NCAA Tournament set, Zion coming back to Columbia with Duke

The NCAA Tournament was last in Columbia 49 years ago. March Madness is making a big return to the Midlands with the No. 1 overall seed in the tourney coming to Colonial Life Arena.

Zion Williamson will come back to his home state for the first time in his collegiate career, leading the ACC Tournament champion Duke Blue Devils to Colonial Life Arena Friday to play the winner of the 16-seed play-in game between North Carolina Central and North Dakota State.

Williamson averaged 27 points per game in Charlotte at the ACC Tourney, returning from missing the better part of six games from a sprained knee suffered when he blew out his sneaker 36 seconds into their home game against rival North Carolina on February 20. Duke defeated Syracuse, UNC, and Florida State to lift themselves to the top seed in the tournament, playing in the East Region. Tip is set for prime time at 7:00 p.m.

Opposing the winner of that game will be eight-seed VCU and nine-seed UCF, who will go after at approximately 9:30 p.m.

The South Region will also start at Colonial Life Arena, as top-seed Virginia highlights the early games Friday. UVA looks to redeem their historic loss in Charlotte last season to 16-seed UMBC when they face Gardner-Webb in their second game in the capital city this season. The Wahoos defeated the Gamecocks 69-52 on December 19.

Eight-seed Ole Miss and Irmo alum Devontae Shuler are also making a return to the Midlands looking to right the wrongs from their 79-64 loss to USC on February 19. They face nine-seed Oklahoma in their first round matchup at 12:30 p.m. opposite the Cavaliers and Runnin’ Bulldogs, who will go at approximately 3:00 p.m.

All first round games will take place on Friday while the second round will be played on Sunday.

Only one in-state team made the field of 68, as Southern Conference regular season and tournament champion Wofford will be a seven-seed in the Midwest region, facing 10-seed Seton Hall in Jacksonville. They are matched up with the (2) Kentucky and (15) Abilene Christian.

While South Carolina missed out on March Madness, Gamecock transfer Seede Keita will get a chance to play in his first NCAA Tournament since the 2017 Final Four run with St. John’s when the Red Storm face Arizona State in an 11-seed play in game in Dayton Wednesday.

Former Crestwood star Ja Morant, who led 12-seed Murray State to the Ohio Valley Conference Title, will face five-seed Marquette in Hartford Thursday.

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