The 2017 NCAA Tournament bracket is almost set in stone but before the field is made into a tidy 64-team affair, the First Four must whittle eight March hopefuls into four. Among a host of interesting matchups, Tuesday’s second game in Dayton promises to draw plenty of eyeballs as former Kansas star turned Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning gets to face his old in-state rival Kansas State for a chance to upset No. 6 seed Cincinnati later in the week.
While both programs have had their fair share of success when it comes to the Tournament historically, this is the first time in a few years that the pair has seen their name called on Selection Sunday. The Demon Deacons’ last appearance came all the way back in 2010 but they survived a tough ACC slate this season to make it into the field. On the flip side, the Wildcats were the final at-large selection — period — this year and return to March Madness for the first time in three seasons after being a mainstay in the event before that.
Which one has what it takes to make it out of Dayton and head out to Sacramento and face the Bearcats? We’ll find out soon enough which team has the chops to survive and advance.
First Four: No. 11 Wake Forest Demon Deacons vs. No. 11 Kansas State Wildcats
Time: Approximately 9:10 p.m. ET (Tuesday)
Where: University of Dayton Arena (Dayton, OH)
Keys for Wake Forest
The Deacs got knocked out of the ACC Tournament a little earlier than expected last week but they still enter the month of March on a bit of a hot streak. The team is led by the stellar play of sophomore John Collins, a 6-foot-10 playmaker who is one of the best shooters in the country from anywhere on the floor. He took home All-ACC first-team honors as a result this season but is far from the only scoring threat on the team. Collins forms a deadly offensive combo with attacking guard Bryant Crawford, who is comfortable taking the ball into the lane as well as dishing it off to an array of three-point shooters. Defense isn’t Wake’s strong suit so keeping the game flowing and knocking down baskets to win a shootout is no doubt what the team will be looking to do in its first tourney game.
Keys for Kansas State
The Wildcats just barely made it into the NCAA Tournament (and possibly saved their head coach’s job at the same time), but they are plenty capable of making some noise this year after making it through the grueling Big 12 slate. This isn’t a deep squad by any stretch but veteran head coach Bruce Weber might use that short bench to his advantage given that four starters average double figures. Senior forward Wesley Iwundu really makes things tick on both ends of the floor but it’s guard Barry Brown’s shooting that will be key to snatching a win in Dayton. Rebounding is a major concern for KSU but if these Wildcats are grabbing boards and getting good transition shots, the team is more than capable of moving onto the next round.
This is a fitting First Four game as it’s pretty much a toss-up, pitting the KenPom No. 29 team in Kansas State against No. 30 Wake Forest. While they may have been two of the last teams in the field, each has shown they can beat good teams on the road and they are certainly battle tested after running through the two best Power Five leagues in the country. Both squads feature pretty good offenses that are capable of scoring in bunches and this might be one of the higher-scoring games of the first week of the NCAA Tournament as a result.
The Wildcats do have the better defense coming into this one but the Demon Deacons feature a bit more size inside that could be a problem. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the talented John Collins go off in a big way and put on a show but the bottom line is this game should wind up being a close one in order to get to the main draw.
Prediction: Wake Forest 86, Kansas State 81
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.