The NCAA Tournament expansion from 64 teams to 68 teams in 2011 expanded the bubble for teams hoping to capture an at-large bid. It also created the First Four and provided more basketball in March. Some questioned the need for more teams. Could a team that wouldn’t make a field of 64 even be good enough to advance in the tournament? VCU answered that question instantly. The Rams wrote a true Cinderella story and it started in the First Four and ended in the Final Four.
VCU took down five high major teams, including 1-seeded Kansas in the Elite Eight. The Rams are still the most successful team to come out of the First Four games but not the only team that has prospered. In every year of the First Four’s existence, at least one First Four team has survived until the Round of 32. Lasalle, Tennessee and North Dakota State have all reached the Sweet 16 after starting as a First Four team.
The teams in the First Four were the last ones to make the tournament field, but March Madness is one of the most appropriately named terms in all of sports. It doesn’t matter how you get in because as long as you do, anything can happen.
What is the First Four in March Madness?
The NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. It stayed that way until expanding to 65 teams in 2001 when the Mountain West Conference received an automatic bid to the tourney for the first time, bringing the automatic qualifiers in the NCAA tournament to 31. The two lowest-seeded teams in the tourney faced off in the “opening round game” on the Tuesday after Selection Sunday with the winner facing a No. 1 seed in the first round.
The NCAA Tournament expanded again in 2011. This time the field expanded to 68 teams, with 31 automatic qualifiers and 37 at-large bids. The winners of each of those first four games advanced to the round-of-64. There were talks in 2011 about expanding the field to 96 or 128 teams, but the 68-team field allowed the format to remain the same and provide basketball to be played on two extra days between Selection Sunday and the first round-of-64 game.
Who plays in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament?
The eight teams that play in the First Four games consist of the four lowest-seeded teams that automatically qualified, and the four lowest-seeded at-large teams. For the four lowest-seeded automatic-qualifiers, two games feature two 16-seeds with the winner advancing to the round-of-64 to play a No. 1 seed. The at-large qualifying teams play each other as 11 or 12-seeds to advance to the round-of-64 as well.
First Four 2021 schedule
|Game 1: No. 16 Mount St Mary’s vs. No. 16 Texas Southern||5:10 p.m.||truTV|
|Game 2: No. 11 Wichita State vs. No. 11 Drake||6:27 p.m.||TBS|
|Game 3: No. 16 Norfolk State vs. No. 16 Appalachian State||8:40 p.m.||truTV|
|Game 4: No. 11 Michigan State vs. No. 11 UCLA||9:57 p.m.||TBS|
The entirety of the First Four will take place on Thursday in 2021 beginning with the first of four games at 5:10 p.m. ET. Michigan State vs. UCLA is the final game of the night, tipping off at 9:57 p.m. ET.
Where is the First Four played?
The First Four games have been in Dayton, Ohio since the field was expanded in 2011. However, this year’s First Four games are being held in Indiana due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Purdue’s Mackey Arena and Indiana’s Assembly Hall will host two games apiece — the first time Four Four games aren’t played in Dayton.
There are practical reasons for Dayton to host these games every year, like the relatively centralized location and the convenient Eastern time zone. But more than anything, Dayton embraces college basketball. The First Four is a big deal in Dayton and the continuously packed arenas showcase that. The city celebrates “Big Hoopla” every year when the First Four comes to town.
First Four results
|2012||Western Kentucky||59–58||Miss. Valley St.|
|2013||La Salle||80–71||Boise State|
|2013||North Carolina A&T||73–72||Liberty|
|2013||James Madison||68–55||LIU Brooklyn|
|2013||Saint Mary’s||67–54||Middle Tennesse|
|2014||Albany||71–64||Mount St. Mary’s|
|2014||Cal Poly||81–69||Texas Southern|
|2015||Robert Morris||81–77||North Florida|
|2016||Florida Gulf Coast||96–65||Fairleigh Dickinson|
|2017||UC Davis||67–63||North Carolina Central|
|2017||Kansas State||95–88||Wake Forest|
|2017||Mount St. Mary’s||67–66||New Orleans|
|2018||Texas Southern||64–46||North Carolina Central|
|2019||North Dakota State||78–74||North Carolina Central|
|2019||Fairleigh Dickinson||82–76||Prairie View A&M|
|2019||Arizona State||74–65||St. John’s|