks for itself. they have four losses all year- two to the Ramblers from Loyola. They are one of the more balanced teams with five players averaging double-figures.
Drake is 10th in the nation in points scored and 13th in overall field goal percentage, which bodes well for their chances.
However, Wichita State is a tough draw for them. The Shockers have just five losses on the year and missed a few games due to COVID issues. Unfortunately, their loss in the AAC semifinals to Cincinnati is the lone reason why they are in the First Four as opposed to the Round of 64.
Sophomore guard Tyson Etienne is the heart and soul of this squad, averaging 17 points a game to lead the way for the Shockers. They play terrific team basketball, and this matchup is the toughest to predict.
Prediction: Wichita State by 5
First Four Game 3: Appalachian State vs Norfolk State
These 16-seed play-in games tend to be blowouts mainly. They also are nearly impossible to predict and this one’s no different.
The Mountaineers from Appalachian State sit at 17-11 and beat Georgia State to win an automatic bid in the tourney. Norfolk State finished at 16-7 and earned their way in with a win over Morgan State.
The Spartans from Norfolk State have won their past six games, and usually, the hotter team coming in walks away with a victory, but not always.
Devante Carter has been the best player for the Spartans with an average of 15.5 points per game, up from just 9.7 last season.
The Mountaineers have four players averaging double figures and one at 9.9 points per game, so their balance is tremendous. For that reason alone they probably escape with a win.
Their prize? A trip to face Gonzaga, the number one seed in the entire field.
Prediction: Appalachian State by 12
First Four Game 4: Michigan State vs UCLA
Yes, this is really a First Four game and not a Final Four game. The blue-bloods and staples in college basketball for years now meet with a chance to face BYU in the Round of 64. It’s wild that it came to this, and the committee choosing these two seems like a hit for television ratings.
Michigan State finished with a disappointing 15-12 record but a late win against Michigan helped earn their way into the field. The Spartans have wins against Michigan, Illinois, Ohio State, and Rutgers- all of which are tournament teams and three in the top 10.
On the other hand, they have some bad losses, most notably to 15-loss Northwestern. But Tom Izzo is a magician in March and the Spartans will be a force.
As for UCLA, they slipped up at the end with four straight losses, including one to Oregon State who ended up winning the PAC-12 tournament. The Bruins finished the year with a 17-9 record but have not been playing well as of late.
For that reason aloe, the Spartans should advance and poise serious concerns for BYU on Saturday.
Prediction: Michigan State by 15
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