The first round of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament begins on Thursday, March 21, with games starting at 9 a.m and running all day. The NCAA Tournament––often referred to as March Madness––is the premier postseason tournament for college basketball in the United States. 32 teams receive automatic bids into the national tournament by winning their postseason conference tournament, while 36 additional teams receive at-large bids, as chosen by the NCAA selection committee.
The tournament holds a series of four play-in games called the “First Four,” where the four lowest-seeded automatic qualifying teams and four lowest at-large teams play. The field is then narrowed to 64 following the four games and the four winning play-in teams move on.
The tournament is structured in the form of a bracket, where the 64 remaining teams are divided into four regions –– East, West, South and Midwest. Each of the 16 teams in each of the regions are seeded 1 to 16. In the first round, the no. 1 seeded teams play their no. 16 opponents, the no. 2 teams play no. 15 opponents, and so on. The field is then narrowed to 32, and then 16, and so on, until two teams remain and meet in the Championship game. The winner of the game is crowned national champion.
With the big dance starting on Thursday, here is a look at three of the most exciting matchups to look forward to in this year’s tournament.
No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 10 Florida
The Florida Gators (19-15 overall, 9-9 SEC) face the Wolfpack of Nevada (29-4 overall, 15-3 Mountain West) on Thursday at 3:45 p.m in Des Moines, Iowa. The Gators were ranked 8th of 14 heading into the SEC Tournament, but advanced to the Tournament semifinals after defeating SEC No. 9 seed Arkansas, 66-50, and upsetting No. 1 seed LSU, 76-73, to cement their spot in the big dance. Their recent success will be tested against the Wolfpack, who fell to San Diego State, 65-56, in the Mountain West Tournament semifinals. The No. 7 ranked team was without their leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, senior forward Jordan Caroline, due to an achilles injury, however Caroline is expected to return for the tournament. The squad’s high offensive capabilities against the Gators’ No. 21 ranked scoring defense in the nation results in a highly anticipated first round matchup.
No. 7 Wofford vs. No. 10 Seton Hall
Seton Hall (20-13, 9-9 Big East) has been on a hot streak the past five games, beginning with wins over Top 25 opponents in Marquette and Villanova in the squad's final two games of the regular season. The Pirates then topped Georgetown in the second round of the Big East Tournament before scraping by Marquette in a high-energy chippy game that saw three ejections, nine technical/flagrant fouls and 57 fouls in total. The New Jersey team then fell by two to the defending national champions Villanova Wildcats in the final game. The Pirates will face a tough battle in the Wofford Terriers (29-4, 18-0 Southern) who have only dropped four games all season, two of which were to Top 25 teams. Behind the leadership of senior guard Fletcher Magee, the Terriers powered through the Southern Conference Tournament. Though the Terriers’ opponents were weaker than those in the Big East, their near-perfect record earned them the 7-seed. Fans should be excited to watch Magee face off against junior Seton Hall guard Myles Powell, who has led the Pirates this season in scoring and notched 25 points in the Big East finals. The squads will match up in Jacksonville, Florida on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
No. 5 Marquette vs. No. 12 Murray State
College basketball fans are a receiving a gift with this matchup as two of the strongest offense players in the nation face off in the first round. Junior Marquette guard Markus Howard will face off against sophomore Murray State guard Ja Morant in what should be a fierce first-round battle. The two players rank sixth and eighth in points per game in the country, respectively. In their conference tournaments, Marquette (24-9, 12-6 Big East) just narrowly lost to Seton Hall in the Big East semifinals, while Murray State (27-4, 16-2 Ohio Valley) won their second straight Ohio Valley Conference title. This high-energy Murray State team sports a stronger record than their northern opponent, though Marquette has faced tougher opponents this season. The better of these high-energy teams will be determined when the two play on Thursday at 1:20 p.m. in Hartford, Connecticut.