NCAA Tournament First Four Preview

Source: Brian Spurlock / USA Today Sports

Take a look at the matchups set in the first four.

Pick the First Four Winners Here

Winner of this game claims program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory and advances to face No. 1 seed Gonzaga

Since it’s implementation in 2011 some have treated the First Four stage of the NCAA Tournament as either an unnecessary play-in game or a glorified losers bracket. But for the two teams that will kick off this year’s First Four, it’s the first step in a journey towards a championship. When the Prairie View A&M Panthers (22-12) square off against the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (20-13) in Dayton, Ohio, you can expect the 2019 NCAA Tournament to get off to an exciting start. Both teams come into this game with plenty of momentum. And when you consider that the West Region’s No. 1 seed in Gonzaga is waiting on the other side, momentum is a good thing.

Prairie View A&M started their season slow (1-11) but has saved its best basketball for last. The Panthers have won 11 in a row, claiming their fourth SWAC regular-season championship in the process. They won their second SWAC Tournament trophy by outscoring the opposition 259-223 in three games to secure the conference’s automatic bid. Fairleigh Dickinson also enters the Big Dance on a hot streak, winners of eight in a row and 10 of their past 12. The Knights punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament by winning their sixth Northeast Conference Tournament title, beating regular-season champ St. Francis (Pa.) in the final.

Both teams are a combined 0-6 in the NCAA Tournament so one of these teams will make history on Tuesday night in Dayton.

Owls and Bruins square off in Dayton with a meeting against No. 6 Maryland at stake

For the ninth year since its inception in 2011 when the field expanded to 68 teams, the First Four will kick off the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday from Dayton, Ohio. With each day featuring a 16-seed matchup followed by a showdown between two 11-seeds, the First Four provides the perfect appetizer for the complete chaos that begins Thursday.

The first of those 11-seed games showcases two of the last four teams to earn at-large selections in Temple and Belmont. Both the Owls and Bruins were on the edge of their seats on Selection Sunday but were ecstatic to hear of their inclusion in the field of 68 despite losses in their respective conference tournaments, Temple in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) quarterfinals to Wichita State, and Belmont in the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) final to Murray State.

The winner of this First Four matchup — which will mark the inaugural meeting between the two programs — will square off with No. 6 Maryland in the East Region in Jacksonville, Florida, on Thursday.

The selection to the tournament snaps mini-droughts for both teams, as Temple is dancing for the first time 2016. Belmont is making its first appearance since 2015 and more importantly, its first ever as an at-large selection. Both teams are led by incredibly well-respected and experienced head coaches in the Owls’ Fran Dunphy (13th season at school) and Bruins’ Rick Byrd (34th).

The MEAC and Summit League Tournament champions square off with a date against Duke at stake

A pair of Division II powerhouses in the 20th century, North Carolina Central and North Dakota State meet on the grandest stage Division I basketball has to offer.

The winners of the MEAC and Summit League tournaments respectively have roots in D-II but are hardly newcomers to the March Madness scene. The 2019 NCAA Tournament marks North Dakota State’s fourth appearance in the field since 2009, although it’s the Bison’s first bid since ’15. They released the stranglehold South Dakota State previously held on the Summit’s automatic bid to earn their way in.

For North Carolina Central, 2019 marks the Eagles’ third straight appearance in the Big Dance, and fourth all-time dating back to ’14. NCCU alum LeVelle Moton has flourished coaching his alma mater and heads into Wednesday’s matchup in Dayton seeking another program milestone: Its first NCAA Tournament win.

Red Storm and Sun Devils meet for the second time in three years for the chance to face Buffalo on Friday

For the second straight season, Arizona State earned one of the last four at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament and will face fellow No. 11 seed St. John’s on Wednesday night in Dayton. Will the Sun Devils fare better in their return trip to the First Four? Or will the Red Storm break through with their first NCAA Tournament victory since 2000?

Both teams held a precarious spot on the bubble after piling up multiple bad losses outside the top quadrant. Arizona State seems to be back on track after winning six of its last eight games. St. John’s stumbled badly down the stretch. The Red Storm have lost five of their last seven games heading into the NCAA Tournament.

These two teams have played twice previously in the regular season and split those games. The Red Storm earned a 67-58 victory in 2010 while the Sun Devils prevailed 82-70 in ’17.

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