X

NCAA Bracket 2018: Picks, Updated Odds Ahead of Wednesday First Four Schedule

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 14, 2018

Arizona State guard Tra Holder (0) in the first half during an NCAA college basketball game against UCLA, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

The final two participants in the round of 64 in the 2018 NCAA men's basketball tournament will be determined Wednesday, as the First Four concludes in Dayton, Ohio.

Texas Southern and North Carolina Central, both of whom have recent tournament experience, open the doubleheader in a clash of No. 16 seeds.

Arizona State and Syracuse, who were two of the last four teams into the Big Dance, face off in the second game at UD Arena.

The stakes are high for all four teams, but Wednesday's games carry a different level of importance for each program.

       

Wednesday's First Four Odds (via OddsShark)

No. 16 Texas Southern (-5) vs. No. 16 North Carolina Central

No. 11 Arizona State (Even) vs. No. 11 Syracuse

      

Picks

No. 16 Texas Southern over No. 16 North Carolina Central

No. 11 Arizona State over No. 11 Syracuse

      

Pair of No. 16 Seeds In Search Of 1st-Ever Tournament Victory

Although the First Four matchup of No. 16 seeds may not be for everyone, the schools who would otherwise be blown out in their only NCAA tournament game receive a chance to make tournament memories of their own.

That's the case for No. 16 Texas Southern and No. 16 North Carolina Central Wednesday, as they fight for a spot in the round of 64 against Xavier.

Mike Davis' Texas Southern Tigers have been a fixture in the NCAA tournament, as they have won four of the last five SWAC tournaments.

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 30:  Head coach Mike Davis of the Texas Southern Tigers during the first half of the NCAA college basketball game against the Arizona Wildcats at McKale Center on November 30, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona. Arizona won 83-65.  (Photo by Ch
Chris Coduto/Getty Images

However, the Tigers have not been able to secure a valuable victory in the Big Dance in that span, as they lost to Cal Poly in the First Four in 2014 and Arizona and North Carolina in the round of 64 in 2016 and 2017.

Earning a win Wednesday won't be easy for the Tigers, as they go up against one of the best coaching minds in the mid-major ranks in LeVelle Moton of NC Central.

The back-to-back MEAC tournament champion visited the First Four a year ago, where it fell to UC Davis by four points.

The Eagles' other March Madness appearance came in 2014, when they lost to Iowa State as a No. 14 seed in the round of 64.

Russell Tracy/Associated Press

Although NC Central, who won the MEAC tournament as a No. 6 seed, enters with the better record, don't count out the Tigers, who started 0-13 due to a difficult nonconference slate that included a 13-game road trip with stops at Gonzaga, Kansas, Clemson, Ohio State and a handful of other power-conference programs.

         

Arizona State, Syracuse Looking To Prove They Belong

The inclusion of Arizona State and Syracuse in the field of 68 was met with disgust given how each team performed at the back end of the season.

Arizona State's resume was buoyed by nonconference wins over Xavier and Kansas, but the Sun Devils had their share of critics after losing five of their last six games before Selection Sunday.

In any other year, a team with an 8-10 conference record and a first-round conference tournament exit in a weak league like the Pac-12 would not have been considered for the Big Dance, but the key nonconference wins saved the Sun Devils from a spot in the NIT.

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Syracuse was even less deserving than Arizona State, as it finished 8-10 in the ACC and carried no significant nonconference victories.

The NCAA tournament teams the Orange beat outside of ACC play were Buffalo, Iona and Texas Southern, while they suffered losses to Kansas and St. Bonaventure.

Falling in five of its last eight games didn't help Syracuse's cause, but thanks to the powers that be, it has a chance to prove itself in Dayton.

Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

So here we are with two programs in need of proving something to a nation full of skeptics in the last of the First Four games.

There could be an intriguing guard showdown between Syracuse's Tyus Battle and Arizona State's Tra Holder, as they both lead their respective squads in scoring.

However, we saw in Tuesday's nightcap that in order to earn a victory in the First Four, sometimes your role players have to step up, like we saw out of St. Bonaventure.

Whichever team gets the best contributions out of its supporting cast should push on to a matchup with No. 6 TCU Friday in Detroit.

      

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.