It’s time. All the fun has been had in the conference tournaments, but the Big Dance is finally here. With the bracket being released Sunday, we can see what mid-majors received good draws, and who got unlucky.
The Tournament starts off strongly as the Wyoming Cowboys take on Indiana in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio, Tuesday. Wyoming comes in at 25-8, after falling in the semifinal of the Mountain West tournament. The Cowboys come out of one of the strongest conferences in the country, with four teams getting bids out of the Mountain West.
They’ll look to lean on Graham Ike, who averages nearly a double-double in every game. The winner of that moves on to the first round of the east region and a date with Saint Mary’s.
Day two in Dayton has one of the most compelling 16 matchups of the First Four era. The nation’s leading scorer Peter Kiss and the NEC Champion Bryant Bulldogs come into Ohio to face off against Wright State in a game that’s virtually a home game for the Raiders.
This game will be the first Division I NCAA Tournament game for Bryant after it blew out Wagner to win the NEC. The game will be Wright State’s first appearance in Dayton, as it looks for its first NCAA Tournament win in its fourth try.
The West region has top seeded Gonzaga, who’ll face off against the Sun Belt Champion Georgia State in the first round. The Buffalo region is the most intriguing of the four as New Mexico State faces off against UConn in the No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup and Vermont square off with Arkansas in the No. 4 vs. No. 13 game. Both teams handled their conferences and won after leading for the majority of the year.
New Mexico State is making its ninth Tournament appearance since 2010, but it hasn’t won a tournament game in 29 years. The 12 seed is tied for the Aggies’ highest seed since 1993, Teddy Allen will be crucial for them against UConn.
Moving over to Vermont, the Catamounts are a team that has been on fire, they’ve only lost once since Dec. 7, and it came in overtime against Hartford. They’re playing an Arkansas team that’s been back and forth this season. The Razorbacks lost to Hofstra but also beat Auburn.
The pace of play will be a major factor in the game as these teams play opposite styles, Arkansas wants to run up and down the floor, sitting in the top 30 in pace in the country. On the contrary, Vermont sits at 288th in the country in tempo, as it prefers to play a slower, more methodical game.
One big Cinderella possibility comes out of the West Region in the 10th seeded Davidson Wildcats. Bob McKillop’s Wildcats have Michigan State in round one with Duke likely waiting in round two.
Davidson is in their first tournament since 2018, and is looking for its first tournament win since its Cinderella run as the 10 seed in the Midwest region in 2008. It’s also a revenge game for guard Foster Loyer as he started his college career with the Spartans.
Boise State and Memphis will face off in an all mid-major first round game to likely see Gonzaga in the second round. The West will be won in San Francisco and Gonzaga should be the favorite.
Going down South, this region is headlined by sixth-seeded Colorado State. The Rams made it in as an at-large and drew Michigan in Indianapolis. The draw isn’t very favorable for Colorado State as Michigan has lots of size and packs it in the post frequently.
The location doesn’t help either as Indianapolis is a frequent destination for Michigan fans, with the Big 10 tournament being there, and only being a few hours away from Ann Arbor. On the other half of that Indy quad, the 14 seed Longwood Lancers will play their first-ever tournament game, as they take on No. 3 Tennessee.
Loyola Chicago is pitted against Ohio State in the No. 7 vs. No. 10 matchup. The Ramblers look to make another run in March, something that’s almost been expected of them. Meanwhile, Delaware found its way back to the Tournament for the first time since 2012 as it faces off against second-seeded Villanova.
The East is possibly the best region when it comes to the strength of the mid major programs. Norfolk State gets to bypass Dayton and play fourth overall No. 1 seed Baylor.
The biggest question in the East Region is the St. Mary’s Gaels. They have not won a Tournament game in five years, and they have their best shot ever to make a deeper run into March. They play the winner of the Wyoming/Indiana play in game, setting up a possible mid-major battle should Wyoming win in Dayton.
On the other half of the Portland quad, MAC Champion Akron faces off against UCLA. The Zips upset top-seed Toledo in the semifinals to give themselves a spot in the championship, in which they beat rival Kent State.
Yale makes an appearance as the first Ivy team to play in the NCAA Tournament since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The game of the region in this bracket, possibly one of the best games of all of round one is in Indianapolis between Murray State and San Francisco. The Racers come into the Tournament as the No. 7 seed at 30-2 on the season with the OVC championship.
San Francisco is having one of their best seasons since Bill Russell played for the Dons. San Francisco earned an at-large bid as the No. 10 seed at 24-9. The Dons were one of the final undefeated teams at the beginning of the year. KJ Williams for Murray State and Jamaree Bouyea for San Francisco will be the matchup to watch as both lead their teams in scoring. Williams is the Racers’ best rebounder, and Bouyea leads USF in assists.
The winner of this game will likely get a shot at second-seeded Kentucky, who plays MAAC Champion Saint Peter’s in the first round. If you’re looking for a top two seed to go down opening weekend, this could be your place.
Rounding out the bracket with the lightest region as far as mid majors go. Here we see yet another Mountain West at-large bid with the San Diego State Aztecs. The Aztecs get Creighton in the first round in Fort Worth, Texas, with top-seeded Kansas possibly in the second round.
Looking at another SDSU, we have 13 seed South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits come out of Brookings with yet another Summit League title and a somewhat favorable draw in fourth-seeded Providence. South Dakota State is still looking for its first-ever Division I Tournament win in its sixth appearance.
Playing with them in Buffalo is A-10 champion Richmond. The Spiders made a run in Washington D.C. to play their way into the tournament for the first time since 2011. They’ll face off against Big 10 tournament champion Iowa in the No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup.
Colgate is in the Tournament again as a 14 seed and is matched up against Wisconsin. The Raiders are going to be playing in what’s almost a home game for Wisconsin as the game is in Milwaukee. The last team in the Midwest is 15 seed Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks made the tournament as the ASUN regular season champion. They received the conference’s automatic bid because tournament champion Bellarmine is still in the reclassification process. Jacksonville State will take on No. 2 Auburn.