First Four favorites? Familiar NCAA programs headed back to UD Arena

Corpus Christi plays first game of the NCAAs again; Texas Southern comes to UD Arena for the third straight year

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

The First Four is set.

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi kicked off the NCAA Tournament last season, and the Islanders are set to begin March Madness again this year when they take on fellow No. 16 seed Southeast Missouri State around 6:30 Tuesday night at UD Arena.

The nightcap on the first day of the First Four will feature No. 11 seeds Mississippi State and Pittsburgh.

On Wednesday night, the 16-seed matchup features a pair of multi-time First Four participants in Texas Southern and Fairleigh Dickinson.

They will be followed by Arizona State and Nevada in another pairing of 11 seeds.

The men’s NCAA Tournament has begun in Dayton every season since 2001 with the exception of 2021, when the entire tournament was held in Indianapolis because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It started with a single play-in game pitting two No. 16 seeds and expanded to four games in 2011.

Last year, Notre Dame became the 10th team to advance to at least the round of 32 after winning in the First Four in Dayton.

At least one First Four team has gone on to win another game in the tournament every year except 2019, a phenomenon that began with VCU going from the First Four to the Final Four in the first year of the current configuration.

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

TAMU-Corpus Christi was the top team in the Southland Conference this year and won the league’s tournament for the second straight season to get into the field of 68.

They beat Northwestern State 75-71 in the title game despite an injury to top player Terrion Murdix.

The Islanders have never won an NCAA tournament game, losing to No. 2 seed Wisconsin in the round of 64 in 2007 and to fellow 16 seed Texas Southern last year at the First Four.

Their opponent this time, the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks (19-16), punched their ticket by winning the Ohio Valley Conference for the first time in 23 years. They needed to win four games in a row to do it, knocking out the top two seeds along the way.

The winner of that game will take on No. 1 overall seed Alabama in Birmingham, Ala., on Thursday.

Texas Southern is in the First Four for the third straight year and fifth time overall. The Tigers beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi last year and Mount St. Mary’s in 2021. They also beat North Carolina Central in 2018 and lost to Cal-Poly in 2014.

Texas Southern is just 14-20 this year but won its 11th Southwest Athletic Conference tournament championship by upsetting Grambling in their title game Saturday.

Fairleigh Dickinson is also a multi-time returnee, having lost in the First Four to Florida Gulf Coast in 2016 and beaten Prairie View A&M in 2019.

Fairleigh Dickinson actually lost the Northeast Conference championship game to Merrimack this year, but they still received the league’s automatic bid because Merrimack was not eligible, per NCAA rules for teams that are in the multi-year process of transferring from Division II to Division I.

The Texas Southern-Fairleigh Dickinson winner will be able to make a short trip east to Columbus to face No. 1 seed Purdue on Friday.

Among the four at-large teams coming to Dayton, Arizona State is the only repeat First Four squad. The Sun Devils lost to Syracuse in 2018 but topped St. John’s the following season.

This year’s ASU squad is 22-12 under coach Bobby Hurley and finished tied for fifth in the Pac-12.

Their opponent, Nevada, is 22-10 and finished fourth in the Mountain West.

The winner of that game will play six-seed TCU on Friday in Denver, Colorado.

The Tuesday evening nightcap includes Mississippi State, which is 21-12 after finishing ninth in the SEC. The Bulldogs will face a Pitt team that is 22-11 but tied for third in the ACC with a 14-6 conference mark.

The winner of that game goes to Greensboro, N.C., to face sixth-seeded Iowa State on Friday.

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