The NCAA Tournament officially starts tonight with the first of two play-in games for the round of 64. While many people still consider Thursday as the real start of the tourney, the first slate of games can’t be overlooked. Shaka Smart’s VCU squad went from the First Four to the Final Four in 2011, during the first year of the 68-team field. Here’s a preview of what to watch before Thursday and Friday.
6:40pm – #16 North Carolina A&T vs. #16 Liberty
The Aggies of North Carolina A&T are 0-9 in the NCAA Tournament and are facing only the second team to ever receive an automatic bid with 20+ losses. Their losing streak will end tonight against the Flames, but their season will end on Thursday to Louisville.
Prediction: North Carolina A&T
9:10pm – #11 Saint Mary’s vs. #11 Middle Tennessee State
Despite going 27-4 in the regular season with an 18-0 record in Sun Belt play, Middle Tennessee State’s tournament hopes were on the brink after losing to Florida International in their conference tourney. Saint Mary’s is playing in the Big Dance for the fourth time in six years and hasn’t lost since December 23rd to a team not named Gonzaga.
Prediction: Middle Tennessee State
6:40pm – #16 LIU-Brooklyn vs. #16 James Madison
LIU-Brooklyn is back in the tourney for the second time in three years after once again winning the Northeast Conference. They will be facing the CAA-tournament champion James Madison Dukes, whose leading scorer Rashawn Goins is suspended for the first half of the game, after getting arrested over the weekend. The winner of this game will face Indiana on Friday.
9:10pm – #13 La Salle vs. #13 Boise State
La Salle is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1992 and is one of three Philadelphia Big Five schools to make the field of 68 this year. Boise State has made a name for itself as a football powerhouse, but the Broncos hoops team finds itself in this position after surviving a Mountain West conference that already has four teams in the round of 64.