by Alexis Barton
For college basketball fans, March is a month-long celebration of competition. Starting on the St. Patrick’s Day weekend, the first round of the NCAA DI men’s and women’s basketball tournaments bring jubilation and heartbreak for fans across the country.
In a unique array of teams from across the country, the tournament begins with 68 teams and is narrowed down to 64 by the beginning of the first round. Four low-seeded teams compete in the “First Four” games, which are four games between eight teams competing to keep their spot in the final bracket. In the men’s tournament, the First Four matchups include: Southeastern Missouri State v. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Texas Southern v. Fairleigh Dickinson, Arizona State v. Nevada and Mississippi State v. Pitt. In the women’s tournament, the First Four include: Illinois v. Mississippi State, Tennessee Tech v. Monmouth, Purdue v. St. John’s and Souther v. Sacred Heart.
The women’s tournament has a unique arrangement this year, including two main host cities compared to the diversity of host sites in the men’s tournament. The tournament is split into two regions, Greenville and Seattle, and each region has two groups. The decision to transition into two regional groups was made several years ago by the NCAA, but due to the pandemic the tournament has looked very different until now. Regardless of the unique hosting circumstances, the women’s tournament is stacked with competitive teams throughout each group. In the Greenville region, the top seeds include the University of South Carolina Gamecocks and Indiana University Hoosiers. In the regular season, the Gamecocks went undefeated under the supervision of legendary coach Dawn Staley. The team has been dominant both in the SEC and in the national rankings during Staley’s tenure, including holding the 2022 National Champion title and making appearances in the Elite Eight, Final Four, and championship games in the last several seasons. Though Indiana lacks the same level of experience in the later rounds of the tournament, the team still held their own with an impressive record of 27-3 in their regular season. In the Seattle region, Stanford and Virginia Tech hold the #1 seed in their respective groups. Similar to South Carolina, Stanford is not new to national recognition either as they have competed in at least the Sweet Sixteen since 2003. The Cardinal will look to return to their former glory and take claim at their first national title since 2021. Similar to Indiana, the Hokies have not been prominent figures in the top women’s basketball teams outside of their own conference in several years – their highest seed in the tournament was #4 in 1999. The team looks to keep the energy going from their recent ACC Conference Championship. March Madness is made for Cinderella stories, and it appears that the Hokies are shaping up to be in the running.
The men’s tournament is split into four regions and will take place in host cities across the country, allowing fans to support their teams in the early rounds while they are somewhat close to home. In the West, the reigning champions Kansas Jayhawks look to defend their title. In the Midwest, the Houston Cougars will take their shot at a tournament run following their 31-3 regular season. In the South, Alabama holds the #1 seed. Despite recent controversy with Brandon Miller’s alleged involvement in a shooting in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide look to refocus the narrative on their on-court skills. In the East, the Purdue Boilermakers hold the #1 seed. The team hopes to carry on their regular season momentum into the tournament, where they won their second-ever Big Ten tournament title this year.