Not everyone really agrees with the expanded NCAA tournament, which is the two nights of the First Four stage, but the winning teams don’t really care. The first two to go through? North Carolina State with a 74-59 win over Xavier, and Albany, beating Mount St Mary’s 71-64.
The Wolfpack get to bring their star player, T.J. Warren, and a bunch of excellent teammates and role players to the tournament, where they will now face the #5 and excellent defensive bunch of Saint Louis. Albany, a #16 seed will play against the number one team in the nation, Florida.
It doesn’t really matter if it’s fair or not, it is what it is. North Carolina State got through with a big win over Xavier, and they’re a team no one would like to meet. T.J. Warren started slow but finished with 25 points, scoring 16 of them in the second half, as Xavier struggled to find a way to stop him in the paint. Tyler Lewis had a big game with 7 points and 8 assists, while Ralston Turner added some outside firepower, finishing with 17 points.
The Wolfpack shot 54.7% from the field in the game, while Xavier struggled getting anyone but Matt Stainbrook (19 points) and Semaj Christon (14 points) going, as the two shot well from the field, but the rest of their teammates were a combined 27.5% from the field. It’ll be the third consecutive NCAA tournament second round the Wolfpack get to under Mark Gottfried, hoping to repeat their Sweet Sixteen appearance from 2012.
In the earlier game, Albany were the ones to come through against Mount St Mary’s, who can feel slight injustice by missing out on the real big experience because of the first four format. It began quite badly for the Mountaineers, falling behind 21-2 in the early goings but doing a great job of making their full court press work, and making a game out of it against a more talented team.
Albany got 22 points from DJ Evans and 20 from Peter Hooley, as they kept pushing into the paint, knowing St Mary’s don’t really have an answer defensively once their perimeter got breaches. Their opponents reiled on the three point shot, and when it went in, it seemed like a tight game for a while, knocing down 12 3-pointers, with Will Miller coming off the bench to score 21 points, finishing with 7-of-12 from beyond the arc.
These are still play-in games, nothing more. The First Four concept isn’t wrong, but it’s for bubble teams – like Iowa, North Carolina State and Tennessee to compete in, not conference tournament champions like Mount St Mary’s, who might have been better off playing in the NIT, where they would get more exposure through bigger crowds and the kind of TV Network that broadcasts their games. Instead, they’re left out of the dance, even if the banners hanging in the Dayton airport and the arena claim they have arrived.