First Four: Seven things to know about this year’s teams

This year’s First Four at the University of Dayton Arena will feature a team making its NCAA tournament debut and a few others ending some prolonged droughts.

It also will feature a college basketball legend making a return to tournament action as a head coach and numerous other storylines.

Here are seven things to know about the teams in this year’s First Four:

Rare rematch

The NCAA tournament selection committee has pitted USC against Providence in an opening-round game for the second year in a row.

The ninth-seeded Friars beat the No. 8 Trojans in an East Region thriller last year.

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The only other meeting between the schools came in 1972, when Providence won 70-66.

USC is making its second appearance in the First Four after falling to VCU 59-46 in the inaugural event in 2011.

Wake’s wait

Wake Forest is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010, when the ninth-seeded Demon Deacons beat No. 8 Texas 81-80 in the first round before getting blown out by No. 1 Kentucky 90-60.

This equals the longest drought the program has experienced since missing six consecutive tournaments from 1985-1990.

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Under the direction of College Basketball Hall of Famer Danny Manning, who is in his third season at Wake, the Demon Deacons had one of the biggest turnarounds in Division I this year, going 19-12 after struggling to an 11-20 record that included a 2-16 mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2015-16.

KSU kids

Kansas State starts three sophomores, and the player with the most minutes off the bench is a freshman.

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Sophomore guards Barry Brown (11.7) and Kamau Stokes (11.6) are the second- and third-leading scorers for the Wildcats, while sophomore forward Dean Wade leads the regular in 3-point percentage (40.9) and is third in rebounds (4.6).

Freshman forward Xavier Sneed averages 7.4 points and 18 minutes off the bench.

Aggies arrive

UC Davis is one of four teams making its NCAA tournament debut this season, joining Northwestern, Northern Kentucky and Jacksonville State.

The Aggies, who made the jump from Division II in 2004-05 seasons, had never made to the Big West Conference tournament championship game before winning this year’s title as a No. 2 seed with a 50-47 triumph of No. 1 UC Irvine.

The only other time UC Davis advanced to postseason play was in 2015 when the Aggies played in the NIT, falling to Stanford 77-64.

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Transfer troops

The North Carolina Central roster features eight players who transferred from other Division I schools, including senior guard Patrick Cole.

Cole, who began his career at Coppin State before transferring to Siena and ultimately landing at NCC, averages a team-best 19.5 points per game and was the Most Outstanding Player in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament.

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Senior guard Dajuan Graf, who averages 14.3 points per game and also made the MEAC all-tournament team, transferred from Florida Gulf Coast.

Among the Eagles’ other transfers is Del’vin Dickerson, who played the 2014-15 season at Bowling Green.

Relatively successful

New Orleans leading scorer Erik Thomas, a senior forward from Wesley Chapel, Fla., comes from a family with a long line of athletic success.

His father, James, played at Arizona State and professional in Europe and South America, where his mother, Fabiana, starred in basketball and volleyball.

Thomas’ sister, Sthefany, played at Clemson and was a member of the Argentinian National Team, while his other sister, Sysesha, played at Oregon State.

Erik averages 19.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game and is a big reason why the Pioneers are in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996.

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Tournament tested

Not only is Mount St. Mary’s familiar with the First Four, having played here in 2014 in a 71-64 loss to Albany, the Mountaineers have experience facing tournament caliber teams.

Mount St. Mary’s regular-season schedule included six teams that in the NCAA tournament field of 68. The group includes Arkansas, Bucknell, Iowa State, Michigan, Minnesota and West Virginia.

The Mountaineers were 0-6 in those contests, losing by an average of 19.3 points, but they should be well prepared to face New Orleans on Tuesday.

First Four Schedule

Monday, March 13

Open Practice Sessions (open to general public)

5:05-5:45 p.m. — Mount St. Mary’s

5:50-6:30 — New Orleans

6:35-7:15 — Kansas State

7:20-8 — Wake Forest

Tuesday, March 14

Open Practice Sessions

12:05-12:45 p.m. — NC Central

12:50-1:30 — UC Davis

1:35-2:15 — USC

2:20-3 — Providence


Tuesday, March 14

6:40 p.m. — Mount St. Mary’s (19-15) vs. New Orleans (20-11)

9:10 p.m. — Kansas State (20-13) vs. Wake Forest (19-13)

Wednesday, March 15

6:40 p.m. — UC Davis (22-12) vs. North Carolina Central (25-8)

9:10 p.m. — Providence (20-12) vs. USC (24-9)

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