Charlotte welcomes NCAA Tournament

Eight teams are headed to the Queen City for March Madness

Mississippi State forward Tolu Smith (1) and Tennessee forward Jonas Aidoo (0) battle under the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday, March 15, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

CHARLOTTE — March Madness is back in the Queen City for the first time in six years, as eight teams are headed to the Spectrum Center this week for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

The Charlotte 49ers will serve as the arena host for Thursday’s four first-round games and Saturday’s pair of second-round games, all representing matchups in the West and Midwest regions of play.

In Tuesday’s First Four matchups to determine two Thursday contests, Howard and Wagner played for a 16-seed to square up with North Carolina, while Virginia and Colorado State battled for a 10-seed to face Texas.

West Region:

No. 8 Mississippi State vs No. 9 Michigan State, 12:15 p.m. (CBS)

No. 1 North Carolina vs No. 16 Howard/Wagner, 2:45 p.m. (CBS)

Midwest Region:

No. 7 Texas vs No. 10 Virginia/Colorado State, 6:50 p.m. (TNT)

No. 2 Tennessee vs No. 15 Saint Peter’s, 9:20 p.m. (TNT)

No. 8 Mississippi State Bulldogs

Record: 21-13

Conference: SEC

With five losses in their past seven games, the Bulldogs have appeared vulnerable but have also shown flashes of strength against tough competition. They recently lost to 12th-ranked Auburn in the SEC Tournament title game after defeating LSU and fifth-ranked Tennessee. Freshman guard Josh Hubbard has scored at least 20 points in eight straight games.

No. 9 Michigan State Spartans

Record: 19-14

Conference: Big Ten

The Spartans succumbed to third-ranked Purdue in the Big Ten quarterfinals after a win over Minnesota. Tom Izzo will be counting on experienced senior guards A.J. Hoggard and Tyson Walker to put up some points to get past the Bulldogs. The free throw line could be a factor — the team’s 70.6% leaves much to be desired.

No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels

Record: 27-7

Conference: ACC

After a loss to a hungry NC State team in the ACC Tournament title game, UNC will now look to regroup with the benefits of being a top seed. The Tar Heels had won eight straight before the loss to the Wolfpack. With RJ Davis and Armando Bacot leading the way, the Heels still have all the makings of a group that can make a big run.

No. 16 Wagner Seahawks

Record: 16-15

Conference: Northeast

The Seahawks used a Northeast Conference Tournament title game win over Merrimack — following victories over Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut — to notch their first March Madness action in 21 years. Watch out for junior guard and leading scorer Melvin Council Jr, who recently posted a 16-point, 13-rebound stat line.

No. 7 Texas Longhorns

Record: 20-12

Conference: Big 12

With a 78-74 loss to Kansas State in the second round of Big 12 Tournament after a first-round bye, the Longhorns did not help their NCAA seeding but can still be a dangerous team going forward. Senior guard Max Abmas posted 26 points in his last performance.

No. 10 Colorado State Rams

Record: 24-10

Conference: Mountain West

Winning four of their last five, the Rams lost to New Mexico in the Mountain West Tournament semifinal after wins over San Jose State and 23rd-ranked Nevada. Senior guard Isaiah Stevens (16.5 points, 7 rebounds per game) possesses the ability to score but also facilitate the ball with ease — a valuable skill in March.

No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers

Record: 24-8

Conference: SEC

Featuring a physical defense, the Volunteers are primed for a lasting tournament run despite losing two in a row, including a 73-56 loss to Mississippi State in SEC Tournament semifinal. They had won nine out of ten games leading up to the first week of March and looked dominant while doing so.

No. 15 Saint Peter’s Peacocks

Record: 19-13

Conference: Metro Atlantic Athletic

Two years ago, the Peacocks became the first 15-seed to make the Elite Eight. Back in the NCAA tourney once again thanks to a MAAC Tournament sweep of Rider, Quinnipiac and Fairfield, the team will be reliant on sophomore forward Corey Washington (24 points vs. Fairfield).