The eighth edition of the NCAA First Four tips off tonight at UD Arena.
Northeast Conference champion LIU Brooklyn (18-16) plays Big South champion Radford (22-12) in the opener at 6:40 p.m., followed by a matchup between UCLA (21-11) and St. Bonaventure (25-7).
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Here are five things to know about the two games:
1. How they got here
LIU Brooklyn earned an automatic bid after upsetting top-seeded Wagner, 71-61, in the Northeast Conference Championship. Radford advanced with an automatic bid by beating Liberty 55-52 in the Big South final on a 3-pointer by Cincinnati Aiken High School graduate Carlik Jones as time expired. The two teams are playing as No. 16 seeds for a shot at top-seeded Villanova.
UCLA lost in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals against Arizona but earned an at-large bid for the program’s 11th NCAA tournament appearance in the last 14 years. St. Bonaventure lost to eventual Atlantic 10 champion Davidson in the semifinals but were selected to the program’s first NCAA tournament since 2012 thanks to their school-record 25 wins. They are playing as No. 11 seeds for a shot at No. 6-seeded Florida.
2. Familiar faces
LIU Brooklyn’s last NCAA Tournament appearance came through Dayton in 2013 when the Blackbirds lost to James Madison in a First Four game between No. 16 seeds. They are still looking for the program’s first NCAA tournament win after six failed tries.
First-year Blackbirds coach Derek Kellogg has been here more recently. He previously coached at UMass, which plays Dayton in the Atlantic 10, before he was fired and landed at LIU Brooklyn.
“I’m ecstatic to be playing anywhere,” Kellogg said when asked about returning to Dayton. “And the place looks fantastic — all the renovations they’ve done. The way it looks for the NCAA Tournament looks great. And I’ve had some, I’d say okay memories here, and this is such a tough place to come in and play.
“But we’re excited. We’re happy to be in the tournament. We were very happy to be coming to Dayton to play and I think our guys are ready to come out and hopefully play well tomorrow night.”
3. Playing motivated
Radford has been playing with a chip on its shoulder all season after being picked to finish seventh in the Big South during the preseason.
The Highlanders are on a seven-game win streak and haven’t lost in more than a month.
“We took it as a slap in the face like people didn’t really believe in us,” senior forward Ed Polite said. “So each day at practice we worked hard to show them that we had the game, we knew what we had to play for and we knew that nobody was really on our side, thought we was good enough. So that really helped us going into the playoffs.”
4. Comfortable on the court
Senior guard Jaylen Adams leads St. Bonaventure with 21.2 points per game and has had some of his best performances at UD Arena against the Flyers.
He scored career highs — at the time — during his junior and sophomore seasons here, racking up 35 points in a loss on Feb. 18, 2017, and 31 points in a win Feb. 20, 2016. Adams had 15 points in his game at UD this year.
“I think it’s a little added comfort,” Adams said. “It will be nice to have some fans on our side in this building for once. I’m going to enjoy it a little bit. So, yeah, I think my comfort level is definitely up.”
5. Other big-game performers
Two of the other three teams playing Tuesday also have 20-point scorers.
Senior guard Joel Hernandez leads LIU Brooklyn with 20.9 points per game, and Aaron Holiday averages 20.3 points for UCLA. Senior forward Ed Polite is Radford’s leading scorer and rebounder with 13.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
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