March Madness has officially taken off, as the first four NCAA squads punch their tickets to the championship. Get to know these four teams before the rest queue up for the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, and the Final Four in Arizona.
Florida Gulf Coast Eagles
The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (26-7) make their third appearance in the tournament this March since exiting the 2016 tournament in the first round. Their Sunday, March 5 matchup with North Florida paved the way as they clinched the Atlantic Sun Conference title and punched their ticket to the big dance.
Brandon Goodwin led the Eagles in their title matchup. Goodwin downed 19 points (nearly spot on with his 18.2 points per game average), and teammate Rayjon Tucker threw down a massive dunk and broke the shot clock – yes, really. In the second half, though, defense dominated, and Dunk City outscored the Ospreys 44-22.
FGCU’s season has featured a couple of overtime wins, the second of which came in mid-February and gave them their most wins in a season (22) since becoming a Division I program.
The Winthrop Eagles (26-6) will be a part of this year’s tourney, thanks to their big win over Campbell on March 5. While head coach Pat Kelsey has brought the Eagles very close to tournament play over the last few years, this is their first visit since 2010.
The champs of the Big South Conference were once regular contenders (appearing in the tournament nine times over the 1999-2010 seasons), but due to the play of stars like Keon Johnson (who scored 26 points) and Xavier Cooks (who notched 17), they’re headed back to the tournament once more.
Johnson was not only the lead scorer in this title-clinching game, but he led the team in points throughout the season at 22.4 points per game and happens to be the Big South player of the year.
Wichita State Shockers
The Wichita State Shockers (30-4) also secured their tournament spot on March 5. They sealed the Missouri Valley Conference Championship by rocking Illinois State 71-51 behind leading scorers Conner Frankamp (19 points) and Markis McDuffie (17).
The Shockers dominated their conference throughout the season, thanks to McDuffie, who averaged 11.7 points per game. Since losing to Illinois State in mid-January, the Shockers rattled off 15 straight wins and grabbed 30 game wins overall for the fourth time in five years.
The team returns to the NCAA tournament for the sixth time in as many seasons. The furthest the team has gotten has been the Final Four, and the most recent trip there was in 2013 when they lost to the eventual champions, Louisville.
Jacksonville State Gamecocks
The Jacksonville State Gamecocks (20-14) will be making their inaugural trip to the NCAA tournament after winning over UT Martin on March 4. The Ohio Valley Conference tournament champs joined the league prior to the 2003-04 season, and not only will they be headed for national championship tournament play for the first time – it will also be the first time the program has reached the Ohio Valley Conference Final.
Standout players include team-leading scorer Malcolm Drumwright, who sinks 12.5 points per game on average, and Erik Durham, who netted 17 points in their title game. This is their first season under head coach Ray Harper, and this season was the program’s first 20-win campaign since joining Division I in 1995.
History made in Nashville on Saturday! https://t.co/jSLzNybxop
— Jacksonville State Athletics (@JSUGamecocks) March 5, 2017
If you’re a Shocker fan or have your hopes set on Jacksonville State in their tournament play, why not check out NCAA hoops gear at Fanatics.com before throwing a watch party?