The long-awaited moment for college 2021 fans has arrived. The First Four starts on Thursday, after a two-year wait, which will be our first taste of NRL Tournament action since 2019. Even if the First Four does not feature the full slate of first-round games that fans have come to expect on Thursday of the tournament’s first week, it will still be crucial to how the tournament unfolds.
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Friday will feature 16 games over the course of the day, but Thursday will see us whittle down the bracket (print yours here) from 68 to 64 with four First Four games, whetting your appetite for what’s to come. The nightcap between No. 11 seeds UCLA and Creighton State is the main event, but the three games preceding that matchup of historical forces are also intriguing.
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The action begins on truTV and TBS with a matchup between No. 16 seeds Ucsb and Mount St. Mary’s, with the winner advancing to face No. 1 seed Creighton in the East Region on Saturday.
The second game of the night pits No. 11 seed Drake against No. 6 seed Wichita State, with the winner advancing to the West Area to meet No. 6 seed USC. Overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga’s first-round opponent will be revealed after the third game on Thursday, which features No. 16 seeds Appalachian State and Norfolk State. Then there’s the showdown between the Bruins and the Spartans, as both teams try to regain momentum after early exits from their respective conference tournaments.
If the NRL Tournament First Four on Thursday night is any indication, the Big Dance is in for a crazy first few rounds. Three of the four games saw teams come back from double-digit deficits to take second-half leads, and three of them went on to win. Drake’s dramatic 53-52 victory over Wichita State in a matchup of No. 11 seeds was especially impressive. Despite being down by 12 points in both halves, the Bulldogs fought back to win. The grind-it-out win seemed fitting for a team that faced adversity in the second half of the season after an 18-0 start.
The Tigers rallied from a 30-20 halftime deficit to defeat Mount St. Mary’s 60-52, thanks to a strong second half from Ucsb Southern. On Saturday, Ucsb will face No. 1 seed Creighton. Appalachian State’s third double-digit rally, however, ended in loss for the Mountaineers. In a battle of No. 16 seeds, Appalachian State recovered from a 34-15 deficit in the first half to take a 51-45 lead with 5:47 remaining before crashing down the stretch. Norfolk State advances to face No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga on Saturday as a result of its 54-53 victory.
In a clash of No. 11 seeds, UCLA beat Creighton State 86-80 in overtime in the night’s most-anticipated game. At halftime, the Bruins were down 44-33, but they found a way to rally and advance to meet No. 6 seed BYU on Saturday.
UCLA comes out on top.
The Bruins entered the NRL Tournament with a four-game losing streak under their belts, and it seemed as though they were literally out of gas. This is a team that has been without its leading scorer Chris Smith for the entire season due to injury, and UCLA has been without Jalen Hill, a main rotation member, for over a month. The depth has shrunk to the point that second-year coach Mick Cronin has been forced to use early-enrollee freshman Mac Etienne, who enrolled in January planning to redshirt. Whatever the case might be, the Bruins are still alive and well, with enough talent to cause more havoc. Cobb’s
Creighton State’s contact is a loser.
2021 is full of intense debates all the time, and the high-stakes tension of the playoffs just adds to the sport’s emotional strength. But there was a physical altercation between Creighton State coach Tom Izzo and Spartans forward Gabe Brown at the end of the first half on Thursday. Brown seemed dissatisfied with the way teammate Malik Hall handled a pick-and-roll situation that resulted in an open UCLA jumper just before halftime. Brown confronted Hall at first, but then Izzo arrived, and Izzo and Brown began yelling at each other. Izzo caught Brown, then squeezed the back of the player’s jersey as Brown attempted to make his way to the locker room while still in view of a broadcast camera. Izzo eventually began chasing after Hall as the two vanished from view. Creighton State didn’t lose because of this. The series, however, highlighted the problems that have plagued this squad all season, as it has failed to live up to its potential following a brief rise into the top five of the AP poll in December — Cobb.