The first two games in the 2016 NCAA Tournament took place last night in Dayton, with Florida Gulf Coast and Wichita State advancing to the First Round. Bracketball has been previewing the First Round over the last few days, and today, we’ve reached the fourth and final region, the West Region, which will have its semifinals and finals in Anaheim, California.
The 1-seed in the West is the undisputed 2016 Pac 12 Champions, the Oregon Ducks. Some experts question whether the Ducks were deserved of a 1-seed over the likes of Michigan State, Oklahoma and Villanova. You know the Ducks will take that and play with a giant chip on their shoulder.
As with the rest of the previews, any statistics are courtesy of ESPN and KenPom. Here is one more look at the bracket in its entirety.
#1 Oregon (28-6) vs #16 Holy Cross/Southern
Friday 3/18, 7:27 pm TruTV
Overview: What an end to the season for the Oregon Ducks. They played terrific in Pac 12 competition, winning the regular season title over Utah, then they went and just wiped the Utes off the MGM Grand Arena floor in the Pac 12 Title Game, winning 88-57, their third victory over Utah this year. This team likes to play fast, and the put up a ton of points. There a difficult match-up for almost any team, and certainly for either Holy Cross or Southern.
Key Players: You can look back to my First Four preview to see the key players for HC and Southern, but for Oregon, they don’t necessarily have a star player, just a lot of really good players. Guard/forward Dillon Brooks is the emotional leader for this group, and he’s their leading scorer at 15.7 points per game. Freshman guard Tyler Dorsey is their sharpshooter, shooting over 43 percent from long range while scoring over 13 a game. And JUCO-transfer forward Chris Boucher is a force defensively, as he blocks 3.1 shots per game, one of the best marks in the country.
Why ORE will Win: As I’ve said in my other previews, a 16 has never defeated a 1, and I don’t see it starting with a team as talented as Oregon.
#8 St. Joseph’s (27-7) vs #9 Cincinnati (22-10)
Friday 3/18, approx. 9:57 pm TruTV
Overview: St. Joe’s looked like a tournament team for much of the second half of the season, but they solidified their spot with a win over VCU in the A-10 Championship Game. This is arguably the most talented group Phil Martelli has had since Jameer Nelson and Delonte West led the Hawks to an undefeated regular season in 2004. On the other side, you have a Cincinnati team that made the Tournament despite losing a thriller in four overtimes to UConn in the American quarterfinals. Many thought that might eliminate the Bearcats, but they’ve earned a 9-seed instead.
Key Players: The Hawks are led by a legit NBA prospect in forward DeAndre Bembry. Bembry is extremely athletic, and he averages 17.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game this season. Along with Isaiah Miles (18.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg), the Hawks have a really talented frontcourt. Junior guard Troy Caupain is the offensive star for Cincinnati. Caupain this season is averaging 13.2 points and 4.8 assists per game. If he struggles, the team usually does too.
Why SJU will Win: They are playing with all sorts of confidence right now. They were nearly defeated by George Washington in the A-10 quarterfinals, and then pretty easily handled Dayton and VCU. They are extremely athletic, and they value the basketball more than most teams. Cincinnati is very good defensively, especially in the paint, so for St. Joe’s to win, they’ll need to avoid turning the ball over, and they’ll need to make jump shots.
Why CIN will Win: As I just mentioned, Cincinnati has one of the best interior defenses in the nation, and that could cause some problems for the Hawks. St. Joe’s can make jump shots though, so Cincinnati needs to put a lot of pressure on the ball to force turnovers and contested jumpers. That will give them the best chance to come out on top. If Cincinnati can slow the game down to their pace, they’ll be in good shape.
#5 Baylor (22-11) vs #12 Yale (22-6)
Thursday 3/17, approx. 2:45 pm CBS
Overview: What an incredible accomplishment it is for Coach James Jones and the Bulldogs to be able to get to this point. Yale is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1962, and they will take on the Baylor Bears out of the Big 12. Baylor is a very talented team, but they just couldn’t get past the class of the Big 12, going 0-7 against Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia.
Key Players: Both teams have several talented players, but for the purposes of this game, the key is going to be on the glass. For Baylor, that is Rico Gathers’s department. Gathers, a 6-8 senior who has already made clear his intentions to pursue a career in the NFL after the season, leads the team in boards at 9.1 per game. He’ll be battling with 6-6 senior forward Brandon Sherrod for the Bulldogs. Sherrod is second on the team in rebounding with 7.1 per, but he is the biggest body on the team, so he’ll be the one banging with Gathers.
Why BAY will Win: These teams play a very similar style. They both want to play a slow pace, and they are both very good on the boards. The difference comes with Baylor being the better offensive team, while Yale is better on the defensive end. I think that is good news for Baylor. The Bears are the more athletic team, and they’re more talented. Yale defends the paint well, but they’ll have trouble with the size of the Bears’ frontcourt. If Rico Gathers and Johnathan Motley play well, Baylor wins this game.
Why Yale will Win: The thing Yale has going for them is that they have nothing to lose. They’re in the Tournament for the first time in over 50 years, so it’s a huge accomplishment just to be playing in this game. If Yale wants to move on to the Second Round, I think they’ll need to make shots. Baylor gives up a lot of open looks from three in their 1-3-1 zone defense, and Yale shoots a good percentage from distance. If they can make shots, they could very easily outscore Baylor and win this game.
#4 Duke (23-10) vs #13 UNC Wilmington (25-7)
Thursday 3/17, 12:15 pm CBS
Overview: The First Round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament will kick off tomorrow on St. Patty’s Day with Duke and UNC Wilmington going at it in Providence. It’s been a strange season for the Blue Devils. They lost four of five games at one point, and people weren’t sure if they’d even make the Tournament, but they turned it on eventually. They do limp into the tourney though, having lost four of their last seven games. UNC Wilmington is a hot team on the other hand, having won 16 of their last 18 games, including a victory over top-seed Hofstra in the CAA finals.
Key Players: You probably hate him, but sophomore guard Grayson Allen is the whole show for Duke. Many expected freshman star Brandon Ingram to be that guy, but he’s been way too inconsistent for them to rely on him. Allen averages over 21 points a game for Duke, and he’ll have to shoulder the load if they’re going to make a run. Junior guard Chris Flemmings is the leader for the Seahawks, averaging 16.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. The Seahawks like to play small, and they spread the wealth among their guards.
Why Duke will Win: All season, this has felt like one of those Duke teams that will be overseeded in the Tournament (they are) and will probably go out early (we’ll see). That being said, Duke is just flat out more talented than UNC Wilmington. The Seahawks like to play small, and Marshall Plumlee has played better lately for Duke. I’d expect them to try to play in the paint to take advantage of UNC Wilmington’s lack of size. If they don’t, Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram will just probably take over this game.
Why UNCW will Win: Duke might be the worst defensive team in this tournament. There have been many games this year where it looks like they aren’t even trying to play defense. UNC Wilmington is a very efficient team offensively, and if they come out aggressive, they could get out in front of the Blue Devils. Duke lacks size as well, and they give up a lot of points inside the arc, where UNC Wilmington does most of their damage. They’ll need to be aggressive offensively if they want to pull off the upset.
Oklahoma City, OK
#6 Texas (20-12) vs #11 Northern Iowa (22-12)
Friday 3/18, approx. 9:50 pm TBS
Overview: Shaka Smart has done an incredible job in his first season at the helm of the Texas Longhorns. They don’t play as fast as his VCU teams did, but they are just as good defensively as those teams were. They have wins over North Carolina, Oklahoma and West Virginia (twice), so they know how to beat the top teams. Another team that has some huge wins this year is the team they’re up against in the First Round, the Northern Iowa Panthers. Northern Iowa also defeated North Carolina this season, and they also have a win over Iowa State, as well as two victories over Wichita State. This will be a great game.
Key Players: The most talented player for Texas is junior guard Isaiah Taylor. Taylor is averaging 14.8 points per game, which leads the team, and he also posts 4.9 assists per contest. He is the straw that stirs the drink for the Longhorns. On the other side, Wes Washpun is a name you’ll want to become familiar with. Washpun averages 14.3 points and 5.2 assists per game for the Panthers, and he is extremely clutch. He hit a jumper from the top of the key as time expired to defeat Evansville in the MVC title game to get Northern Iowa to the Tournament.
Why TEX will Win: Texas played the toughest schedule in the nation according to KenPom, so they will be more than ready for the bright lights of the NCAA Tournament. This team is great defensively, and they don’t give up a lot from the perimeter. Prince Ibeh is a great interior presence, but Texas is best defending jump shooters. Northern Iowa likes to shoot a lot of jump shots, and that should play right into the hands of the Longhorns.
Why UNI will Win: Northern Iowa has lost to teams like Colorado State, New Mexico, Missouri State and Loyola-Chicago this season, but the Panthers play up to their competition. Texas is a really good team, and that means that Northern Iowa is likely to step it up because of that. The Panthers struggle on the offensive boards, so they’ll need to make shots if they’re going to win this game.
Oklahoma City, OK
#3 Texas A&M (26-8) vs #14 Green Bay (23-12)
Friday 3/18, 7:20 pm TBS
Overview: Texas A&M has had a terrific season, losing to Kentucky in the SEC Championship game, but earning a higher seed in the NCAA’s than the Wildcats. That shows you how good certain people think this team is. In the First Round, they’ll take on the Green Bay Phoenix, who are one of the most fun teams to watch in this field. Green Bay plays faster on offense than any team in the country according to KenPom, and they’ll look to turn this game into a track meet.
Key Players: A pair of transfers lead the way for the Aggies. Danuel House started his career at Houston, and now he is one of the leading scorers for Texas A&M at 15.5 points per game. Also averaging 15.5 points per game this year for the Aggies is SMU-transfer Jalen Jones. These two guys are really good, and they’ll look to lead Texas A&M deep into this tournament. On the other side, Green Bay is led by a couple seniors in guard Carrington Love and forward Jordan Fouse. Fouse scores 12.8 points and corrals 8.4 rebounds per game, while Love is terrific both offensively and defensively, scoring 17.7 points per game, and getting over 2.5 steals a game.
Why A&M will Win: Texas A&M is one of the best defensive teams in the country, and they’ll have to be on Friday if they’re going to slow down the Phoenix. Green Bay likes to play at the rim, and Texas A&M has some really good interior defenders in Jones and freshman Tyler Davis. If the Aggies can slow the game down a little, and force Green Bay into contested jump shots and not allow them to get into the lane, they should get the victory.
Why GB will Win: Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good the defense you’re playing is when you play at lightning speed like Green Bay does. They will take the first open shot they get, so it will be paramount for Texas A&M to keep the pressure on. If Green Bay can speed this game up and not turn the ball over, I could definitely see them pulling off the upset.
Oklahoma City, OK
#7 Oregon State (19-12) vs #10 VCU (24-10)
Friday 3/18, 1:30 pm TNT
Overview: The Selection Committee was very kind to the Pac 12 this year, and one of the biggest beneficiaries were the Oregon State Beavers. A team with 12 losses, that I had pegged as a true Bubble team ended up with a 7-seed, way out of Bubble territory. They’re a good team, but maybe not 7-seed good. They’ll take on the VCU Rams who haven’t skipped a beat after losing coach Shaka Smart to Texas. New head man Will Wade is bringing another really good defensive team into the Big Dance.
Key Players: The point guard for Oregon State has a name that may be familiar. Gary Payton II runs the show for the Beavers, and as you can tell by the name, he is the son of “The Glove.” Payton is a fantastic player across the board, averaging a team-leading 15.9 points per game to go along with 7.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.5 steals per game. For VCU, senior guard Melvin Johnson will be finishing off his stellar career in the NCAA Tournament, but he may be less than 100 percent, as he banged up his foot in the A-10 Tournament. Johnson leads the Rams in scoring at 17.4 points per game.
Why OSU will Win: Gary Payton II is more than capable of shouldering the load for the Beavers, and if he takes over this game, there might not be anything VCU can do. Oregon State may be without second leading-scorer Tres Tinkle, who has not played in the last four games. If Oregon State can take care of the ball and make threes, something that they are very efficient in doing, they can defeat VCU.
Why VCU will Win: If Oregon State is without Tinkle, the coach’s son, in this game, the pressure that VCU’s guards will put on Payton and Tinkle’s replacement could be too much to handle. Despite being 6-8, Tinkle is a great ball handler. VCU may be licking their chops if Tinkle doesn’t play, and that spells bad news for the Beavers. VCU likes to play at the rim, and Oregon State can struggle to defend the paint at times. That should be the gameplan for the Rams if they want to move on to the Second Round.
Oklahoma City, OK
#2 Oklahoma (25-7) vs #15 CSU Bakersfield (24-8)
Friday 3/18, approx. 4:00 pm TNT
Overview: Seniors and shooting. That is how Oklahoma has gotten it done this season, and they are National Championship or bust. An early season blowout of Villanova set the tone for how this season could be for the Sooners, and then wins over Iowa State, West Virginia and Baylor proved that this was one of the best teams in the nation. It has been a rough start in Division I basketball for D-II power CSU Bakersfield, but they have finally made the NCAA Tournament for the first time this year after knocking off New Mexico State in the WAC finals.
Key Players: Buddy Hield is likely the National Player of the Year, and for good reason. Hield averages 25 points per game for the Sooners, most of any major conference player. He also shoots an incredible 46.4 percent from three-point range. Along with fellow seniors Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler, this group is looking to make a deep run in the tourney this year. The Roadrunners are one of just a couple teams in the field who have five players averaging double-figures in scoring, led by senior forward Aly Ahmed at 12.9 points per game. 5-10 junior point guard Dedrick Basile was huge for the Roadrunners in the WAC final against NMSU, and he’ll need to be spectacular once again if Bakersfield has any shot in this game.
Why OU will Win: I just cannot imagine Buddy Hield losing the NCAA opener in his final season to a 15-seed. It just won’t happen. Oklahoma has too much firepower on offense for the Roadrunners to handle.
Why CSB will Win: While Oklahoma is a great team, all it will take is one off shooting night from the Sooners and they could be done. KenPom rates CSU Bakersfield as one of the top-30 defensive teams in the nation, but they are best at defending inside the arc. Oklahoma is deadly from behind the arc. If the Roadrunners can force some missed jumpers, they have a slight chance in this one.
And we have now previewed each of the First Round games in this year’s NCAA Tournament! Thursday and Friday are going to be jam packed with excitement, so make sure you have your sick voice ready when you call into work to get the day off! We’ll have another post on Friday with a preview of the 2nd round games taking place on Saturday.