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Key first round games for mid-majors

There are three contests between Thursday and Friday that pit two mid-majors against each other

NCAA Basketball: Conference USA- Conference Tournament Championship
Alijah Martin and the FAU Owls were ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time in program history this season. They are a nine-seed in the NCAA Tournament and take on No. 8 Memphis in the first round.
Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

We finally have brackets! Since the selection show Sunday, we have all been pouring over who is matched up whom. Who is playing where.

Here is a look at some of the best first round showdowns for the mid-majors.

No. 5 San Diego State vs. No. 12 Charleston

These have been two of the top mid-majors all year long. It’s a shame only one of them will advance to the second round.

The Aztecs won both the Mountain West regular season and tournament championships. They have been nationally ranked for a good chunk of the season. They rank 14th in KenPom. Matt Bradley leads a balanced scoring attack at 12.9 points per game.

The Cougars are one of four teams with 30 wins on the season. They burst onto the scene in November by winning the Charleston Classic. They entered the AP Top 25 for the first time since 1991 and won 20 straight games during the regular season. Five players average in double figures, led by Dalton Bolon’s 12.3 points.

No. 13 Furman vs. No. 4 Virginia

The Paladins return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1980. They won the SoCon championship. They were seconds away from dancing last season but fell to Chattanooga on David Jean-Baptiste’s game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in overtime. Mike Bothwell leads this tram in scoring at 18.0 points per game.

No. 10 Utah State vs. No. 7 Missouri

The Aggies were one of the last teams in the field. They had an impressive showing in the Mountain West Tournament by going all the way to the championship game, where they fell to San Diego State by five. They have beaten Boise State, who finished second in the conference twice this month. Steven Ashworth leads five players in double figures with 16.3 points per game.

No. 12 Drake vs. No. 5 Miami

The Bulldogs won the Missouri Valley League title in convincing fashion with a 77-51 win over top-seed Bradley in the championship game. They have won 27 games, which is the second most in school history. A win over the Hurricanes would tie the mark set by the 2008 team. Tucker DeVries is the leading scorer for his father at 19.0 points per game.

No. 5 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 12 VCU

The Gaels have been one of the top mid-majors all year. They are loved by the computers and rank 11th in KenPom. They drew a ton of eyeballs with their 78-70 overtime win over Gonzaga in early February but fell to the Bulldogs in the regular-season finale and WCC title game. Logan Johnson and Aidan Mahaney each average better than 14 points a game.

The Rams won both the Atlantic 10 regular-season and tournament championships. They have won nine straight games with the last eight coming by double figures. They won the three tournament games by a combined 42 points. Adrian Baldwin Jr. leads the team at 12.7 points per game.

No. 13 Iona vs. No. 4 UConn

Both teams are playing close to home in Albany, N.Y. The Gaels won both the MAAC regular-season and tournament championships. They have won at least one of those crowns in 11 of the last 12 years. Rick Pitino’s squad has won its last 14 games. Walter Clayton Jr. nets 16.9 points per game.

No. 10 Boise State vs. No. 7 Northwestern

The Broncos are in the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season. They finished second in the Mountain West this season. They lost three of their last five games but knocked off San Diego State in the stretch. Tyson Degenhart paces the team at 14.3 points per game.

No. 8 Memphis vs. No. 9 FAU

This game is set up to be a stellar matchup.

The Tigers won the American Athletic Conference championship by beating Houston in the title game. Outside of a pair of single-digit losses to the Cougars in the regular season, the Tigers have won their last nine games. Kendric Davis is netting 22.1 points per game.

The Owls entered the AP Top 25 for the first time in school history this season. They are one of four teams to already have 30 wins. They won 20 straight games in the middle of the season and rank 26th in KenPom. Johnell Davis is scoring a team-best 13.5 points a night.

No. 12 Oral Roberts vs. No. 5 Duke

The Golden Eagles have 30 wins and are riding a 17-game winning streak. They were the only team to run the table in conference play by going 21-0 against Summit League foes. Two years ago, they were a 15-seed and went to the Sweet 16. They are led by Max Abmas’ 22.2 points and 7-foot-5-inch center Connor Vanover.

No. 11 Nevada vs. No. 11 ASU

The Wolf Pack is barely in the field as they are headed to the First Four. They have lost three straight games, including an 11-point defeat at last-place Wyoming. They bowed out of the Mountain West Tournament quarterfinals to San Jose State. Jarod Lucas is pouring in a team-high 17.3 points a night.