March Madness First Four preview and picks
The "First Four" of the NCAA Tournament has reached its 10-year anniversary.
All four games this year have a spread of three points or fewer, so we should experience some competitive NCAA Tournament games right off the bat. Let’s take a look at each game and find some winners.
Drake vs. Wichita State
Thu, March 18 2021, 10:27 PM
Drake started the season 18-0, but injuries have severely hampered its effectiveness to finish out the season.
ShanQuan Hemphill is this Bulldogs' leading scorer and is expected to be back for tournament play, but starting guard Roman Penn is out for the year with a broken foot. Penn led the team in both assists and steals and was third on the team in points per game.
Without Penn, the Drake offense will likely struggle to keep pace in what projects to be a high-scoring game.
Wichita State has an athletic roster, and with Drake being a poor rebounding team, look for the Shockers to get enough second looks to make the difference.
Texas Southern vs. Mount St. Mary’s
Thu, March 18 2021, 9:10 PM
Mt. St. Mary's
These two 16 seeds that earned their spot by winning their conference tournaments will play for a chance to take on No. 1 seed Michigan in the second round.
Texas Southern enters on a nine-game win streak and has won 14 of its last 15. The Tigers are led by Michael Weathers, who averages 16.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 2.2 steals per game. He was Newcomer of the Year in the SWAC and earned first-team all-conference honors.
ONE. MORE. TIME. (3) Texas Southern, who is among the clutchest teams in the nation, under the bright lights of the SWAC Semifinals they pull out one more clutch shot as Michael Weathers(@_MKJ24) hits the 3 to tie it AT THE BUZZER vs (2) Jackson State (now with the screengrab) pic.twitter.com/QaSAXiqFUF— NCAA Buzzer Beaters & Game Winners (@NCAABuzzerBters) March 12, 2021
Mount St. Mary’s won the Northeastern Conference tournament and finished its season at 12-10.
The teams are fairly close in overall efficiency rankings, but in tournament play, there is nothing more important than good guard play, so I’ll take the squad with the best player on the court.
UCLA vs. Michigan State
Fri, March 19 2021, 1:57 AM
In the most interesting matchup of the First Four, two blue bloods will look to start a Cinderella run.
UCLA finished the season at 17-9 in the mediocre Pac-12, while Michigan State rallied late in the season with a stretch of huge wins to get into the tournament at 15-12.
The Bruins have lost their last four games. While such a losing streak might indicate a team playing poorly and without motivation, UCLA is still a much stronger team than Michigan State.
The Spartans played many close games but are a one-man show on offense. The Bruins have five scorers that average in double digits, and their ability to share the load will benefit them in this matchup.
Appalachian State vs. Norfolk State
Fri, March 19 2021, 12:40 AM
We aren’t in 2012 anymore, but Norfolk State will look to recall some past magic as a high seed playing with an automatic bid.
With the winner of this game scheduled to play overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga, glory will likely be short-lived.
Norfolk State is led by standout Devante Carter. Carter leads the team with 15.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. The do-everything guard struggles to shoot from three-point range (25%), and is just a 68% free throw shooter.
Appalachian State, meanwhile, has three scorers who average in double digits.
While Norfolk State has better shooting percentages as a team, it is more one-dimensional, through their dependency on Carter, and will be more easily shut down by the opposing defense.