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NCAA Tournament First Four Preview: Will Kansas State or Wake Forest Advance?

Wake Forest brings their high-powered offense to Dayton Tuesday, where they should have their hands full against a strong Kansas State defense.

The best time of the year is here again and the Madness will officially kick off Tuesday in Dayton.

New Orleans and Mount St. Mary's -- both 16 seeds -- are set to square off in the opening game of the First Four at 6:40pm for the right to face Villanova, the reigning national champion and top overall seed. In the evening’s second game, Wake Forest will face Kansas State in a battle of 11 seeds, with 6 seed Cincinnati waiting to face the winner.

Mount St. Mary’s rebounded from a 1-11 start to finish the year on an 18-4 run en route to the Northeast Conference regular season and tournament titles. While it’s presumably tempting to build some kind of narrative from this turnaround, it certainly seems like this was nothing more than the Mountaineers playing to their schedule -- their non-conference strength of schedule was the seventh most difficult in the nation, while the NEC was rated the third-weakest conference, according to KenPom.

New Orleans’ season took on a similar shape, as the Privateers went 2-6 in their first eight games against Division I competition and played the nation’s 17th-most difficult non-league schedule. They then went on to win the Southland regular season and tournament championships.

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The night’s matchup of Power Conference teams features a pair of clubs the predictive metrics liked considerably more than their win-loss records might have indicated. The Demon Deacons and Wildcats both lost 13 games apiece, but Wake Forest is 30th in our power ratings and Kansas State is 32nd. Both ranked in the Top 20 in our strength of schedule metric, which partially explains the disconnect between their record and strong power rating.

Let's see who has the advantage of the eve of the NCAA Tournament officially tipping off.

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