NCAA Tournament Preview First Four: March Madness begins play-in games


The NCAA men’s basketball tournament begins Tuesday night with the first First Four games in Dayton, Ohio. Here’s a look at the games with two 16th-seeded conference champions and two 11th-seeded at-large teams looking to advance to the main draw of the tournament.

All times Easter. All point spreads and totals were pulled from DraftKings Sportsbook Tuesday morning.

The five best bets to win the men’s NCAA tournament

#16 Southeast Missouri State (19-16) vs. #16 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (23-10)

winning faces: No. 1 seed Alabama on Thursday at 2:45 p.m. Eastern.

Point distribution: Texas A&M Corpus Christi -3.5

These are two teams who like taking one of the highest-listed through the first round of the NCAA tournament, as reflected in the over-under totals. But can Texas A&M-Corpus Christi keep up this pace without starting point guard Terrion Murdix, the team’s most-appeared player and third-best scorer, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in the Southland Conference tournament? Murdix had one of the highest assist rates in the nation, and his injury “took a chunk out of our hearts,” according to coach Steve Lutz called.

However, the islanders could have a big night at the foul line. They rank second nationally in free-throw shooting (80 percent) and fouls in Southeast Missouri State at an alarming rate (only three teams in Division I had more personal fouls per game).

The Redhawks, in only their second NCAA tournament appearance and their first since 2000, lost five of seven games by the end of the regular season but won four games in four days to capture the Ohio Valley Tournament crown. Point guard Phillip Russell, who is all 5ft 10, leads the team in scoring (18.2 points per game) and assists (five per game), and SEMO is another team that goes to the foul line very often comes and ranks 31st nationally in free throw percentage. Guard Chris Harris has carried the Redhawks lately, averaging 22.8 points per game in his last six games and earning Ohio Valley Tournament MVP honors.

Choose: Southeast State of Missouri +3.5. Murdix’s absence will be difficult for Texas A&M Corpus Christi to take.

The perfect fixture for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament

No. 11 Pittsburgh (22-11) vs. No. 11 Mississippi State (21-12)

winning faces: No. 6 Iowa State on Friday at 3:10 p.m. Eastern

Point distribution: State of Mississippi -2.5

Expect more of a stone fight in Tuesday’s second game, especially if the Bulldogs have the ball. Mississippi State is working at a snail’s pace and was the worst three-point shooting team in the country (26.6 percent) during the regular season. It would rather get the ball to the 6-11 big man Tolu Smith (15.8 points, 8.5 rebounds per game). Mississippi State is also bad from the foul line, making just 64.7 percent of its tries (the worst score of any tournament team).

The Panthers nearly won the ACC regular-season title and nearly missed the NCAA tournament, which could be more of a conference indictment than anything. They were last beaten by Duke in the ACC tournament and have lost three out of four. Pittsburgh has yielded at least 1.13 points per possession in each of their last six games, giving Mississippi State a potential point despite its shooting weakness.

The Panthers can connect from afar and make 36 percent of their three-pointers, but the Mississippi State defense ranks 27th nationally in that category, and Pitt scored just 5 out of 5 in his ACC tournament loss to Duke, who had the top three 18 three-point defenses in the ACC this season.

Choose: State of Mississippi -2.5. The Bulldogs can’t shoot, but they can certainly rack up their misses and rank 15th nationally in offensive rebound rate. Pitt was 12th in the ACC on the defensive glass and is trending in the wrong direction at the worst possible time. NCAA Tournament Preview First Four: March Madness begins play-in games

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