2024 NCAA Tournament Preview: First Four

March 18, 2024

The Madness is nearly here.

The stage has been set, and in a few short days, some dreams will begin to become reality, while others will be shattered in the most gut-wrenching way (that is, for everyone to see on nationally syndicated broadcasts).

It’s quite simply, and inarguably, the greatest three weeks in all of sports, and Around The Corn Sports Blog will defend that clearly objective take to the grave.

With sports betting becoming commonplace across the country since Around The Corn last published NCAA Tournament previews, it is obligatory that we mention any predictions made on this site are not backed by any gambling outlets, and many will not be correct. In nearly 15 years of running a bracket challenge (which you can join here, by the way), K Becks has won twice.

But you’re not reading this because you’re going to mimic the picks, right?

Let’s preview the grouping of First Four games.

First Four Games to Watch

All of Them

This shouldn’t really be that difficult. Only two games feature on Tuesday and Wednesday evening, the true beginning of the NCAA Tournament, and there are no overlaps with any of the four contests. Sure, if you’re a workaholic or have actual responsibilities like a family, then a pre-7 PM ET start could be slightly problematic for you. But otherwise, enjoy the bit of a breather that these four games being played at UD Arena provides.

If you really have a problem getting some time to sit down and watch, take solace in the fact that the 16 vs. 16 matchups take the early slot on both Tuesday and Wednesday. But miss these games at your own peril – last year, Fairleigh Dickinson won its first ever NCAA Tournament game in Dayton before traveling an hour East to take down No. 1 Purdue just two days later. FDU’s open style was on full display in that First Four game.

Some highlights to consider:

  • Grambling State is playing in its first ever NCAA Tournament
  • Boise State has played in more First Four games (3) than any other program, and also has the most Tournament appearances (9) without a victory
  • Talk about slowing it down – two First Four participants this year (Wagner and Virginia) rank at the bottom of Division 1 in adjusted tempo, according to KenPom

Team That Could Make a Run


If the Buffaloes can get by Boise State in Dayton, a team that wasn’t projected to be anywhere near the First Four about a week ago, then things open up quite well for the Pac-12’s third best squad during the regular season. An incredibly unfortunate injury to Florida’s Micah Handlogten puts the country’s second-best rebounding squad in a tough spot against either the Buffaloes or Broncos.

Colorado comes into this Tournament hot, reeling off eight straight victories before a loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game ended the run (and made the Pac-12 a bid stealing conference). Its First Four battle is effectively a tossup, but Colorado is the Pac-12’s best shooting team from within and behind the arc and is led by excellent guard play, which tends to come in handy in March.

Remember The Name

KJ Simpson, Colorado

Speaking of excellent guard play, look no further than the Buffaloes’ leader in the junior Simpson. Leading the way with 19.6 PPG and 5.7 APG for Colorado, Simpson is also an excellent defender and sets the tone for a group that is stingier defensively than people may expect of a squad that averages nearly 80 points per contest.

Simpson’s offensive prowess will be talked about at length on Wednesday evening, but don’t be surprised if it’s his defensive play that wins the day for Colorado. The Buffaloes’ perimeter defense limiting Boise State from feeding the ball to Tyson Degenhart will be key to advancing out of Dayton.

Around The Corn’s Picks

#16 Howard over #16 Wagner

#10 Colorado State over #10 Virginia

#16 Montana State over #16 Grambling State

#10 Colorado over #10 Boise State

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