It is finally that time. The start of the NCAA Tournament. Well, at least the First Four. Let's start with a brief history of the First Four. In 2011, as opposed to just having one play-in game between the 64th and 65th team in the field, they expanded the tournament to 68 teams with 2 play-in games for 16 seeds and 2 play-in games for anywhere from 11 through 13 seeds. In the first year, the expansion of the field instantly paid off as VCU, a First Four team, marched to the Final Four.
In the first game of the tournament, the North Carolina A&T Aggies (19-16, 8-8 MEAC) take on the Liberty Flames (15-20, 6-10 Big South) at 6:40 p.m. The Aggies are the three point favorites on the strength of having a winning record and the duo of Adrian Powell and Lamont Middleton, both of whom average more than 12 points per game. Liberty features three guys who average more than 13 points per game including leading scorer John Caleb Sanders (14.2 ppg). Despite their ability to score points, Liberty cannot play defense, as they have a negative point differential (-0.8 points per game). I'm taking the Aggies in this one.
In the second game of the night, the Saint Mary's Gaels (27-6, 14-2 WCC) take on the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (28-5, 19-1 Sun Belt) at approximately 9:10 p.m. Saint Mary's is the four point favorites in this one, as their strength of schedule is considerably higher than Middle Tennessee due to playing Gonzaga three times (and losing all three). Matthew Dellavedova is an excellent player (15.8 ppg, 6.4 apg), but I'm going to take the Blue Raiders in this game. They were almost penalized for losing their second game since mid-December, but they made the field and are going to show up in a big way. I would even look for the Blue Raiders to beat the Memphis Tigers if they can make it through this game.