The First Four games of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament have become a breeding ground for success. Since their introduction in 2011, nine First Four teams have won multiple games in the tournament, including Final Four runs by No. 11 seeds VCU in 2011 and UCLA last spring. Only once — in 2019 — did none of the First Four teams go on to win at least one game in the main draw.
That means it’s not too early to start scouting these teams. To assess which will advance to the field of 64 and beyond, I looked at a variety of factors, including each team’s adjusted scoring efficiency numbers and how well they perform in the four factors of shooting, rebounding, turnovers and getting to the free throw line.
Picks against the spread are also derived from these metrics, with adjustments made for strength of schedule and performance largely out of a team’s control, such as three-point defense.
All four games will be played in Dayton, Ohio, and broadcast on truTV. Odds are the consensus line as of Monday afternoon.
No. 16 Texas Southern (-3½) vs. No. 16 Texas A&M Corpus Christi, 6:40 p.m.
Pick: Texas A&M Corpus Christi +3½
This game is a toss-up, meaning there’s value in picking Texas A&M Corpus Christi and the points. The Islanders’ biggest advantage is their ability to force turnovers at a 23 percent rate, 18th best in the country. They also grab an above-average rate of offensive rebounds (35 percent, 16th) and get to the free throw line often, which can help make up for a lackluster offense.
The Islanders won the Southland tournament to clinch their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007. Texas Southern won the SWAC tournament title for the second straight year.
No. 12 Indiana (-4) vs. No. 12 Wyoming, 9:10 p.m.
Pick: Indiana -4
The Hoosiers beat Michigan and top-seeded Illinois in the Big Ten tournament before losing to eventual champion Iowa — a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament — on a last-second shot. Indiana is peaking at the right time and should limit Wyoming’s ability to score around the rim, forcing the Cowboys to take three-pointers. And they shoot a woeful 33 percent from long range, ranking 218th in the nation.
Wyoming, which is in the tournament for the first time since 2015, has just three wins against teams that made the field.
No. 16 Wright State (-2) vs. No. 16 Bryant, 6:40 p.m.
Pick: Bryant +2
I think this spread will move toward Wright State the closer we get to game time, but this, too, should be a coin flip, so it’s another chance to take the underdog and the points. Neither team plays defense very well, and they don’t have the best shooters in college basketball. Their consensus rankings are close, providing little help in separating the two.
Ultimately, Bryant — in its first NCAA tournament since moving to Division I in 2008 — has the bigger upside in three-point shooting percentage and volume, tilting the scale ever so slightly in the Bulldogs’ favor. Wright State, the Horizon League tournament’s No. 4 seed, needed a 16-point comeback to beat Northern Kentucky and clinch its spot.
No. 11 Notre Dame vs. No. 11 Rutgers (-½), 9:10 p.m.
Pick: Rutgers -½ or +100 on the money line
Rutgers had some puzzling losses but also earned six Quadrant 1 wins — the most challenging set of games. That’s the same number as Arizona, Duke and Illinois, with four of those six coming in February or later. The Scarlet Knights’ roster is also loaded with experience and has an average height of 6-foot-7, helping them defend the rim and block shots.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, loves stepping behind the arc. The Irish are adept at doing it — their 38 percent success rate is the 19th best in the nation — but all it takes is one day of cold shooting to be sent home early. Look no further than an early March game against Florida State, when the Irish shot 26 percent from long distance and lost by four to a Seminoles team that missed the NCAA tournament.
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Men’s bracket | Women’s bracket
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Rock Chalk, Jayhawk: Kansas forged the biggest comeback in the 83 championship games to date to beat North Carolina and win the men’s national title.
Gamecocks dominate: The women’s national championship is officially heading back to Columbia, S.C., for the second time in program history after a wire-to-wire 64-49 victory by South Carolina over Connecticut.
Mike Krzyzewski’s last game: Coach K’s career ends with joy and agony in college basketball Armageddon.
One day, two title games: A decade after Title IX, a battle for control of women’s basketball split loyalties and produced two national champions.