For college basketball enthusiasts and bettors alike, March Madness is undoubtedly the most thrilling time of the year. The NCAA Tournament is the pinnacle event in all sports, and after a roller-coaster season, it all culminates with this grand event. But it can’t get started without the First Four Games where 8 teams are battling for the last 16-seed and 11-seed in the Ncaa Tournament.
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#16 SE. Missouri State vs. #16 Texas A&M Corpus Christi
The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders return to familiar territory after a heartbreaking loss to Texas Southern in the play-in game last season. However, the entire team’s rotation is back from that squad, so the Islanders will likely show no signs of intimidation in this spot. Unfortunately, it looks like PG Terrion Murdix, the Islanders’ third-leading scoring, and highest assist man, may be absent due to a knee injury sustained in the Southland Tournament, and his absence could be crucial.
On the other hand, the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks are on a roll, having won four games in four days to take the OVC crown. With the pure scoring ability of the talented and powerful guard, Chris Harris, the Redhawks are likely to pose a significant challenge to the Islanders.
Expect an exciting, high-scoring game, as both teams aim to run and push the pace. TAMU-CC will likely dominate the interior, while SEMO’s lethal backcourt has the potential to get hot in a hurry.
If Murdix is in, we love the Islanders. If he’s out, they lose the quarterback of their offense and things get interesting. But with him in, we like Texas A&M CC.
The Pick: Texas A&M CC Moneyline -180
#11 Pittsburgh vs. #11 Mississippi State
Despite playing at the 334th-ranked tempo in college basketball and shooting the worst 3-point percentage in the nation, Mississippi State secured a spot in the Big Dance. It’s a remarkable feat in the era of pace and space basketball. The Bulldogs’ offense generated enough scoring opportunities, and a significant portion of the credit goes to Tolu Smith. The big man was exceptional in grabbing offensive rebounds, ranking in the top 25 nationally in offensive rebounding rate. Additionally, the Bulldogs, as a team, ranked 15th in the nation in that stat.
Against Pitt, Mississippi State’s strategy of relying on second-chance looks could prove successful. The Panthers ranked 12th in the ACC in cleaning the defensive glass. If they struggle in the rebounding battle, Mississippi State could capitalize and win the game by controlling the boards.
The Pick: Mississippi State -1.5
#16 Fairleigh Dickinson vs. #16 Texas Southern
Texas Southern enters the NCAA Tournament on an impressive winning streak after winning the SWAC Tournament as an 8th seed. Head coach Johnny Jones led the team to its third straight SWAC title after a challenging stretch in January and February, and it’s clear they have a knack for winning must-win games. Texas Southern will aim for a third in a row with two consecutive wins in play-in games in the last two NCAA Tournaments.
Fairleigh Dickinson will be making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2019, relying on their outstanding offense this season, leading the conference in scoring with an average of 77.8 points per game. However, the Knights’ defense is a weak link, ranking 361st in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings.
The Pick: Texas Southern -2.5
#11 Nevada vs. #11 Arizona State
Arizona State, led by experienced head coach Bobby Hurley, secured a spot in the NCAA tournament and is looking to advance to a matchup with TCU. The Sun Devils have already claimed five Quad 1 wins, including a thrilling buzzer-beater over Arizona. Arizona State has been excellent all year defensively and should pose some real issues to Nevada.
Nevada, meanwhile, boasts a solid offense and defense, finishing fourth in both categories in the Mountain West. Arizona State’s lockdown defense on 2-point shots could be the difference in this game. They’ve been excellent this year defensively inside the arc and especially in the paint. We think it gives them a legitimate edge.
The Pick: Arizona State -1.5