Graham Ike and Wyoming face fellow No. 12 seed Indiana for a chance to advance to the first round of the 2022 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament. Photo by Kyle Spradley/Wyoming Athletics
March 15 (UPI) -- Texas Southern tips off against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, while Indiana battles Wyoming in the First Four, launching the month-long 2022 NCAA Division I men's college basketball tournament Tuesday.
"It's exciting to be here," Texas Southern forward Joirdon Karl Nicholas told reporters Monday in Dayton, Ohio. "It's a better environment because of the whole COVID-19 stress thing [last year]. It's good to come here to Ohio and experience all of this."
The small Texas schools are No. 16 seeds and have a very low probability of advancing through a first-round matchup against top-seeded Kansas. Either Indiana or Wyoming, both 12 seeds, will advance to take on No. 5 Saint Mary's in the first round out of the East region of the bracket.
All First Four matchups air on truTV.
"You can't get too high on yourself," Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said. "We've still got a lot of work to do. We are ready to gear up and go."
The other two men's First Four matchups are set for Wednesday. No. 16 seeds Wright State and Bryant will meet in the first game. No. 11 seeds Rutgers and Notre Dame will tip off in the final play-in game. Those games also take place at University of Dayton Arena.
Wright State or Bryant will advance to face No. 1 Arizona. Rutgers or Notre Dame will face No. 6 Alabama in the first round.
First Four explained
The eight First Four teams include the four lowest-seeded automatic bids (Wright State, Bryant, Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Texas Southern) and the four lowest seed at-large bids (Notre Dame, Rutgers, Indiana, Wyoming).
From 2001 through 2010, the 65-team tournament had just one play-in game that featured the lowest seeded team that received an automatic bid into the competition. Those teams went 0-10 in first round games, which were played against their respective tournament's No. 1 seed.
The First Four was introduced in 2011, when the March Madness field was expanded to 68 teams. Since then, a team from the First Four has advanced to the the second round nine times, the Sweet 16 five times and Elite 8 and Final Four twice.
UCLA, which beat Michigan State in a First Four matchup between No. 11 seeds in the 2021 tournament, advanced to the Final Four. The Bruins just missed a shot at a national title when they lost to No. 1 Gonzaga by three points in overtime of the national semifinal game.
The three other 2021 First Four game winners lost in the first round.
Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Texas Southern start tournament play at 6:40 p.m. EDT Tuesday. Indiana faces Wyoming in the next game at 9:10 p.m. in the same venue.
Tip-off times are the same for Wednesday, with Bryant meeting Wright State in the first of those two First Four matchups.
Texas A&M Corpus Christi went 23-11 in 2021-22. The Islanders are known as a strong defensive team as they allowed the fewest points per game in the Southland Conference. They also led the conference in steals and finished second in offensive rebounding.
Junior forward Isaac Mushila logged a team-high 13.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game for the Islanders, who knocked off the Southland's No. 1, 2 and 5 seeds to win the conference tournament title and clinch their automatic bid.
Junior guards Trey Tennyson and Terrion Murdix pace the offense. Tennyson averaged 11.8 points per game. Murdix logged 9.8 points per game and led the conference in assists. The Islanders lost to Wisconsin in 2007 in their lone NCAA tournament appearance.
Texas Southern went 18-12 this season and earned an automatic bid with wins over the Nos. 1, 6 and 7 seeds in the SWAC tournament. The Tigers advanced to eight previous NCAA tournaments, but only advanced past the first round in 2015.
They owned the third-best offensive in the SWAC, averaging 69.2 points per game. They also tied for allowing the least points per game (65.5) in the conference. The Tigers opponents made a conference-low 39.6% of their shots. They also led the conference in offensive and defensive rebounding and totaled the fewest turnovers.
Senior forwards John Walker and Joirdon Karl Nicholas pace the Tigers offense. Walker averaged 9.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game so far this season. Nicholas logged 9.2 points and six rebounds per game. Nine of the Tigers' Top 10 scorers are seniors.
They are favored to beat their in-state foes and advance to the first round.
Indiana vs. Wyoming
Indiana is a four-point favorite to top Wyoming in the first 12-seed clash. The Hoosiers went 20-13 this season and are one of the more storied programs in the tournament, with five national titles and eight previous Final Four appearances.
The 2021-22 Hoosiers are in their first season under new coach Mike Woodson, who played at the school in the 1970s under legendary coach Bob Knight and went on to coach LeBron James, among other stars, in the NBA.
The Hoosiers fell in the Big Ten tournament semifinals and received an at-large bid. They owned a strong defense in the regular season, allowing the third-fewest points per game and worst field goal percentage in the conference. They ranked second in defensive rebounding.
Junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis leads the Hoosiers with 18.1 points per game so far this season. Senior guard Xavier Johnson and senior forward Race Thompson averaged 12.3 and 11.5 points, respectively.
Wyoming went 25-8 in 2021-22, but lost in the Mountain West title game and received an at-large bid. The Cowboys advanced to the second round in each of their previous two tournament appearances, which came in 2015 and 2002.
They were the second-best rebounding team in the Mountain West and ranked fourth in points for and points allowed. The Cowboys boasted two of the Top 6 scorers in the conference, with sophomore forward Graham Ike and senior guard Hunter Maldonado averaging 19.6 and 18.4 points per game, respectively.
Ike also averaged 9.6 rebounds per game, the second-most in the conference. Maldonado's 6.3 assists per game ranked fifth in the nation.
Wright State vs. Bryant
Wright State is a slight favorite to beat Bryant in another 16-seed meeting Wednesday in Dayton. The Raiders (21-13) earned an automatic bid with wins over the No. 1, 3 and 5 seeds in the Horizon League tournament.
They will make their first First Four appearance. The Raiders lost in the first round in three previous NCAA tournament appearances.
Junior guard Tanner Holden leads the team with 19.8 points per game. Junior forward Grant Basile and junior guard Trey Calvin logged 18.5 and 14.3 points per game, respectively, so far in 2021-22.
The Raiders ranked second in the Horizon League with 75.5 points per game and a 0.465 field goal percentage. Holden and Basile were the third and fourth-best scorers in the conference.
Bryant (22-9) earned an automatic bid with a win over Wagner in the Northeast title game. The Bulldogs are led by senior guard Peter Kiss, led the nation with 25.1 points per game this season.
Junior guard Charles Pride and senior guard Adham Eleeda chipped in 18 and 10.3 points per game, respectively, for the Bulldogs. Bryant led the Northeast with 77.9 points per game and held foes to the second-worst field goal percentage in the conference. They also ranked eighth in the country in rebounding.
Bryant can clinch its first NCAA tournament first-round appearance with a victory.
Rutgers vs. Notre Dame
No. 11 seeds Rutgers and Notre Dame will meet in the final First Four matchup at 9:10 p.m. Wednesday in Dayton. Notre Dame is a slight favorite to advance to the first round.
The Fighting Irish went 22-10 this season and earned an at-large bid. They are led by longtime coach Mike Brey, who brought the team to a dozen previous NCAA tournament appearances. The Fighting Irish advanced to the Elite Eight in two of their last three tournament runs.
Freshman guard Blake Wesley leads the team with 14.6 points per game. Seniors Dane Goodwin and Paul Atkinson chipped in 13.9 and 12.3 points per game, respectively, so far this season.
The Fighting Irish held foes to the third-worst field goal percentage in the ACC this season. They also led the conference in 3-pointers made and ranked second in 3-point percentage (38.1).
Rutgers went takes an 18-13 record into the tournament. They also earned an at-large bid out of the Big Ten conference. Senior guard Ron Harper Jr., the son of the former Chicago Bulls star, leads the Scarlet Knights with 15.6 points per game. Sophomore center Clifford Omoruyi and senior guard Geo Baker averaged 11.8 and 12.4 points per game, receptively.
The Scarlet Knights ranked second in the Big Ten in points per game allowed. They also held foes to the second-worst field goal percentage and averaged the second-most steals per game.
Rutgers lost to Houston in the second round of the 2021 NCAA tournament, its first appearance in the competition since 1991.
First Four (all times Eastern)
All games on truTV
No. 16 Texas Southern vs. No. 16 Texas A&M Corpus Christi at 6:40 p.m.
No. 12 Wyoming vs. No. 12 Indiana at 9:10 p.m.
No. 16 Wright State vs. No. 16 Bryant at 6:40 p.m.
No. 11 Rutgers vs. No. 11 Notre Dame at 9:10 p.m.