The NCAA Tournament beings tonight, as the First Four play-in games begin play in Dayton, Ohio. The nightcap will feature our friends from just across the border, as the Mississippi State Bulldogs play the Pittsburgh Panthers in a battle of at-large 11-seeds, with the winner advancing to play Iowa State on Thursday. Before that match-up takes place though, the game with actual stakes for Alabama will take place between a pair of 16-seeds and small conference tournament champs - Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Southeast Missouri State.
For the Islanders of Corpus Christi, this will be their second straight year participating in the First Four and their third appearance all-time in the NCAA Tournament. They lost to Texas Southern - who is also back in Dayton for the second consecutive year - last season by a score of 76-67. So, the Islanders will have an advantage in experience with the process, for sure. They will, however, be down their best defender and third-leading scorer, Terrion Murdix, who suffered a season-ending injury in the Southland Conference Championship Game.
The Southeast Missouri State Redhawks will be making their debut in the First Four and only their second-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Redhawks made a bit of a Cinderella run in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament to grab an automatic bid to the Big Dance after finishing tied for 3rd in the regular season standings. They won four games in four days two weekends ago, culminating in a thrilling OT win over Tennessee Tech in the final.
The game will tip-off at 5:40 PM CDT and will be televised on truTV - yes, it’s that time of the year again. Here is a list of channel numbers for the station that made Impractical Jokers and...well...not much else. Anyway, Corpus Christi is favored by 3.5 points tonight, and I’d have to agree with that. The Islanders won the regular season and conference crowns in the Southland for a second straight year, and are actually a bit dangerous with their shooting and rebounding rate. SEMO had a great run in the OVC tourney, but they were middle-of-the-road in that conference most of the season.
Either way, let’s sit back and enjoy knowing that Alabama will likely romp whichever team shows up in Birmingham on Thursday. I’ll have a deeper preview for that team tomorrow.