Arguably the most dramatic three weeks in sports is underway as the 2023 men’s NCAA Division I basketball tournament began Tuesday with a pair of First Four matchups—the last teams selected to play in the tournament. Two No. 16 seeds went at it, with Texas A & M-Corpus Christi defeating Southeast Missouri 75–71 and No. 11 seed Pittsburgh knocked out No. 11 Mississippi State 60–59 in a thriller that is one of many more to come.

Two more First Four games were held last night (Wednesday), with local hoops team Fairleigh Dickinson taking on HBCU SWAC champion Texas Southern and Arizona State going up against Nevada. 

The First Four format began in 2011, increasing the field from 64 to 68 teams. The single- elimination event will be sliced to the Sweet 16 after this weekend. Afterward, winners will advance to the Elite Eight. Surviving teams will move on to the Final Four and ultimately the championship game, both being held at NRG Stadium in Houston on Saturday, Apr. 1, and Monday, Apr. 3, respectively.

The Alabama Crimson Tide is the tournament’s top overall seed headlining the South Region. The Houston Cougars are the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region, the Kansas Jayhawks No. 1 in the West, and the Purdue Boilermakers No. 1 in the East. 

Texas Southern and Howard University are the historically black college and university teams to earn a spot in the tournament, with Howard defeating Norfolk State 65–64 last Saturday in the MEAC championship game to make the field for the first time since 1992. They will play Kansas today at 2:00 p.m.

Along with the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights from Hackensack, New Jersey, two other New York- metropolitan area programs made their way into March Madness. The Iona Gaels (No. 13) from New Rochelle (Westchester County), which took the MAAC regular season and conference championship game, will meet the UConn Huskies (No. 4) from the Big East tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. in a West Region showdown.

“This is no picnic,” said Iona’s head coach Rick Pitino. “We know we have a tough matchup, but I think we’re up for the test.” 

The former Knicks head coach won the 1996 NCAA title coaching Kentucky and leading Louisville in 2013, but the championship at Louisville was later stripped due to several NCAA rules violations. Pitino is rumored to be St. John’s top candidate to fill their head coaching vacancy after parting ways with former head coach Mike Anderson last week.

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