The NCAA tournament really gets into full swing on March 20. Yet on March 18, the tournament actually started with the first two games of the "First Four" first round. While the First Four is a recent addition to the NCAA tournament and showcases the teams that squeaked in, it occasionally leads to bigger things -- which the Albany Great Danes and N.C. State Wolfpack can now hope for.
The Great Danes knocked off the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers in the first game of the NCAA tournament, as the two No. 16 seeds fought it out for the right to play the Florida Gators next. Although Albany blew Mount St. Mary's away early with an opening 21-2 run, a counter 21-2 run by the Mountaineers made it close, until the Great Danes held on by 71-64.
Albany got lucky to hold on, especially when a tying three-point shot by Mount St. Mary's Rashad Whack rolled out after almost going down. But it's unlikely that the Great Danes will have any 21-2 runs -- or survive any against them -- when they face the No. 1 Gators on March 20 in Orlando.
The First Four of the NCAA tournament allows No. 16 seeds to win at least one game, before getting slaughtered by top seeds. But its greater legacy is from other double digit seeds winning and making a deeper run -- like the 2011 VCU Rams did on their way to the Final Four, and when the La Salle Explorers went to the Sweet 16 last year.
N.C. State hopes to equal those runs after beating the Xavier Musketeers on March 18. The Wolfpack received one of the more debatable bids to the NCAA tournament, especially when they got in over the SMU Mustangs. Yet the Wolfpack made the selection committee look smart, once they blew past the Musketeers in the second half for a 74-59 win.
Star sophomore T.J. Warren caught fire after halftime, scoring 16 of his 25 points in the second half. But it wasn't just Warren who heated up, as a 61.5 shooting performance from N.C. State in the last 20 minutes also made the difference.
Despite the way they made the NCAA tournament, the Wolfpack can believe they will make some noise. They next face the slumping Saint Louis Billikens on March 20, although the Louisville Cardinals may loom after that.