COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Utah State and Washington didn't think it would take so long to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
Both schools are making their first appearances since 2011, and they happen to be playing each other in a first-round game on Friday night. It's not as if they're strangers to March Madness, they've just had extended droughts.
Utah State (28-6) made it for the 21st time going all the way back to 1939, but hasn't won a tournament game since 2001.
Their No. 8 seed this year is the highest in school history, a prize for sweeping the Mountain West regular season and conference tournament. Washington (26-8) , the No. 9 seed, has been here 17 times, advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2006 and 2010.
But it's been a long eight years. The current players were in middle school or getting ready for it then.
"They had some really good years in the past where the fan base was really behind it, selling out almost every single game," Aggies sophomore guard Abel Porter said.
"And I think we all saw that and kind of wanted to be a part of bringing it back. And I think that's what brought a lot of us to Utah State."
HEY, IT COULD HAPPEN
The first upset of a No. 1 seed by a No. 16 seed in NCAA Tournament history last season sent shivers through players on the country's elite teams, whether they want to admit it or not.
University of Maryland-Baltimore County — UMBC — shook up the brackets by routing No. 1 seed Virginia in the first round last year.
If history is any indication, North Carolina coach Roy Williams isn't going to let No. 16 Iona sneak up on the top-seeded Tar Heels. He's unbeaten in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 14 tries at North Carolina.
Not only that, the Tar Heels are 20-0 against No. 15 and No. 16 seeds in the tournament. North Carolina is a No. 1 seed for the 17th time, despite losing to Duke 74-73 in an ACC Tournament semifinal.
The Iona Gaels of New Rochelle, New York, are 17-15 and have some pretty good shooters, but a leaky defense.
The teams play in an opening round Midwest Region game Friday night in Columbus.
North Carolina's Kenny Williams said he and his teammates watched the upset of Virginia together last year.
"I'd say shocked was what it was," the senior guard said. "But we told each other, let's not let that be us."
RELYING ON KALEB
The story of Ohio State basketball this season has been center Kaleb Wesson . As Wesson goes, so go the Buckeyes.
The sophomore is the team's top scorer (14.4 ppg) and only dominant inside player. When he drew double teams in the Big Ten play, he opened up shots for his teammates.
When he didn't play well or got into foul trouble, Ohio State (19-14) usually faltered. When he was suspended for an undisclosed rule violation for the last three games of the season, the Buckeyes lost them all.
He was back for the Big Ten tournament and helped Ohio State take down Indiana in a game that was critical for the Buckeyes' NCAA Tournament hopes.
Ohio State, the No. 11 seed, plays No. 6 seed Iowa State (23-11) on Friday.
"Kaleb Wesson is No. 1," Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said. "That's what people talk about, the size, the physicality, ability to score, how you going to defend him. You have to make a decision on that."
COREY ON A TEAR
Senior guard Corey Davis Jr. will try to score in double figures for the 14th straight game when No. 3-seed Houston (31-3) faces No. 14 Georgia State (24-9).
Davis leads the team in scoring (16.7) and has averaged 20.1 points in that 13-game span. Houston won the American Athletic Conference regular season, but fell to Cincinnati in the final of the conference tournament.
Georgia State, winners of the Sun Belt Conference, is making back-to-back NCAA appearances for the first time in program history.
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