The 2017 NCAA Tournament officially kicks off on Tuesday night.
With Selection Sunday determining the bulk of the field, we are a few “win and your in” games away from getting our first full look at the madness that will ensue throughout the month.
With the seasons of these eight teams hanging in the balance, lets take a closer look at each of the match ups which are officially dubbed the “First Four.”
New Orleans vs. Mount St. Mary’s
Getting tournament season underway is a matchup of two teams who rode huge turnarounds from last season and won some favor with the selection committee. New Orleans has only one other winning season in the last ten years, and hasn’t been in the tournament since the 1995-96 season.
However, on the back of leading scorer Erik Thomas and a core of experienced seniors, the Privateers managed a 20-11 season, including a 13-5 conference finish and Southwest championship.
Mount St. Mary’s started off the season slow, but things started to click as the Mountaineers went on to finish the year with a 19-15 record, going 3-0 in the NEC tournament, clinching the championship and earning a birth to their first tournament since the 2013-2014 season.
These two teams are evenly matched, though New Orleans seems the edge in this game. The Privateers average just over 73 points per game, while the Mountaineers average just under 70. The experienced core for the Privateers gets them over in this game.
Wake Forest vs. Kansas State
Kansas State has had a bounce-back year after failing to make it to the tournament the last two years. They managed a 2-8 slide in the middle of the season and now find themselves with the opportunity of making the final field of teams in the NCAA Tournament. Wake Forest regularly overcame huge deficits and finished the season 19-13, their best since last making the tournament in 2009-10.
Kansas State has an experienced group of seniors, but it’s sophomore’s Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes, each averaging nearly 12 points per game that has fired the engine to deliver the Wildcats to this point of the season.
The Wildcats were off to a fast start, 12-1, but stumbled the rest of the way and finished 20-13. An early second-round exit from the conference tournament has the Wildcats fortunate about landing where they did. They played a competitive Big XII schedule, which likely has a lot to do with that.
If they can manage to get hot the way they did early in the season, they could be a tough matchup.
The Demon Deacons were coached to their best finish under third year coach Danny Manning and managed to average their third highest points per game-average in school history at 82.7. It will be up to leading scorer (18.9) and rebounder (9.8), John Collins to will his team to victory as he has several times this season. This season, the Demon Deacons have overcome deficits of 19 against Pitt, 14 against Louisville and 13 against Virginia Tech.
The Wildcats and Demon Deacons had similar strength of schedule and SRS ratings. They match up closely and it could come down to who makes the biggest plays and is able to ride the wave of momentum. The Wildcats were never able to get back on track after their fast start, and Wake Forest had won four in a row before a tough shootout loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC tournament. Wake Forest appears more equipped to win this game.