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Introducing the eight NCAA tournament teams in Buffalo

Eight NCAA tournament teams will play their first-round games at Buffalo's KeyBank Center on Thursday. (Aidan Joly/The Griffin)

For the first time since 2017, March Madness is back in Buffalo. KeyBank Center will host six games across Thursday and Saturday, with four first round games and two second round games. Eight teams have been sent here, so here’s a brief overview of each team and matchup heading into Thursday.

Midwest Region: (4) Providence vs (13) South Dakota State, 12:40 p.m.

Providence Friars: 25-5, 14-3 Big East

Head coach: Ed Cooley, 11th season

Leading scorer: Nate Watson (Sr.): 13.8 PPG

Providence is having its best season in decades. It already has 25 wins, something the program has not done since the 1986-87 season, when a guy named Rick Pitino took the Friars to the Final Four. The Friars won the Big East regular season title with a team that is known for strong play down the stretches of games, 11 of its 25 wins coming by five points or less. They don’t boast a true star, but they have four players who average double digit points a game and another who averages 9.6 in Noah Horchler. The Friars have only advanced past the first round once since 1997 in seven tries.

They said it: “We added a couple of players that continue to foster our identity… I have been coaching in college basketball for 28 years and I can say this is the most connected group I’ve ever coached. It’s the [most fun] group I’ve ever coached. It’s one of the toughest groups I’ve ever coached.” -head coach Ed Cooley

South Dakota State Jackrabbits: 30-4, 18-0 Summit League

Head coach: Eric Henderson, 3rd season

Leading scorer: Douglas Wilson (Sr.), 16.5 PPG

The Jackrabbits are one of the best mid-major teams in the country. They have not lost a game since December 15 and only lost four the entire season, two of them coming to high-major opponents. It flew through the conference, one of only two teams in the country to go undefeated in conference play, Murray State being the other. It has the best three-point percentage in the country at 44.2%. It also averages the second-most points of any team in the country at 86.7, only trailing Gonzaga. 13 of the team’s 30 wins this season have come by double digits.

They said it: “We just embraced every opportunity that we had that was right in front of us and that’s something that makes this group special.” -head coach Eric Henderson

Midwest Region: (5) Iowa vs (12) Richmond, 3:10 p.m.

Iowa Hawkeyes: 26-9, 12-8 Big Ten

Head coach: Fran McCaffery, 12th season

Leading scorer: Keegan Murray (So.), 23.3 PPG

The Hawkeyes are one of the hottest teams in college basketball right now. Since a loss to Penn State on January 31, Iowa is 12-2, including firing off four wins in four days at the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis last week. This has resulted in this group being a sleeper Final Four pick in many pools. Star forward Keegan Murray was named as a first-team All-American on Wednesday after averaging 23.6 points and 8.6 rebounds a game this year, while veteran guard Jordan Bohannon continues to be one of the best sidekicks in the nation.

They said it: “Me and Keegan had a moment after we won the Big Ten title. He pretty much just said briefly that this is why you come back right here as the confetti was falling and that’s when all the emotions kind of hit me and Keegan and everyone else on the team that we worked so hard this offseason to accomplish that goal and as well as make a deep run into March Madness.” -Jordan Bohannon

Richmond Spiders: 23-12, 10-8 Atlantic 10

Head coach: Chris Mooney, 17th season

Leading scorer: Tyler Burton (Jr.), 16.3 PPG

The Spiders caught some lighting in a bottle at last week’s Atlantic 10 tournament, entering it as the No. 6 seed and rattling off four wins in as many days to clinch the league’s autobid and the program’s first tournament appearance since 2011. Keep an eye out for guard Jacob Gilyard, who is listed at a generous 5’9” but plays like he’s about 6’4.” He set the NCAA record for career steals earlier this year and plays in 95.7% of possible minutes, good for second in the country.

They said it: “These guys have been in so many games. We’ve been in games where we’ve been ahead, behind, overtime games. We can draw a lot upon that experience.” -head coach Chris Mooney

West Region: (5) Connecticut vs (12) New Mexico State, 6:50 p.m.

Connecticut Huskies: 23-9, 13-6 Big East

Head coach: Dan Hurley, 4th season

Leading scorer: RJ Cole (Sr.), 15.7 PPG

In the 2018-19 season, the UConn program finished 6-12 in American Athletic Conference play and was nowhere close to the NCAA tournament. Look at them now. Its second year in the return to the Big East produced a great season and the program’s second straight tournament bid. RJ Cole was one of the top players in the Big East this year, averaging 15.7 points per game and shooting 34% from three. Adama Sonogo and Tyrese Martin are also very good pieces. The Huskies lost to Villanova in the conference tournament semifinal. The strength of this team is rebounding, part of that being leading the country in offensive rebounds, so look for that to be the key to success in a win tomorrow night.

They said it: “This group will always be remembered for lifting this program from a really, really embarrassing bad point. Nowhere near contention for any type of postseason tournament to a program that’s going to end the season nationally ranked, has played at the top of the Big East.” -head coach Dan Hurley

New Mexico State Aggies: 26-6, 14-4 Western Athletic

Head coach: Chris Jans, 5th season

Leading scorer: Teddy Allen (Jr.), 19.3 PPG

The thing with this Aggies squad is that they are physical and big. Nobody in the starting lineup is under 6’4”. They are also solid defensively, 20th in the nation in opponent effective field goal percentage, according to KenPom. In a much stronger Western Athletic Conference this year, the Aggies went 14-4 in a league that boasts some of the best mid-major teams on the west coast, including Seattle, Stephen F. Austin and Grand Canyon. The team’s leading scorer, Teddy Allen, is a former star at Nebraska who has done more of the same this year.

They said it: “At the end of the day, tomorrow at 6:50, we’re going to tip the ball and get after it for 40 minutes and try to figure out a way to win the game,” -head coach Chris Jans

West Region: (4) Arkansas vs (13) Vermont, 9:20 p.m.

Arkansas Razorbacks: 25-8, 13-5 SEC

Head coach: Eric Musselman, 3rd season

Leading scorer: JD Notae (Sr.), 18.4 PPG

In a topsy-turvy SEC, the Razorbacks finished fourth in league play but in true SEC fashion, were stunned in a blowout loss to a Texas A&M team that didn’t even make the NCAA tournament in the conference tournament semifinal. Star senior JD Notae was held to five points on 2-8 shooting in that game. Despite that, Arkansas has been one of the better teams in the nation over the winter, losing just two more games in the regular season after starting SEC play 0-3. This program made a run to the Elite Eight one year ago.

They said it: “Part of our recruiting pitch is… we have the talent, we have the culture, where if you guys come to Arkansas, we’re going to give you an opportunity to play in this tournament. If we don’t make it, it’s going to be self-inflicted.” -head coach Eric Musselman

Vermont Catamounts: 28-5, 17-1 America East

Head coach: John Becker, 11th season

Leading scorer: Ryan Davis (Sr.), 17.2 PPG

A usual suspect in the tournament coming from a one-bid league, the Catamounts return to the NCAA tournament for the third time in the past five opportunities. It only lost one league game this year, coming to Hartford on February 14. It also blasted through the conference tournament, winning each game by at least 32 points: NJIT by 39 in the quarterfinals, Binghamton by 32 in the semis, then UMBC by 39 again in the final. 14 of the team’s 28 wins this year have come by 15 or more points. Part of that is a team clip of 36.4% from three, center Ryan Davis shooting 59% from the field and averaging 17.2 PPG, while guard Ben Shungu shoots 52.5% from the field and averages 16.2 PPG.

They said it: “It’s a community that loves the basketball team, cares about basketball, supports us. We have incredible fans and hopefully you’ll see that tomorrow with the turnout of Vermont fans who will hopefully be here.” -head coach John Becker

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