NCAA Tournament First Four Begins

NCAA March Madness logo
NCAA March Madness logo | Image by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

While the main draw of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament starts on Thursday, the First Four tips off in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday night.

Since the tournament field expanded from 64 to 68 teams, the NCAA has held the annual First Four on Tuesday and Wednesday night of the first week as teams that barely made the field fight to stay alive and qualify for a first-round game.

The first game on Tuesday is a matchup between 16-seeds Howard and Wagner, with the winner advancing in the West Regional to face No.1 seed North Carolina in Charlotte on Thursday afternoon.

Howard won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament over Delaware State after placing third in the regular-season standings and knocking off regular-season conference champion Norfolk State in the conference tournament semifinals. The Bison are led by junior guard Bryce Harris, averaging 16.6 points and 7.6 rebounds; veteran forward Seth Towns, who has spent previous seasons with Harvard and Ohio State and played in the NCAA Tournament with the Buckeyes during the 2020-2021 season; and former Maryland guard Marcus Dockery.

Wagner won the Northeast Conference Tournament over Merrimack after finishing just 7-9 during regular-season conference play. The Seahawks have been a lower-scoring team than Howard all season and will rely on Melvin Council Jr. and Tahron Allen to provide the scoring punch and keep them in the game.

The second game will be between 10-seeds Colorado State and Virginia in the Midwest Regional, with the winner advancing to play No.7 seed Texas in the first round — also Thursday in Charlotte.

Colorado State is in the 68-team field for the second time in the last three years and the fourth time since 2011. The Rams averaged 76.4 points per game behind four double-digit scorers: guards Isaiah Stevens and Nique Clifford and forwards Joel Scott and Patrick Cartier. They lost to New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference Tournament Semifinals.

Virginia, meanwhile, is no stranger to the tournament and plays in a way that dictates the pace, relies on its defense, and can drive opponents crazy. The Cavaliers won the NCAA Tournament in 2019 but have only made two appearances since then and have not gotten out of the first round. They have had a few questionable performances against non-tournament teams this season despite allowing only 59.5 points per game to their opponents, the third-best in the country.

Both Colorado State and Virginia spent parts of the season in the top 25 as well.

The first game of the First Four begins at 5:40 p.m. CT, and the second game is scheduled to start at 8:10 p.m. CT. Two more First Four games will be played in Dayton on Wednesday.

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