SWAC, NEC champions get March Madness started with the opening game in Bloomington
It's NCAA Tournament time once again, and Texas Southern and Mount St. Mary's have the honor of kicking March Madness off with their First Four matchup on Thursday. The champions of the SWAC and NEC will tip-off from the campus of the University of Indiana with hopes of advancing to the First Round of the NCAA Tournament to face Big Ten champion and East Region No. 1 seed Michigan on Saturday.
First Four: No. 16 Texas Southern Tigers (16-8) vs. No. 16 Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers (12-10)
Time: Thursday, March 18 at 5:10 p.m. ET
Where: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall (Bloomington, Ind.)
Keys for Texas Southern
Texas Southern is riding a nine-game winning streak coming into the First Four, and controlling the ball off the glass has been a big reason why. The Tigers average 41.6 rebounds per game this season, good for 10th in the nation. Joirdon Karl Nicholas is leading the team with seven rebounds per game. Nicholas also is one of three players averaging at least 10 points per game this season, along with Michael Weathers and John Walker III. Weathers scored a season-high 30 points in the Tigers' SWAC Tournament championship game victory.
Keys for Mount St. Mary's
To get to the NCAA Tournament, Mount St. Mary's had to take out the NEC's top two teams this season, Wagner and Bryant. Scoring balance from Damian Chong Qui and Deandre Thomas in the championship game helped send the Mountaineers into the tournament, but scoring points isn't a strength for Mount St. Mary's. The Mountaineers average just 63.7 points per game (366th in the nation), so their defense will have to be the key against the strong rebounding Tigers. Mount St. Mary's has held opponents to 62.3 points per game this season.
Both conference champions have earned their way into this spot, but the Tigers have a distinct advantage in their ability to rebound. Mount St. Mary's simply cannot afford to give up second chances, but the Mountaineers will struggle to record many rebounds. With Mount St. Mary's not exactly lighting up the scoreboard, that could be a bad position to be in. The first tournament game of the 2021 edition will start off with some jitters, but Texas Southern will gain control with transition points off rebounds, which will send the Tigers from the SWAC on to the First Round to the top seed in the East Region, Michigan.
Prediction: Texas Southern 76, Mount St. Mary's 64