The Northeast and Southland Conference champions meet in Dayton for the right to play defending champion Villanova
Since 2001, Dayton serves as the launch point for every NCAA Tournament. The opening round became the "First Four" games of the Big Dance with the field's expansion to 68 teams in 2011, but in the previous decade, Dayton hosted the last two teams to make the bracket.
Were the 2017 First Four under the previous "first one" format, Mount St. Mary's and New Orleans would still converge on UD Arena in Dayton. The NEC champion Mountaineers and Southland champion Privateers are the unofficial No. 67 and No. 68 seeds, as dictated by an impending first round matchup with No. 1 overall seed and defending national champion, Villanova.
They may unofficially be the last two in the Dance, but Mount St. Mary's and New Orleans have an opportunity to etch their names into NCAA Tournament history.
Mount St. Mary's returns to the field for the fourth time in nine years, and the first since 2014. The Mountaineers played in and won the 2008 Dayton game against Coppin State.
Five of the NEC representative's six all-time Tournament bids came since New Orleans scored its last. The Privateers danced in 1996, and in the two decades since, the university considered dropping its athletic department to non-scholarship Div. III.
New Orleans' return is already one of the greater Cinderella stories in this NCAA Tournament, and the Privateers aren't ready for midnight to strike just yet. A win in the First Four and showdown with the defending national champions would be a fitting glass slipper for this program.
Mount St. Mary's and New Orleans come into the NCAA Tournament as two of its most noteworthy underdogs. It's fitting, then, that each team features one of the field's most explosive players under 6-foot: UNO's 5-foot-8 Christavious Gill averages 11.6 points and 2.7 assists per game, while Mount St. Mary's 5-foot-5 Junior Robinson – shortest player in the Tournament – posts team-highs of 14.1 points and 2.9 assists per game.
First Four: No. 16 Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers vs. No. 16 New Orleans Privateers
Time: 6:40 p.m. ET (Tuesday)
Where: University of Dayton Arena (Dayton, OH)
Keys for Mount St. Mary's
The Mountaineers thrive on turnover generation. Head coach Jamion Christian is a former colleague of Shaka Smart from his time at VCU, where the Rams employed the Havoc defense to stifle opponents.
Mount St. Mary's version of the defensive strategy produces the 22nd-highest rate of opponent turnovers in all of college basketball, per KenPom.com. Conversely, New Orleans struggles with ball security, ranking No. 349 nationally in turnover percentage.
New Orleans can expect to see pressure all over the court. Should the Mountaineers parlay that pressure into takeaways, they could cruise into the Round of 64 for a date with Villanova.
Keys for New Orleans
Few teams in college basketball attack the glass quite as effectively as New Orleans. The Privateers enjoy a plus-3.9 per game rebound advantage, and haul in more than 12 offensive rebounds per game.
New Orleans' ability to control the boards could be the equalizer against the oppressive Mount St. Mary's defense.
The Privateers must also establish Erik Thomas as the scoring threat. He's an efficient scorer who hits at a better than 58 percent clip from inside the 3-point arc.
Aggressive defensive styles could make for a low-scoring affair in this introduction to March Madness. Both New Orleans and Mount St. Mary's can make life difficult for their opponents' offenses, so this isn't likely to conjure memories of Loyola Marymount vs. UNLV.
However, the even matchup should make for an appropriate start to the NCAA Tournament. Expect a tight, competitive game, with the Privateers leveraging its athletic advantage to wear down the Mountaineers' Havoc defense.
Prediction: New Orleans 61, Mount St. Mary's 54