Bracketball wants to make sure that you are properly prepared when you fill out your bracket this year! Earlier today, we looked at the First Four, taking place in Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday and Wednesday. We will start our First Round preview with the region that most experts are calling the toughest in the field, the South region. All statistics discussed are courtesy of ESPN and KenPom. First, here is another look at the bracket.
Des Moines, IA
#1 Kansas (30-4) vs #16 Austin Peay (18-17)
Thursday 3/17, approx. 4:00 pm TNT
Overview: The best team in the land is Kansas, and the enter the Tournament following an 81-71 win over West Virginia in the Big 12 Championship game. They are the odds-on favorite to win the National Championship, and their quest begins with a First Round match-up against the Austin Peay Colonials out of the OVC. The Colonials were the last team to make the OVC Tournament, and reeled off three straight upsets, including a semifinal win over top seed Belmont, to earn their berth in the Tournament.
Key Players: Kansas doesn’t have a superstar per se, but they have a lot of really talented players. Senior Perry Ellis and Juniors Frank Mason and Wayne Selden will look to avoid another early exit, after losing to Wichita State in the Second Round last season. Austin Peay is led by senior forward Chris Horton. Horton is one of the best rebounders in the country, averaging 12 boards a game to go along with 18.9 points per game.
Why KU will Win: Because no 16-seed has ever defeated a 1-seed, and it won’t start with the most balanced team in the nation. Kansas can beat you in so many different ways, and with an interior presence like Chris Horton, Kansas will probably rely more on their perimeter game, which is among the best in the nation. They shoot over 40 percent from three-point range, and I expect them to shoot their way past Austin Peay.
Why AP will Win: Well, they won’t, but they only way they have a chance is for Chris Horton to dominate in the paint. He is a terrific offensive rebounder, and he’ll need to clean up a lot of misses if the Colonials want to keep this game close. If Kansas has a weakness, it’s that they are susceptible to fouling. Austin Peay shoots just 67 percent from the line, and if they win, it’s because they improved on that number in a big way.
Des Moines, IA
#8 Colorado (22-11) vs #9 UConn (24-10)
Thursday 3/17, 1:30 pm TNT
Overview: UConn was a Bubble team coming into Championship Week, and after winning the American Championship (after needing a 60+ foot heave to send their quarterfinal game to a fourth overtime), the Huskies are a 9-seed, and are playing with a ton of confidence. They will square off with 8-seed Colorado from the Pac 12, a team that was kind of overlooked for much of the season. They quietly won 22 games, and will be a tough opponent for UConn.
Key Players: One of the best players in the Pac 12 this season was Colorado forward Josh Scott. Scott, a 6-10 senior, averages 16.1 points and 8.7 rebounds a game this season. He is pretty much the lone interior presence for the Buffaloes. UConn has a really good big man in Amida Brimah, but they are led by sophomore guard Daniel Hamilton. Hamilton is one of the best all-around players in the nation, averaging 12.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game.
Why COLO will Win: Despite a relative lack of size, the Buffaloes are really good on the boards, especially the defensive boards. They don’t give up a lot of second chances. Against Temple and Memphis over the weekend, UConn rebounded a ton of their own misses, but they won’t be able to do that against Colorado. The Buffaloes are also susceptible to turning the ball over, but even though the Huskies are a great defensive team, they do not force a lot of turnovers.
Why UCONN will Win: The Huskies are red hot right now coming off of their American Championship, and they are a very dangerous 9-seed. Daniel Hamilton played fantastic down the stretch, and freshman guard Jalen Adams really started to come into his own at the end of the year. He should be the next in a long line of great UConn guards. The reason UConn will win is because they are the more dominant defensive team. This will be a low scoring game, and that is totally fine with the Huskies.
#5 Maryland (25-8) vs #12 South Dakota State (26-7)
Friday 3/18, approx. 4:30 pm TBS
Overview: Maryland entered this season with very lofty expectations, but they haven’t really lived up to them yet. They finished 3rd in the Big Ten and lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten semifinals. They are still extremely talented, and are primed for a deep run in the Tournament. Their first test will come from the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, the winners of the Summit League. South Dakota State is one of the more talented mid-major teams in the field, and definitely won’t go down quietly.
Key Players: Maryland is led by NBA prospects Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone, as well as transfers Rasheed Sulaimon from Duke and Robert Carter from Georgia Tech. Jake Layman is an experienced forward for the Terrapins. This has been the year of the senior in college basketball, but South Dakota State is powered by one of the most talented freshmen in the nation, forward Mike Daum. Despite playing just over 20 minutes a game, Daum leads the team in scoring 15.2 points per game.
Why MARY will Win: Before the season started, many people were picking Maryland to advance to the Final Four and contend for a National Championship. There have been struggles along the way, but Maryland is one of the most talented teams in the country. Free throw shooting and guard play are two keys to success in March. Trimble and Sulaimon team up to form one of the best backcourts in the nation, and as a team, the Terrapins shoot 76 percent from the line, one of the best marks in America.
Why SDSU will Win: That stats do not favor the Jackrabbits in this match-up, but sometimes the stats really don’t matter. South Dakota State will not be afraid of the Terrapins, and we all know that Maryland has struggled at times this year. They lost to Minnesota, a team that South Dakota State defeated by 14 early this season.
#4 California (23-10) vs #13 Hawaii (27-5)
Friday 3/18, 2:00 pm TBS
Overview: One of the hottest teams in the country down the home stretch was the California Golden Bears. Cuonzo Martin’s young group struggled at times in the early going, but really started to gel at the end of the regular season into the postseason. They lost to Utah in overtime in the Pac 12 semifinals. Here they’ll take on one of the most talented mid-major teams in the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. Hawaii has self-imposed a postseason ban for next season, so they’ll be looking to make the most of their opportunity in 2016.
Key Players: Cal has five players that average double figures, including senior leader Tyrone Wallace (15.3 ppg) and freshman phenoms Ivan Rabb (12.5 ppg) and Jaylen Brown (15.0 ppg). Along with Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird, this is a formidable team that could definitely reach the Final Four. Hawaii has an offensive star in forward Stefan Jankovic (15.7 ppg, 39.5% 3pt), and a defensive stud in guard Roderick Bobbitt (2.2 spg).
Why CAL will Win: This young Bears team has lofty goals, and luckily for them, they have a senior leader in Tyrone Wallace that could carry them to a deep run. These are two teams known for their defense, but Cal could be one of the top defensive teams in the country. They are 15th in the nation in defensive efficiency, and they hold their opponents to a very low field goal percentage inside the arc. Hawaii likes to play inside the arc, so they could be in for some trouble.
Why HAW will Win: Hawaii is another team that gets it done on the defensive end, so this game figures to be pretty low scoring. Hawaii took Oklahoma down to the wire earlier this season, losing by just three points. They were able to keep the Sooners’ shooters in check for the most part, so if they can force Cal into a lot of perimeter shooting, they could come out victorious.
#6 Arizona (25-8) vs #11 Vanderbilt/Wichita State
Thursday 3/17, approx. 9:20 pm TNT
Overview: It has been a disappointing season for Arizona, but this is a team talented enough to make some noise in this tourney. They are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country, but they have been inconsistent for much of the year.
Key Players: Kaleb Tarczewski is a big interior presence for the Wildcats, but they are led offensively by sharpshooter Gabe York, freshman Allonzo Trier and Boston College-transfer Ryan Anderson, who each average over 15 points a game this season.
*Rest of game preview will be completed following Vandy/WSU game Tuesday*
#3 Miami FL (25-7) vs #14 Buffalo (20-14)
Thursday 3/17, 6:50 pm TNT
Overview: This team has flown a little under the radar this year, but Miami is definitely a team that could make a run to a National Championship. In a year with a lot of really good upperclassmen, Miami has one of the oldest, most experienced teams in the country. They’ll be taking on the Buffalo Bulls, who are back in the Tournament for a second consecutive season. Last year, under Arizona State Head Coach Bobby Hurley, the Bulls nearly upset West Virginia in the First Round. They’ll look to shock Miami this year under new head man Nate Oats.
Key Players: The Hurricanes are led by a three-headed monster of seniors in center Tonye Jekiri, Texas-transfer guard Sheldon McClellan and Kansas State-transfer point guard Angel Rodriguez. These guys can really get it done on both ends of the floor. For Buffalo, their leading scorer is guard Lamonte Bearden at 13.6 points per game, but they wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for junior forward Blake Hamilton, who hit a game-winning three pointer in the waning seconds of the MAC Championship Game against Akron.
Why MIA will Win: This is another game that will see a major clash in styles. The Hurricanes like to play at a methodical pace, while the Bulls want to get out and run in transition. Some teams would be capable of speeding up if they have to, but for Miami to be successful, they need to make Buffalo play at their pace. They are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the nation, so they just need to play their game, and they should be fine.
Why UB will Win: On the other side of the coin, Buffalo needs to speed this game up to have a chance. Angel Rodriguez is the primary ball handler for the Hurricanes, and he’s probably the only player that would be comfortable playing fast. The other reason Buffalo needs to speed the game up is to neutralize Tonye Jekiri. In a half court set, the Bulls will have a tough time scoring in the paint. The best way for them to score is to get out in transition.
#7 Iowa (21-10) vs #10 Temple (21-11)
Friday 3/18, approx. 3:10 pm TruTV
Overview: There are a few teams in this field who have struggled at the end of the season, but maybe none more than Iowa. Just a month ago, Iowa looked like a contender for a 1-seed in this field. That team would end up losing five of their last seven regular season games, and then were upset by Illinois in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. They meet a Temple team that many didn’t expect to make the field after losing to UConn in the semis of the American Tournament. The Owls were the regular season champs in the conference, and have beaten the likes of UConn, Cincinnati and SMU this season.
Key Players: Iowa is led by Player of the Year candidate Jarred Uthoff, who is averaging 18.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. Point guard Mike Gesell (6.3 assists per game) and forward Peter Jok (16.2 ppg) are big time performers as well. For Temple, it’s a pair of seniors who were disappointed to be left out of the Tournament last year that will look to advance the Owls this season. Guard Quentin DeCosey is the team’s leading scorer at 15.6 points per game, and forward Jaylen Bond is a force inside, averaging 10.2 points and 8.3 rebounds a game.
Why Iowa will Win: On the surface, it doesn’t appear to be a good match-up for the Hawkeyes when it comes to the stats. But based on the eye test, Iowa is the more talented team in this game. They defeated Michigan State twice this year, and if they can get back to the way they played in the middle of the season, they should win this game no problem. Jaylen Bond is a good defender, but as a team, the Owls struggle to defend the paint. Adam Woodbury and Jarred Uthoff will have to do a lot of work at the rim if Iowa is going to win this game.
Why TEM will Win: Fran Dunphy is one of the best coaches in the nation, and he will have this team ready to go. Playing into Temple’s favor in this match-up is their perimeter defense. Iowa shoots a good percentage from behind the arc, and they do a lot of their damage from distance, but Temple has one of the best perimeter defenses in the country. If they play a slow game and force Iowa into contested threes, the Owls will have a shot.
#2 Villanova (29-5) vs #15 UNC Asheville (22-11)
Friday 3/18, 12:40 pm TruTV
Overview: Villanova is once again a top-seed in the NCAA Tournament, but all they hear about is their postseason struggles. After winning the Big East Tournament last year and earning a 1-seed, they failed to reach the second weekend of the Tournament for the second year in a row. This might be the best team that Jay Wright has had, and they are looking to buck the trend of bowing out early. The team looking to continue the trend is UNC Asheville out of the Big South Conference. The Bulldogs are a very young team that will look to show the country that experience doesn’t always mean everything.
Key Players: Villanova guard Josh Hart is one of the best all-around players in the country (and was snubbed for Big East POTY if you ask me). He averages 15.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, and he is difficult to deal with. This is the end of the road for senior point guard Ryan Arcidiacono, who has been around for all of this team’s postseason struggles. Nobody wants to make a deep run more than he does. While UNC Asheville is known for their defense, they have five players that average double figures in scoring, led by freshman guard Dylan Smith, who is scoring 13.5 points per game.
Why NOVA will Win: This team is on a mission. They fell to Seton Hall in the Big East Championship Game, but all of their losses this year are to really good teams, and they are primed to make a run at a National Title. They are one of the most efficient teams offensively and defensively, and a young team like UNC Asheville will probably be a little overwhelmed. Nova settles for too many three-point shots at times, and they will be best served feeding the ball into Daniel Ochefu and Darryl Reynolds and letting them take advantage of a very small Bulldog team.
Why UNCA will Win: If they can keep the ball on the perimeter, believe it or not, they will have a chance. Villanova shoots a lot of threes, but UNC Asheville is 2nd in the nation in defending the arc, as teams shoot just over 28 percent from distance against them. Villanova is a good enough team to know that and not settle for jumpers, but if the Bulldogs play well, they might have to settle for jumpers, and that will give Asheville a shot at the upset.
That does it for a look at how the First Round in the South Region could shake down, next up will be the East Region and 1-seed North Carolina.