2018 NCAA Tournament Preview: First Round – Friday 3/16

Radford and St. Bonaventure advanced to the First Round last night, and tonight two more teams will move on before the First Round kicks off on Thursday.

I gave you a look at the first day of games yesterday, and now I’m back with Day 2, another 16 NCAA Tournament games taking place in Charlotte, Nashville, San Diego and Detroit.

*All statistics mentioned are courtesy of KenPom.com and ESPN*

Friday, March 16

Early Afternoon:

Charlotte, NC (West Region)
#7 Texas A&M vs #10 Providence
12:15 pm, CBS
Spread:
Texas A&M (-3.5), O/U 139

texas am.jpg

Texas A&M Aggies
Record: 20-12
Leading Scorer: Tyler Davis (14.5 PPG, 8.8 RPG)
Other Key Players: Admon Gilder (12.2 PPG), Robert Williams (10.3 PPG, 9.0 RPG)
Key Stats: 12th in the nation in Defensive Efficiency; 11th in Defensive Block%; Average height of 78.8 inches (5th tallest team in Tournament)

The season kicked off in a major way for the Aggies when they dominated West Virginia 88-65 in Germany in the first game of the college basketball season. They would win 11 of their first 12 games in all, and were well on their way to being a force in the SEC. Then things came crashing down, with Texas A&M losing their first five conference games and seven of their first nine, dealing with a host of injuries and suspensions. When they have been at full strength, the Aggies have been a force, including wins over Kentucky, Alabama and a major road win over Auburn. Their height has given a lot of teams fits this season.

providence

Providence Friars
Record: 21-13
Leading Scorer: Rodney Bullock (14.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG)
Other Key Players: Alpha Diallo (13.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG), Kyron Cartwright (11.8 PPG, 5.7 APG)
Key Stats: Opponents shoot just 32.2% from 3-point range (22nd best in the nation); 77.2% Minutes Continuity this season (only two Tournament teams have a higher percentage)

Like Alabama, the Friars entered the postseason in a very precarious position on the Bubble. They needed to defeat Creighton, and they did (in overtime). Then in the semifinals, a win over Xavier would clinch their berth in the Tournament, and they beat them (in overtime). A title game win over Villanova would have sent the Friars into the Tournament with a ton of momentum. They didn’t get the job done (also in overtime), but this is a very scary 10-seed. They don’t have a ton of size, but there aren’t many teams in the country this year that have more pure athleticism than Ed Cooley’s bunch. They have a win over Villanova and two victories against Xavier, so we know they are capable of taking down the giants.

Matchup – Providence has returned a lot of production from the team that lost to USC in the First Four last season, so those players will be motivated to have some success in this go-round. Meanwhile, you have a Texas A&M team that is looking to finally reach the potential that many thought they had entering this season. If the Aggies can dominate the boards, the Friars could have a really difficult time coming out on top.

 

Detroit, MI (East Region)
#2 Purdue vs #15 Cal State Fullerton
12:40 pm, TruTV
Spread: 
Purdue (-20.5), O/U 145.5

purdue

Purdue Boilermakers
Record: 28-6
Leading Scorer: Carsen Edwards (18.5 PPG)
Other Key Players: Isaac Haas (14.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG), Vincent Edwards (14.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG)
Key Stats: 2nd in the nation in Offensive Efficiency; 2nd in 3-point Percentage (42.0%, best among Tournament teams)

Purdue was expected to be one of the top teams in the country this year, and they did not disappoint. They went 1-2 in the Battle 4 Atlantis, losing to Tennessee and Western Kentucky before getting a big win over Arizona. They then went on to win 19 straight games before a three-game losing streak in early February. They fell to Michigan in the Big Ten title game, so they have not played in over a week. They are a team set up for Tournament success though, as the best 3-point shooting team in the field with a lot of height and a solid defense. They really make their opponents work hard to get good looks on offense.

BWest Cal State Fullerton UC Irvine Basketball

Cal State Fullerton Titans
Record: 20-11
Leading Scorer: Kyle Allman (19.4 PPG)
Other Key Players: Jackson Rowe (12.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG)
Key Stats: Opponents shoot 76% from the free throw line (only one Tournament team is worse); Shoot nearly one free throw for every two field goal attempts (highest FTA/FGA rate in the country)

It’s really incredible what has taken place in the Big West lately with regards to their NCAA Tournament representative. There are nine teams in the Big West, and with CS Fullerton’s win in the title game this year, eight different teams have earned a Tournament berth out of the Big West in the last eight years. Cal State Northridge is the only team that has not won the conference in the last eight seasons. The Titans upset 1-seed UC Davis in the semis and 3-seed UC Irvine in the title game to get here. They are an extremely aggressive offensive team, which leads to their high number of free throws, but also their poor offensive turnover percentage.

Matchup – If Purdue comes out a little rusty, I could see CS Fullerton getting aggressive and taking an early lead, and then who knows what could happen? Purdue is a great 3-point shooting team, and that always helps come Tournament time. I think the Boilermakers just have too much firepower for the Titans, but stranger things have happened.

 

San Diego, CA (East Region)
#4 Wichita State vs #13 Marshall
1:30 pm, TNT
Spread: 
Wichita State (-12), O/U 165.5

wichita state

Wichita State Shockers
Record: 25-7
Leading Scorer: Landry Shamet (15.0 PPG, 5.1 APG)
Other Key Players: Shaq Morris (14.0 PPG)
Key Stats: 5th in the nation in Offensive Efficiency; Average experience of 2.36 years (most experienced team in the Tournament); 80.1% Minutes Continuity this season (2nd most among Tournament teams)

Wichita State made the move from the Missouri Valley to the American this season in hopes that it would improve their strength of schedule, in turn improving their chances to earn a higher seed in the Tournament. Mission accomplished, as a 25-7 Wichita State team would have never been a 4-seed if they played in the MVC. The Shockers proved that they can hang with some of the best teams in the country, scoring wins over Houston and Cincinnati in conference play. They are one of the best pure offensive teams in the nation. They average over one assist for every two made baskets, the second best rate among Tournament teams.

jon elmore

Marshall Thundering Herd
Record: 24-10
Leading Scorer: Jon Elmore (22.8 PPG, 6.9 APG, 6.0 RPG)
Other Key Players: C.J. Burks (20.5 PPG), Ajdin Penava (15.5 PPG, 8.6 RPG)
Key Stats: 6th in the nation in Adjusted Tempo (only two Tournament teams play faster); 15th in 2-point FG percentage (56.1%)

Middle Tennessee was the team everyone expected to win the Conference USA title and play in the Tournament, but teams like Western Kentucky and Old Dominion were seen as teams that could potentially upset the Blue Raiders and earn a berth. Everybody sort of wrote off Marshall, despite their season sweep of Middle Tennessee. Thankfully for them, Southern Miss was able to knock of MTSU in the quarters, allowing the Thundering Herd an easier game against the aforementioned Golden Eagles in the semifinals, and they then grinded out a victory over Western Kentucky in the title game. Head Coach Dan D’Antoni, older brother of Houston Rockets Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, has taken some principles from his brother, leading a very high-octane offensive team. Jon Elmore is one of the best all-around players in the entire country, so that helps as well.

Matchup – This could easily end up the highest scoring game of the First Round, and it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Defense optional in this one. Wichita State is good enough to make a deep run in the Tournament, but I think a lot of people are sleeping on Marshall. This game is going to start at 10:30 am local time in San Diego, and I think that could play a major factor. If the Shockers come out slow, the Herd could pull off the upset.

 

Nashville, TN (South Region)
#2 Cincinnati vs #15 Georgia State
2:00 pm, TBS
Spread: 
Cincinnati (-14), O/U 130.5

cincinnati

Cincinnati Bearcats
Record:
30-4
Leading Scorer: Gary Clark (13.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG)
Other Key Players: Jacob Evans (12.9 PPG)
Key Stats: 2nd in the nation in Defensive Efficiency; 3rd in Offensive Rebounding percentage (38.1%)

What a year for Mick Cronin and the Cincinnati Bearcats. This is probably the best team Cronin has had during his Cincinnati tenure. They started 7-0 before losing back-to-back games to Xavier and Florida. After that, they won 16 straight before back-to-back losses to Houston and Wichita State. And now they enter the Tournament having won seven in a row, including a gritty 56-55 victory over Houston in the American title game. This team is incredibly tenacious on the defensive end, Top-10 in the country in both 2-point percentage and 3-point percentage defense.

ron hunter

Georgia State Panthers
Record: 24-10
Leading Scorer: D’Marcus Simonds (21.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.5 APG)
Other Key Players: Devin Mitchell (12.2 PPG)
Key Stats: 22.1% of minutes played from non-starters (only two Tournament teams have a lower percentage of bench minutes); Shoot 39.1% from 3-point range

Ron Hunter is back in the Tournament! If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the Georgia State coach who back in 2015, injured his leg celebrating his team’s Sun Belt championship, then fell off his stool when his son RJ drilled a game-winning 3-pointer in the Tournament against 3-seed Baylor. Hunter is healthy this time around, but his team has a much taller task ahead of them. Luckily for him, he might have a player even better than his son in D’Marcus Simonds. A tremendous scorer, if he gets hot, Georgia State could get another shocking NCAA Tournament victory.

Matchup – Georgia State’s upset win over Baylor was an early start time game as well, so it wouldn’t surprise me all that much to see them join the ranks of 15-seeds who beat 2-seeds in the Tournament. However, Cincinnati is a much different animal than Baylor was back in 2015. The Bearcats are suffocating on defense, and I just have a hard time believing the Panthers will be able to score enough to win this game.

 

Late Afternoon:

Charlotte, NC (West Region)
#2 North Carolina vs #15 Lipscomb
Approx. 2:45 pm, CBS
Spread: 
North Carolina (-19.5), O/U 161.5

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Notre Dame

North Carolina Tar Heels
Record:
25-10
Leading Scorer: Luke Maye (17.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG)
Other Key Players: Joel Berry II (17.1 PPG), Theo Pinson (10.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 4.8 APG)
Key Stats: 4th in the nation in Offensive Efficiency; Played the toughest schedule in the country this season

It is incredibly rare to see a team with this many losses as high as a 2-seed, but that’s what we get with the amount of parity in the game this season. Despite 10 losses, North Carolina is a clear contender to repeat as National Champions. Luke Maye is a great big man, Joel Berry is one of the best floor generals in the country and Theo Pinson does a little bit of everything for Roy Williams. Oh, and all of those guys were on the Championship team last year, so they know what it takes to make a deep Tournament run. There aren’t a lot of teams better offensively than the Tar Heels.

lipscomb

Lipscomb Bison
Record: 23-9
Leading Scorer: Garrison Mathews (22.1 PPG)
Other Key Players: Rob Marberry (16.0 PPG)
Key Stats: 5th in the nation in Adjusted Tempo (only Oklahoma plays faster among Tournament teams); Get shots blocked on 12.2% of offensive possessions (worst among Tournament teams)

The Lipscomb Bison are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, defeating Florida Gulf Coast 106-93 in the Atlantic Sun title game. 106 points is a lot of points, so let it be known that the Bison can score some points. They’ll have to if they’re going to defeat UNC. Lipscomb plays an extremely up-tempo style, so if they can force some misses and get out in transition, they’ll have a chance.

Matchup – Remember what I just said about Lipscomb having a chance? Just forget about that. I don’t see there being any way Lipscomb wins this game. I’d love for them to prove me wrong, because I can’t stand the Tar Heels, and Bison is a great nickname, but yeah, take UNC in your bracket and you likely won’t regret it.

 

Detroit, MI (East Region)
#7 Arkansas vs #10 Butler
Approx. 3:10 pm, TruTV
Spread: 
Butler (-1.5), O/U 152.5

arkansas

Arkansas Razorbacks
Record:
23-11
Leading Scorer: Jaylen Barford (18.0 PPG)
Other Key Players: Daryl Macon (16.9 PPG), Daniel Gafford (11.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.1 BPG)
Key Stats: 19th in the nation in Offensive Efficiency; Shoot over 40% from 3-point range, but under 68% from the free throw line

I feel like this is the same team Arkansas has every year. You don’t really think about them as a good team, but then you watch the Selection Show and see them as a 7-seed with 23 wins, go and look at their resume, and see all of the good wins the accrued over the course of the season. This year, they beat Oklahoma (when they were good), Tennessee and Auburn while suffering no truly bad losses (a season sweep by LSU is not good, but also not awful). They have multiple NBA prospects in leading scorer Barford and Daniel Gafford, who is a physical freak with a number of highlight reel plays this season. I’m hoping he adds one to the reel in this game.

kelan martin

Butler Bulldogs
Record: 20-13
Leading Scorer: Kelan Martin (20.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG)
Other Key Players: Kamar Baldwin (15.5 PPG)
Key Stats: 22nd in the nation in Free Throw Percentage (77.1%, 5th best among Tournament teams); Shoot about one free throw for every four field goal attempts (only three Tournament teams shoot FT’s at a lower rate)

It was a very successful debut season for former Butler star LaVall Jordan as the head coach of his alma mater, leading the Bulldogs to another NCAA Tournament. They had a good collection of wins, knocking Villanova from the ranks of the unbeaten back on December 30, putting up 101 points on the eventual Big East champs. They also scored victories over Ohio State, Creighton and Seton Hall over the course of the season. I am very interested in the statistics that I mentioned above for the Bulldogs. Free throw shooting is a major factor come March, and while Butler is one of the best free throw shooting teams in the Tournament, they don’t shoot a whole lot of them. Might be in their best interest to be more aggressive and try to get to the line more often.

Matchup – It’s easy for me to say Butler should be aggressive and try to get to the line more often than usual, but with Daniel Gafford protecting the rim, that’s reason enough for Butler to stay away from the paint. This is one of the instances where the lower seeded team, Butler, is actually rated the better team in this matchup by KenPom. This game will probably be high scoring, and the team with the ball last could come out on top.

 

San Diego, CA (East Region)
#5 West Virginia vs #12 Murray State
Approx. 4:00 pm, TNT
Spread: 
West Virginia (-10.5), O/U 145.5

jevon carter

West Virginia Mountaineers
Record:
24-10
Leading Scorer: Jevon Carter (17.0 PPG, 6.6 APG, 2.9 SPG)
Other Key Players: Daxter Miles Jr. (13.0 PPG), Sagaba Konate (10.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.3 BPG)
Key Stats: 2nd in the nation in Defensive Turnover% (force turnovers at a higher rate than all but one Tournament team); Top-10 in both Defensive Steal% and Block% (only two other teams in the country can claim that, neither made the Tournament)

Press Virginia, as the kids like to call them, does exactly what their name suggests. Bobby Huggins’s team will pressure you on defense for all 40 minutes, and that can wear teams down big time. I did not look this up, but I have to think they’re the only team in the country that has one player averaging three steals per game (2.9 is close enough) and another player averaging over three blocks per game (that is an absurd amount of blocks). What makes this Mountaineer team special is not only are they great defensively, but they are 14th in the nation in Offensive Efficiency! They can outscore teams, and that makes them a scary Tournament team.

murray state

Murray State Racers
Record: 26-5
Leading Scorer: Jonathan Stark (21.8 PPG)
Other Key Players: Terrell Miller Jr. (14.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG), Ja Morant (12.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 6.4 APG)
Key Stats: Opponents shoot just 30.8% from 3-point range (4th best among Tournament teams)

Murray State made several NCAA Tournaments in the 2000s and early 2010s, but they are back in for the first time since 2012. Their list of coaches since the early 2000s is impressive. Mick Cronin left the Racers for Cincinnati, then he was succeeded by Billy Kennedy who left for Texas A&M, and then Kennedy was followed by Steve Prohm, who ended up at Iowa State. If the trend continues, current Head Coach Matt McMahon could be on his way to a major program sooner rather than later. The Racers defeated Jacksonville State and Belmont in the OVC Tournament, avenging their only two conference losses in the regular season.

Matchup – Murray State is a talented offensive team led by a number of skilled guards, but they haven’t faced a defense this season that is anything like what they’ll see when they take on West Virginia. Jevon Carter wants to leave West Virginia a winner, and I believe he will have an incredible Tournament. He alone should be too much for Murray State to handle.

 

Nashville, TN (South Region)
#7 Nevada vs #10 Texas
Approx. 4:30 pm, TBS
Spread: 
Pick Em, O/U 144

nevada

Nevada Wolfpack
Record:
27-7
Leading Scorer: Caleb Martin (19.1 PPG)
Other Key Players: Jordan Caroline (17.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG), Cody Martin (13.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.6 APG)
Key Stats: 10th in the nation in Offensive Efficiency; 3rd in Offensive Turnover percentage (only two teams turn the ball over at a lower rate than NEV)

The Nevada Wolfpack have had a lot of success in three years under Head Coach Eric Musselman. In 2016, they defeated Morehead State two games to one to win the CBI (College Basketball Invitational, it’s third on the postseason tournament totem pole, after the NIT). Then last year, they won the Mountain West Tournament, reaching the Big Dance but losing to Iowa State in the First Round. They did not win the Mountain West this year, but they didn’t have to thanks to a great resume that included wins over Rhode Island, Davidson and a season sweep of Boise State. They had just five losses this year before losing to San Diego State twice in the last week of the season, but that’s nothing to hang their heads about. Led by Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins, who transferred in from NC State, this Wolfpack team is not to be slept on.

Mo Bamba

Texas Longhorns
Record: 19-14
Leading Scorer: Dylan Osetkowski (13.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG)
Other Key Players: Mohamed Bamba (12.9 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 3.7 BPG), Kerwin Roach II (11.9 PPG)
Key Stats: 10th in the nation in Defensive Efficiency; Shoot just 31.5% from 3-point range (worst among Tournament teams)

You see the 19-14 record, and it’s easy to wonder how Texas made the Tournament, let along fairly comfortably as a 10-seed. Playing in the Big 12 helped, but they also beat Butler and Alabama in non-conference play. I believe Tournament selection should be more about who you beat, but just look at some of the Longhorns’ losses: Duke (in OT), Gonzaga (in OT, two days after the Duke game), Michigan (by just 7), Kansas (by just 6), Texas Tech (in OT), Baylor (in 2OT). Yes, they are all still losses, but they were oh so close to victories in all of those games. Just two of their 14 losses came to teams that missed the Tournament, and those were against Baylor and Oklahoma State, two teams that many people believed should be in the Tournament. This Texas team is very dangerous.

Matchup – I think the outcome of this game hinges on the health of Mo Bamba for Texas. The freshman is the best shot blocker in the country, and they are simply a better team with him on the floor. He did not play in three of their last four games, and he played only 14 minutes in their Big 12 Tournament loss to Texas Tech. If Bamba is at least close to his normal self, I think Texas wins. If not, I like Nevada. Regardless, it should be one of the better First Round contests.

 

Early Evening:

Charlotte, NC (South Region)
#8 Creighton vs #9 Kansas State
6:50 pm, TNT
Spread: 
Creighton (-1.5), O/U 144.5

marcus foster

Creighton Bluejays
Record:
21-11
Leading Scorer: Marcus Foster (20.3 PPG)
Other Key Players: Khryi Thomas (15.3 PPG)
Key Stats: Shoot 59.3% from 2-point range (2nd only to Villanova among Tournament teams); 21.8% Offensive Rebounding rate (worst among Tournament teams)

It’s kind of been a tale of two seasons for Creighton. They started an impressive 15-4 with wins over UCLA, Butler and Seton Hall. Unfortunately, they lost star forward Martin Krampelj for the season following the win over Seton Hall, and they just weren’t as effective after that, going just 5-7 against Division I competition following the injury. They did score a big overtime victory over Villanova in overtime on February 24, but they really miss Krampelj. Marcus Foster and Khryi Thomas will really need to step up for the Bluejays to have postseason success.

kansas state

Kansas State Wildcats
Record: 22-11
Leading Scorer: Dean Wade (16.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG)
Other Key Players: Barry Brown (16.0 PPG)
Key Stats: 6th in the nation in Defensive Steal% (2nd best among Tournament teams); Give up offensive rebounds to opponents at the 2nd highest rate among Tournament teams (32.2%)

Kansas State is one of those teams that just quietly goes about their business and wins games, and then they make the Tournament, and you wonder how their season went because you paid no attention to them. This is a solid team that just couldn’t get the big one all year long. They have good wins, beating Baylor, Texas and TCU each twice, but they also lost to West Virginia and Texas Tech twice each and Kansas three times this season. They came close to winning a few of those games, but just couldn’t get over the hump. That has me worried about their ability to make a deep run in this Tournament, especially with a likely Second Round matchup with Virginia.

Matchup – These are two teams with some good wins this year, but both have had their struggles late in the season. This game could be a grind ‘em out affair, with the grittier team (shoutout to PFT Commenter) coming out on top. K-State star Dean Wade missed their Big 12 Tournament loss to Kansas due to injury, and if he misses this game on Friday, I don’t think they have enough to beat Creighton.

 

Detroit, MI (Midwest Region)
#3 Michigan State vs #14 Bucknell
7:10 pm, CBS
Spread: 
Michigan State (-14), O/U 148.5

Photo Copyright: Matt Mitchell/MSU Athletic Communications

Michigan State Spartans
Record:
29-4
Leading Scorer: Miles Bridges (16.9 PPG, 6.9 RPG)
Other Key Players: Nick Ward (12.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG), Cassius Winston (12.6 PPG, 6.8 APG)
Key Stats: Most assists per field goals made in the nation; 9th in the nation in both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency; Shoot 41.3% from 3-point range (only Purdue is better among Tournament teams)

On sheer talent, it’s hard to argue against Michigan State as the best team in the nation. Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston, star freshman Jaren Jackson Jr., 6th man Matt McQuaid, TumTum Nairn, Gavin Schilling, Josh Langford, this team is stacked. However, we truly don’t know how good they are because their resume is not like most Michigan State teams in recent memory. They have just two wins all year over teams that made the Tournament, beating North Carolina and Purdue. They have only lost to three teams, losing to Michigan twice (3-seed), Ohio State (5-seed) and Duke (2-seed). This team has no bad losses, but they also don’t have a lot of great wins. It’s an interesting case, one unlike I can ever remember. I think this team is just as likely to win the National Title as they are to lose before the second weekend.

bucknell

Bucknell Bison
Record: 25-9
Leading Scorer: Zach Thomas (20.3 PPG, 9.2 RPG)
Other Key Players: Nana Foulland (15.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG), Stephen Brown (14.9 PPG)
Key Stats: 77.2% Minutes Continuity (more than all but three Tournament teams); Average nearly one free throw for every two field goals (only three Tournament teams shoot free throws at a higher rate)

All season long, when experts have been asked about a mid-major team that could make some noise in this year’s Tournament, Bucknell has been the team that a majority of them chose. They are solid on both ends of the floor, and they like to play a fast pace. Fast paced teams tend to have more success in March. Zach Thomas is one of the best mid-major players in the land, and he is good enough to carry this team to an upset or two in this Tournament. The Bison have only lost two games since mid-December, and one of those was in overtime. They were dominant in the Patriot League Tournament, beating Boston in the semis by 31 and Colgate in the finals by 29.

Matchup – This is a tough draw for Bucknell, but remember 2015? Michigan State was a 2-seed and an extremely popular pick to win the title (they were my pick that year, and I never even considered anybody else). They went and lost in the First Round to 15-seed Middle Tennessee, busting my bracket and many brackets nationwide. They are very good, but so is Bucknell. Don’t be surprised if the Bison pull off the shocker.

 

Nashville, TN (West Region)
#1 Xavier vs #16 NC Central/Texas Southern
7:20 pm, TBS
Spread:
TBD

Naji Marshall

Xavier Musketeers
Record:
28-5
Leading Scorer: Trevon Bluiett (19.5 PPG)
Other Key Players: J.P. Macura (12.2 PPG)
Key Stats: 7th in the nation in Offensive Efficiency; 6th in Free Throw Percentage (79.0%, 2nd best among Tournament teams)

I don’t think it’s a stretch in the slightest to say that it has been one of the greatest seasons in the history of Xavier basketball. Chris Mack has had a lot of good teams, but this is probably the best one. 28 wins including a rivalry victory over Cincinnati. Their only Big East losses this year came to Villanova (twice) and Providence (twice, once in the Big East semifinals). Having that much success in a league as good as the Big East is this season, you have to put Xavier on the short list of teams with a legitimate chance to win the championship. They are extremely good on offense, and they are one of the top free throw shooting teams in the country. That could carry them a long way in this tourney. Some lower-seeded Xavier teams have made deep runs in recent history. Can a 1-seed Xavier do it as well?

Matchup – Will be updated following the conclusion of NC Central/Texas Southern

 

San Diego, CA (Midwest Region)
#4 Auburn vs #13 Charleston
7:27 pm, TruTV
Spread: 
Auburn (-11), O/U 148.5

auburn

Auburn Tigers
Record:
25-7
Leading Scorer: Mustapha Heron (16.6 PPG)
Other Key Players: Bryce Brown (16.2 PPG), Jared Harper (13.7 PPG, 5.7 APG)
Key Stats: 21st in the nation in Adjusted Tempo (only four Tournament teams play at a faster pace); Shoot 78.6% from the free throw line (only two Tournament teams are better); 23.2% of points come from the free throw line (only three Tournament teams have a higher percentage)

It’s been a tale of two seasons for the SEC regular season champion Auburn Tigers: Pre-Anfernee McLemore injury and post-Anfernee McLemore injury. McLemore averaged 2.7 blocks per game, one of the top rim protectors in the country. With him on the court, Auburn was 23-3 this season. McLemore was injured in a loss to South Carolina on February 17. Including that loss, the Tigers were just 2-4 without him. They now lack an interior defensive presence, allowing teams to attack the paint and have a great deal of success. The one thing that gives them a chance to make a run is their free throw shooting. They shoot a bunch of them, and they’re really good at it. They need to stay aggressive on offense and they could be a sleeper.

charleston

Charleston Cougars
Record: 26-7
Leading Scorer: Grant Riller (18.7 PPG)
Other Key Players: Joe Chealey (18.5 PPG), Jarrell Brantley (17.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG)
Key Stats: 86.2% Minutes Continuity this season (highest percentage in the nation); Opponents steal from them on just 5.9% of possessions (best among Tournament teams)

It was a great season for the College of Charleston, ending with an overtime victory over Northeastern to earn their first Tournament berth since 1999. The trio of scorers I listed above could be a better collection than any team in this Tournament. Not only are the effective scorers, but they protect the ball better than a lot of teams. They can frustrate a defense into a lot of fouls (21.1% of points come from the free throw line), and they shoot over 76% from the line, a great recipe for winning Tournament games.

Matchup – This game will be a big-time clash of styles, with Auburn wanting to get out in transition and Charleston preferring to grind the game to a halt. Both teams are great from the free throw line, so it may come down to which team is able to get there more often. Advantage Auburn there. The Tigers have not been the same team lately, and that has led to a lot of experts viewing Charleston as one of the top upset picks in the First Round.

 

Late Evening:

Charlotte, NC (South Region)
#1 Virginia vs #16 UMBC
Approx. 9:20 pm, TNT
Spread: 
Virginia (-22.5), O/U 121.5

virginia

Virginia Cavaliers
Record:
31-2
Leading Scorer: Kyle Guy (14.1 PPG)
Other Key Players: Devon Hall (12.0 PPG)
Key Stats: 1st in the nation in Defensive Efficiency; Slowest tempo in the nation; Only turn the ball over on 14.1% of possessions (only three Tournament teams are better)

For many years now, Virginia has been a fantastic regular season team under Tony Bennett, but they fail when it comes to the Tournament. The 2017-2018 Cavaliers might be the best team Bennett has had in Charlottesville, and they are looking to continue that in the postseason and buck the trend of past Virginia teams. This team is no joke, and they are without question the best defensive team in the country. It is so difficult to score on them, but what puts them over the top is that they are highly efficient on the offensive end as well. Unfortunately, they were dealt a massive blow yesterday when it was announced that 6th man DeAndre Hunter will miss the remainder of the season with a wrist injury suffered in the ACC Tournament. Depth is so important in March, so the loss of Hunter could be a death knell for the Cavs’ chances at a national title.

umbc

UMBC Retrievers
Record: 24-10
Leading Scorer: Jairus Lyles (20.2 PPG)
Other Key Players: K.J. Maura (11.4 PPG, 5.2 APG)
Key Stats: 40.7% of their points come from 3-point range (2nd highest percentage among Tournament teams); Shoot just 65.0% from the free throw line (2nd worst among Tournament teams)

A big time upset in the America East title game got UMBC their spot in the Tournament, going to Vermont and beating the Catamounts 65-62 on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Jairus Lyles. Lyles is small, but he’s one of the best pure scorers in this Tournament. They have not seen a team anything close to Virginia this season, but their great 3-point shooting could give them a shot. If the Retrievers make their open shots, they have a chance to at least keep it close against the Cavaliers.

Matchup – It’s hard to envision UMBC becoming the first 16-seed to defeat a 1-seed, especially when they drew the #1 overall seed Virginia. The game is in Charlotte, so I’m sure a lot of UMBC fans will be able to make the trip, but I’m not sure how much that will help. Like I said, if they hit open shots, they could keep this thing close, but I don’t think there’s any way they can come out victorious.

 

Detroit, MI (Midwest Region)
#6 TCU vs #11 Arizona State/Syracuse
Approx. 9:40 pm, CBS
Spread: 
TBD

TCU

TCU Horned Frogs
Record:
21-11
Leading Scorer: Vlad Brodziansky (15.1 PPG)
Other Key Players: Kenrich Williams (13.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG), Alex Robinson (9.1 PPG, 6.8 APG)
Key Stats: 8th in the nation in Offensive Efficiency; Opponents shoot 37.9% from 3-point range (only North Carolina’s opponents shoot better from 3 among Tournament teams)

TCU started this season red hot, winning their first 12 games of the year. Then Big 12 play started. They struggled at times in conference play, especially after the season-ending injury to point guard Jaylen Fisher, but the Horned Frogs had some great wins, beating West Virginia and winning at Baylor. They were 9-9 in Big 12 play, which is nothing to shake a stick at. On paper, this team has a good resume, deserving of a 6-seed in the Tournament. However, when you watch this team and give them they eye test, I’m not so sure. I think they are a good team that is capable of getting to the second weekend, but I also see them as very susceptible in this first game, no matter who wins the First Four game between Arizona State and Syracuse.

Matchup – Will be updated following the conclusion of Arizona State/Syracuse

 

Nashville, TN (West Region)
#8 Missouri vs #9 Florida State
Approx. 9:50 pm, TBS
Spread: 
Pick Em, O/U 148

michael porter jr

Missouri Tigers
Record:
20-12
Leading Scorer: Kassius Robertson (16.2 PPG)
Other Key Players: Jontay Porter (10.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG), Michael Porter Jr.
Key Stats: 39% of points come from 3-point range (only four Tournament teams have a higher percentage); Have shots blocked on over 12% of their possessions (only one Tournament team is worse)

It’s been an up and down season for Missouri right from the get-go. Expectations were understandably high with Cuonzo Martin taking over as head coach and securing the commitments of the Porter brothers, Michael and Jontay. Michael was the #1 recruit in the country, and it was expected that he would lead the Tigers to the top of the SEC standings. Unfortunately, he played just two minutes in the regular season, injuring his back in the opener and sitting out the entire year. He returned in the loss to Georgia in the SEC Tournament, only playing 22 minutes and ultimately struggling. However, that’s to be expected in his first game action since November. The fact that he is playing again has people really excited to see what this Missouri team can do. A potential Second Round matchup with Xavier could be a lot of fun.

florida state

Florida State Seminoles
Record: 20-11
Leading Scorer: Terance Mann (13.2 PPG)
Other Key Players: Phil Cofer (13.1 PPG), Braian Angola (12.9 PPG)
Key Stats: 28th in the nation in Offensive Efficiency; Shoot under 69% from the free throw line

I’d be willing to bet that you watched the Selection Show, saw Florida State as a 9-seed, and wondered how, having never heard a peep about the Seminoles all season. I think that’s exactly how Head Coach Leonard Hamilton would like it, his team flying way under the radar, but when you look at their resume, it was a great season for FSU, especially considering the amount of production they lost from last season. The main reason the Seminoles are in the Tournament is their success away from home. They won at Florida, Virginia Tech and Louisville. In addition, they scored home wins over North Carolina, Miami and Clemson. There isn’t anything really special about this team, they are just solid, and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Matchup – There isn’t a whole lot of excitement around this matchup, especially considering it’s going to be second-to-last for the First Round, 31 games in for the round. However, getting to see Michael Porter Jr. play in the Tournament is worth getting excited for. He’s a future NBA all-star, and if he gets hot, Missouri could make a deep run in this Tournament.

 

San Diego, CA (Midwest Region)
#5 Clemson vs #12 New Mexico State
Approx. 9:57 pm, TruTV
Spread: 
Clemson (-5.5), O/U 134

clemson

Clemson Tigers
Record:
23-9
Leading Scorer: Marcquise Reed (15.9 PPG)
Other Key Players: Gabe DeVoe (13.2 PPG)
Key Stats: 8th in the nation in Defensive Efficiency; Opponents shoot just 44.3% from 2-point range (Top-10 in the nation)

One of the most unexpectedly great teams this year was the Clemson Tigers. Unfortunately, the injury bug that bit a bunch of teams this year got to them as well. Star forward Donte Grantham suffered a knee injury 19 games into the season, and the team struggled at times without him. They started the year 14-1, but were just 7-6 in games without Grantham. Now, they did beat North Carolina after the injury, so while not as good, this Clemson team that we will see in the Tournament is still capable of knocking off the big dogs.

new mexico state 2

New Mexico State Aggies
Record: 28-5
Leading Scorer: Zach Lofton (19.8 PPG)
Other Key Players: Jemerrio Jones (11.0 PPG, 13.2 RPG)
Key Stats: 15th in the nation in Defensive Efficiency; Shoot just 64.3% from the free throw line (worst among Tournament teams)

New Mexico State has consistently been one of the top mid-major programs in recent history, and this year was no different. You don’t win 28 games by accident. Their coming out party was in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii over Christmas weekend. They knocked off Davidson in the first round, then upset Miami in the semifinals, knocking the Hurricanes from the ranks of the unbeaten. They came up just five points short in the finals against USC, but despite the loss, everyone knew the Aggies were for real. They were dominant in WAC play, losing just back-to-back road games in mid-February. Other than those two setbacks, that loss to USC was their only other once since Christmas Day. This is a fantastic defensive team, but on the offensive side of the ball, they really value possessions, a trait that could go a long way in the Tournament.

Matchup – This is game number 32 of the First Round, and it might be the most popular upset pick of the lot. The win over Miami will give this team the confidence needed to get a victory over Clemson. The Tigers not being at full strength is another reason a lot of people are putting their faith in the Aggies. This will be a great finale to two fantastic days of basketball.

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2018 NCAA Tournament Preview: First Round – Thursday 3/15

If you don’t think the first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA Tournament aren’t the two best days on the sports calendar, you are either a hockey fan or un-American (or maybe both).

I am kidding of course, but seriously, they are two of the most fun days of the year and I cannot wait! I am going to preview every First Round game, starting today with Thursday’s slate.

*Any statistics mentioned are courtesy of KenPom.com or ESPN*

Thursday, March 15th

Early Afternoon:

Pittsburgh, PA (Midwest Region)
#7 Rhode Island vs #10 Oklahoma
12:15 pm, CBS
Spread: 
Rhode Island (-1.5), O/U 158

Rhode Island v Creighton

Rhode Island Rams
Record: 25-7
Leading Scorer: Jared Terrell (17.2 PPG)
Other Key Players: E.C. Matthews (13.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG), Jeff Dowtin (9.7 PPG, 5.5 APG)
Key Stats: Average player experience of 2.19 years (3rd most experienced team in the Tournament); 55.9% of points come on 2-point shots (6th highest percentage among Tournament teams)

Rhode Island is back in the Tournament for the second straight season, nearly reaching the Sweet 16 last year, losing to eventual Final Four team Oregon 75-72. E.C. Matthews is a great senior leader for this team. His career has been marred by injuries, but when healthy, he’s been one of the best players in the Atlantic 10. The Rams had a 16-game winning streak at one point this season, but they’ve lost four of their last eight, including a 30 point home loss to Saint Joseph’s. When at their best, the Rams protect the ball well on offense and take it away at a very high rate on defense (3rd highest defensive TO rate among Tournament teams).

trae young 3

Oklahoma Sooners
Record: 18-13
Leading Scorer: Trae Young (27.4 PPG, 8.8 APG, both lead the nation)
Other Key Players: Brady Manek (10.4 PPG, 5.1 RPG)
Key Stats: 4th in the nation in Adjusted Tempo (fastest playing team in the Tournament); Played the 2nd most difficult schedule in the nation this season

What a conundrum Oklahoma is this season. Freshman Trae Young is one of the best players in the country, and for a spell early in the season, he was single-handedly leading the Sooners to some fantastic wins over the likes of Wichita State, TCU (twice), Texas Tech and Kansas. However, as the season wore on, Young just couldn’t carry the team on his shoulders any longer, the team losing 11 of their final 15 games, including a loss to Oklahoma State in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament. If Trae Young gets really hot, this could be a dangerous team, but the way they are playing right now, it’s hard to have much faith in them.

Matchup – We’re going to kick off the Tournament in an exciting way. Many people are looking forward to seeing Trae Young play in the NCAA Tournament. He has been very susceptible to turnovers at times this season, and that’s going to make this a fun matchup against Rhode Island, one of the most tenacious defenses in the country. The Rams’ Stanford Robinson (2.2 steals per game) and Jared Terrell (1.5 steals per game) could give Young some fits. He’s going to have to be exceptional, because he doesn’t have much support from the rest of his team.

 

Dallas, TX (South Region)
#3 Tennessee vs #14 Wright State
12:40 pm, TruTV
Spread: 
Tennessee (-13.5), O/U 132.5

admiral schofield

Tennessee Volunteers
Record: 25-8
Leading Scorer: Grant Williams (15.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG)
Other Key Players: Admiral Schofield (13.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG)
Key Stats: 4th in the nation in Defensive Efficiency; 6th in Assist Percentage (3rd among Tournament teams)

It was a great season for the SEC, and a big part of that was the success of Rick Barnes and his Tennessee Volunteers. It started in the Bahamas, where they knocked off Purdue and NC State, with a narrow loss to Villanova sandwiched between. Tennessee finished 2nd in the league in the regular season, and lost to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament title game. This team likes to slow the game down and beat you on the defensive end. They have capable scorers in Williams, Schofield and Lamonte Turner, but they’re not going to win a whole lot of shootouts. Luckily for them, they don’t get into many of them.

wright state

Wright State Raiders
Record: 25-9
Leading Scorer: Grant Benzinger (14.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG)
Other Key Players: Loudon Love (12.9 PPG, 9.8 RPG)
Key Stats: 248th in the nation in Offensive Efficiency (2nd worst among Tournament teams); Opponents shoot just 45.6% from 2-point range against them (27th in the nation)

Wright State tussled with Northern Kentucky at the top of the Horizon League standings all season long, but when the Norse were upset by Cleveland State in the Horizon Tournament, that opened the door for the Raiders, who defeated the aforementioned Cleveland State Vikings 74-57 in the title game to earn their berth. Leading scorer Grant Benzinger led the way in that game with 19 points and 9 rebounds, and he’ll look to lead his team to a huge upset early on in the NCAA Tournament.

Matchup – Both of these teams prefer to win with great defense, so this could be one of the lower scoring games in the First Round, especially when you also consider the start time. It always seems like higher seeded teams are more susceptible to upsets in the games with an early start time. That may make Wright State a popular upset pick, but they are going to have a difficult time scoring against the extremely athletic Tennessee defenders.

 

Boise, ID (West Region)
#4 Gonzaga vs #13 UNC Greensboro
1:30 pm, TNT
Spread: 
Gonzaga (-12), O/U 136

gonzaga

Gonzaga Bulldogs
Record: 30-4
Leading Scorer: Johnathan Williams (13.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG)
Other Key Players: Killian Tillie (13.4 PPG, 6.0 RPG), Josh Perkins (12.4 PPG, 5.4 APG)
Key Stats: One of just three teams in the Top-20 in Offensive and Defensive Efficiency; 5th in the nation in Offensive 2-point FG%, 6th in Defensive 2-point FG%

Once again, everybody is sleeping on Gonzaga. I thought maybe they’d get a little more love after finally reaching the National Championship Game last season, but Mark Few’s team is flying under the radar yet again. While true that they do not play in a difficult conference, they did test themselves in non-conference, defeating Ohio State, Texas and Creighton. They currently ride a 14-game winning streak, and are playing some of their best basketball all season. Despite being just a 4-seed, the Bulldogs are most definitely a title contender.

unc greensboro

UNC Greensboro Spartans
Record: 27-7
Leading Scorer: Francis Alonso (15.6 PPG)
Other Key Players: Marvin Smith (12.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG)
Key Stats: 40% of their points come from 3-point range (3rd highest percentage among Tournament teams); 30th in the nation in Defensive Efficiency

It has been a great season for Wes Miller and his Spartans, winning a school record 27 games and defeating East Tennessee State 62-47 in the SoCon title game. They aren’t a terrible offensive team, but they win most of their games with a tenacious defense that is one of the best among mid-major teams in this year’s Tournament field. They are in the Top-40 on KenPom in both steal percentage and block percentage. The Spartans lost by just 12 points at Virginia to open the season, which could give them some hope of pulling off the upset.

Matchup – Another early start could mean upset city, but Gonzaga is a dark horse title contender, so it’s going to take a great performance from UNC Greensboro. The one thing that will play into the Spartans’ favor is their 3-point shooting. They love to shoot it from deep, and we see every year at least one team get red-hot from the outside and pull off an improbably victory. Could UNC Greensboro get it done? Stranger things have happened, that’s all I’m saying.

 

Wichita, KS (Midwest Region)
#1 Kansas vs #16 Pennsylvania
2:00 pm, TBS
Spread: 
Kansas (-14.5), O/U 147

kansas

Kansas Jayhawks
Record: 27-7
Leading Scorer: Devonte’ Graham (17.3 PPG, 7.5 APG)
Other Key Players: Svi Mykhailiuk (15.1 PPG, 45.3% 3PT)
Key Stats: 6th in the nation in Effective FG%; 21.2% of minutes played by non-starters (2nd lowest among Tournament teams)

Somehow, someway, Kansas won their 14th straight Big 12 regular season championship. They went and added another Big 12 Tournament title as well. After early season home losses to Arizona State and Texas Tech, the Jayhawks figured things out and improbably won another championship. They are susceptible to an early exit from the Tournament though, having lost to Washington and twice to Oklahoma State this season. Depth is an issue for the Jayhawks, as is height. Starting center Udoka Azubuike did not play in the Big 12 Tournament, but says he will be ready for the game on Thursday. If his injury woes continue, Kansas could be in some trouble.

penn

Pennsylvania Quakers
Record: 24-8
Leading Scorer: Ryan Betley (14.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG)
Other Key Players: AJ Brodeur (13.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG)
Key Stats: Opponents shoot just 29.6% from 3-point range (best in the Tournament); No team in the Tournament gives up a lower rate of offensive rebounds than Penn

I would like to be on record saying that Penn might be the most talented 16-seed in Tournament history. We all know a 16 has never beaten a 1, but it’s going to happen one day. I was certainly shocked to see Penn as a 16-seed when the bracket was revealed, and that should have Kansas at least a little worried. Center AJ Brodeur has been on a hot streak, and he’ll look to keep it going in a good matchup with the undersized Jayhawks.

Matchup – Too many people are talking about the possibility of Penn actually beating Kansas. I mean, anything can happen, especially in sports, but could this finally be the year a 16-seed knocks off a 1-seed? Kansas is flawed and Penn is a solid team. The Quakers defend the 3-point line better than any team in the field, and having watched a lot of Kansas this year, I know that they beat a lot of teams by shooting the lights out. Holy crap, I am convincing myself that Penn is going to beat Kansas…

 

Late Afternoon:

Pittsburgh, PA (Midwest Region)
#2 Duke vs #15 Iona
Approx. 2:45 pm, CBS
Spread: 
Duke (-20), O/U 156

marvin bagley

Duke Blue Devils
Record: 26-7
Leading Scorer: Marvin Bagley III (21.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG)
Other Key Players: Grayson Allen (15.7 PPG), Wendell Carter Jr. (13.8 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.2 BPG)
Key Stats: One of two teams in the Top-10 in Offensive and Defensive Efficiency (Michigan State is the other); 1st in the nation in Offensive Rebounding percentage; 2nd youngest team on average in the Tournament

Just like every other year, Duke enters the Tournament as a clear title contender, but also one that is very flawed. I think this year more than ever, this is a Duke team that is just as likely to win the championship as they are to fail to reach the Sweet 16. Grayson Allen is a senior, and you know he’ll want to go out on top. Duke started the year 11-0, then heated up at the end of the season, but suffered late losses to Virginia Tech and rival North Carolina. Marvin Bagley is one of the best players in the country, and what the Blue Devils lack in experience, they more than make up for in sheer talent. I’d argue that this is one of the two most talented offensive teams in the Tournament.

iona

Iona Gaels
Record: 20-13
Leading Scorer: Rickey McGill (13.5 PPG, 5.6 APG)
Other Key Players: E.J. Crawford (12.9 PPG)
Key Stats: Opponents shoot just 66.2% from the free throw line (best among Tournament teams); 2nd most experienced team in the Tournament (behind only Wichita State)

I wasn’t expecting the Gaels to reach the Tournament this season, as they were the 4-seed in the MAAC Tournament, but a few upsets opened the door and Head Coach Tim Cluess was able to get his team back to the Dance for the second straight season. This team is very upperclassmen-led, with four key players from last season’s Tournament team returning this season. The Gaels win with offense, so this game could be a big time shootout.

Matchup – I think Duke is going to be one of the more popular National Championship picks this season, and I have a hard time seeing them get beat by Iona. That being said, the Blue Devils did lose in the First Round as a 15-seed one time before, falling to Lehigh back in 2012. If you like offense, this will be the game for you.

 

Dallas, TX (South Region)
#6 Miami FL vs #11 Loyola-Chicago
Approx. 3:10 pm, TruTV
Spread: 
Miami FL (-2.5), O/U 133.5

lonnie walker.jpg

Miami FL Hurricanes
Record: 22-9
Leading Scorer: Lonnie Walker IV (11.5 PPG)
Other Key Players: Dewan Huell (11.4 PPG, 6.6 RPG)
Key Stats: 66.3% from the free throw line (only three Tournament teams are worse)

Miami has been a hard team to gauge this season. At times, they’ve looked like one of the best teams in the ACC, with wins over Notre Dame, Virginia Tech (twice), NC State, Florida State and North Carolina. They’ve also looked rough at times, losing to Georgia Tech, Boston College and at home to Syracuse. Star freshman Lonnie Walker IV has been much improved as the season has progressed, and they’ll need him to step up in a big way without Bruce Brown. Brown has been out since late January, and the Hurricanes have played well at times without him (four straight wins to end the regular season), but the NCAA Tournament is a whole different animal.

loyola chicago

Loyola-Chicago Ramblers
Record: 28-5
Leading Scorer: Clayton Custer (13.4 PPG)
Other Key Players: Donte Ingram (11.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG)
Key Stats: 5th among Tournament teams in Effective FG%; 2nd lowest Offensive Rebounding rate in the Tournament (only Creighton pulls down less offensive rebounds)

The Ramblers are the exact type of team that you love to see get to the NCAA Tournament. They are in the Big Dance for the first time since 1985, reaping the benefits of Wichita State’s move from the Missouri Valley to the American this year. But not only are they here, they are looking to make some noise, and by my estimation, they are very capable of that. This is one of the 25 best defensive teams in the country, but they are also great on offense, in the Top-15 in the nation in both 2-point and 3-point FG percentage. The Ramblers have a 65-59 win in Gainesville over Florida this season, and that win alone means that they are more than capable of pulling off a few upsets in this Tournament.

Matchup – A lot of years, there’s one upset pick that a large number of people like to take. Loyola-Chicago over Miami is going to be that upset. But a lot of times, the popular upset pick doesn’t pan out. That should give you at least a little bit of pause. However, I think Loyola-Chicago is a genuinely talented team on par with major conference teams like Miami, who has not impressed me all that much this season. What Miami has to do to avoid the upset is dominate the boards, and they are definitely capable of that. If they struggle, don’t be surprised to see Loyola-Chicago come out on top.

 

Boise, ID (West Region)
#5 Ohio State vs #12 South Dakota State
Approx. 4:00 pm, TNT
Spread: 
Ohio State (-8.5), O/U 147.5

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Ohio State Buckeyes
Record: 24-8
Leading Scorer: Keita Bates-Diop (19.4 PPG, 8.8 RPG)
Other Key Players: Jae’Sean Tate (12.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG)
Key Stats: 27th in the nation in Offensive Efficiency; 16th in Defensive Efficiency

This Ohio State team is much better than many people realize. Chris Holtmann has proven that he is one of the best coaches in the country, and Keita Bates-Diop has taken a massive leap forward this season, leading the Buckeyes to an impressive 24-8 record, far exceeding most expectations. Just look at this, a list of the teams that have beaten OSU this season: Gonzaga, Butler, Clemson, North Carolina, Michigan, Penn State. Those are all very good teams, with the exception of Penn State (who is an NIT team), but the Nittany Lions just had Ohio State’s number, beating them three times. I think the Buckeyes were seeded properly, but I believe they are a better team than their 5-seed suggests.

south dak state

South Dakota State Jackrabbits
Record: 28-6
Leading Scorer: Mike Daum (23.8 PPG, 10.4 RPG)
Other Key Players: David Jenkins Jr. (16.1 PPG)
Key Stats: Commit turnovers at a lower rate than any team in the nation; Force turnovers at a lower rate than any team in the Tournament field

I like those key statistics that I discovered for the Jackrabbits. They take care of the basketball better than anybody, and that is why they are one of the most efficient offenses among mid-major teams. At the same time, there isn’t a team in this Tournament that is worse at forcing turnovers than SDSU. Despite that, there’s a lot to like about this team. Mike Daum is probably the best player that you’ve never heard of, and he’ll now get his third crack at an NCAA Tournament victory, with the Jackrabbits losing to Gonzaga last season and Maryland the year prior. They also shoot better than 39 percent from 3-point range and over 75 percent from the free throw line, and teams that shoot well from three and at the line tend to have success in the Tournament.

Matchup – Mike Daum is likely to be a NBA Draft pick, and it might be after this season, as his stock is the highest it’s ever been. He’s done a lot at South Dakota State, but the one thing he’s yet to accomplish in his three seasons is an NCAA Tournament victory. The Jackrabbits will be a popular upset pick, and I think they have a really good chance to get the win, but Ohio State is really good. The Buckeyes aren’t going to go down without a fight because I think they’d love to get another crack at Gonzaga in the Round of 32. OSU lost to the Zags 86-59 earlier this season.

 

Wichita, KS (Midwest Region)
#8 Seton Hall vs #9 NC State
Approx. 4:30 pm, TBS
Spread: 
Seton Hall (-2), O/U 157

Angel delgado.jpg

Seton Hall Pirates
Record: 21-11
Leading Scorer: Desi Rodriguez (17.8 PPG)
Other Key Players: Angel Delgado (13.3 PPG, 11.6 RPG), Khadeen Carrington (14.9 PPG, 4.5 APG)
Key Stats: 29th in the nation in Offensive Rebounding percentage; Shoot under 70% from the free throw line

Seton Hall was a very up and down team this year, picking up some great wins but also suffering some rough losses along the way. They beat Texas Tech and Louisville in non-conference and also scored Big East wins over Butler (twice), Providence (twice) and Creighton. They couldn’t beat the top teams in the league though, getting swept by both Xavier and Villanova, and they also lost to Rutgers, Marquette (twice) and Georgetown. Seton Hall’s Tournament success this season could hinge on the health of their leading scorer Desi Rodriguez. The talented senior wing missed the final three games of the regular season, and while he returned in the Pirates’ Big East Tournament loss to Butler, he only played 16 minutes. They’ll need the best out of Rodriguez if they’re going to make a run.

 

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NC State Wolfpack
Record: 21-11
Leading Scorer: Allerik Freeman (15.4 PPG)
Other Key Players: Omer Yurtseven (13.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG), Torin Dorn (13.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG)
Key Stats: 57.7% of points they give up come from 2-point range; Opposing teams shoot just 31.6% from 3-point range (14th best in the country)

It’s been a really successful debut season for Head Coach Kevin Keatts at NC State. They finished just 11-7 in the ACC, but as good as the league was this year, I’d say that’s pretty impressive. They also have a fantastic collection of wins that rivals maybe any, scoring wins against Arizona, Duke, Clemson and North Carolina. Baylor grad-transfer Al Freeman has been a huge boost to the Wolfpack this season, taking on the veteran leadership role that this team needed after a poor 2016-2017 season.

Matchup – If you like fast-paced offense, this will be a game for you. Seton Hall comes from the Big East, where everybody plays fast. NC State would have fit in great in the Big East this season with their fast-paced style. I’m interested to see how healthy Desi Rodriguez is going to be, because that will have a huge impact on this game. Kevin Keatts coached in the Tournament the last two seasons with UNC Wilmington, so he’ll have his Wolfpack well prepared for this one.

 

Early Evening:

Pittsburgh, PA (East Region)
#1 Villanova vs #16 Radford/LIU Brooklyn
6:50 pm, TNT
Spread: 
TBD

jalen brunson 2

Villanova Wildcats
Record: 30-4
Leading Scorer: Jalen Brunson (19.4 PPG, 4.7 APG)
Other Key Players: Mikal Bridges (18.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG), Omari Spellman (10.7 PPG, 7.9 RPG)
Key Stats: 1st in the nation in Offensive Efficiency; 1st in Effective FG%; 2nd in 2PT FG Percentage; 39.3% of points come from 3-point range (4th highest percentage among Tournament teams)

There are three certainties in life: Death, Taxes and Villanova being a 1 or 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament. We wondered who was going to lead this team last year after Ryan Arcidiacono’s departure, but Josh Hart stepped up and became one of the best players in the nation. We wondered who was going to lead this team this year after Josh Hart’s graduation, and Jalen Brunson stepped up and then some. I believe that he should be the Naismith Player of the Year. Brunson is easily the most improved player in the country, but he has lots of help. Mikal Bridges has turned himself into a future NBA Lottery pick, Eric Paschall has stepped up his game, Donte DiVincenzo is the best 6th man in the nation and Omari Spellman is the perfect big man for the modern game of basketball, able to block shots and rebound while stepping out and shooting the three with much success.

Matchup – Will be updated following the conclusion of Radford/LIU Brooklyn

 

Boise, ID (South Region)
#5 Kentucky vs #12 Davidson
7:10 pm, CBS
Spread: 
Kentucky (-6), O/U 143

kentucky

Kentucky Wildcats
Record: 24-10
Leading Scorer: Kevin Knox (15.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG)
Other Key Players: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (13.9 PPG, 5.0 APG)
Key Stats: Most inexperienced team in the country (entire roster is made up of freshmen and sophomores); Top-25 in the nation in both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency

The talent is immense, but I’d say it’s still extremely impressive what John Calipari was able to do with this team. Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones are sophomores that see significant playing time, but the rest of the rotation are all freshmen. Despite this, the Wildcats won 24 games, including a win at West Virginia and wins over Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee in consecutive days to win the SEC Tournament title. If there is a flaw other than inexperience that could do this team in, it’s free throw shooting. Kentucky shoots under 70 percent from the line, so if they end up in a close game, the advantage likely goes to their opponent.

davidson

Davidson Wildcats
Record: 21-11
Leading Scorer: Peyton Aldridge (21.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG)
Other Key Players: Kellan Grady (18.0 PPG), Jon Axel Gudmundsson (13.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 5.1 APG)
Key Stats: 18th in the nation in Offensive Efficiency; 4th in Free Throw Percentage (79.7%); 41.9% of points come from 3-point range (highest percentage among Tournament teams)

The Davidson Wildcats are a great team that just didn’t have the resume needed to earn an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament. Knowing this, Bob McKillop’s team defeated Saint Louis, St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island in consecutive days to earn the A-10 title and an automatic bid to the Tournament. Now that they’re here, this is a dangerous team. Aldridge is a versatile big man that can score from anywhere on the floor, Grady is a fantastic freshman guard and Gudmundsson is a Swiss Army Knife for this team (he’s from Iceland, but I think that’s close enough to Switzerland for that comparison to count as clever!)

Matchup – There are a lot of fun First Round matchups this year, but I’m most excited for Kentucky-Davidson. The Wildcats are playing their best basketball this season right now, they enter the Tournament as conference champions and they are definitely a team you do not want to face right now. Wait, oh yeah, both of these teams are the Wildcats. Well, good thing that sentence can easily apply to both teams. If this game is close down the stretch, it could come down to free throw shooting, where Kentucky struggles and Davidson is the best in the field.

 

Wichita, KS (West Region)
#6 Houston vs #11 San Diego State
7:20 pm, TBS
Spread: 
Houston (-3.5), O/U 142.5

NCAA Basketball: Houston at Wichita State

Houston Cougars
Record: 26-7
Leading Scorer: Rob Gray (18.5 PPG, 4.5 APG)
Other Key Players: Devin Davis (10.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG)
Key Stats: Average height of 75.6 inches (only three teams are smaller on average in the Tournament field); 34.7% Offensive Rebounding rate (17th in the nation)

Houston spent the better part of this season just quietly putting together a fantastic season, but on January 20th, people became aware of the Cougars following their victory over Wichita State. Then they knocked off Cincinnati on February 15th, and everyone started to realize that this team was going to be a force to be reckoned with come March. The Cougars were just one point away from another victory over Cincy and an American Championship, but despite the loss, they carry a great deal of momentum into the NCAA Tournament. Head Coach Kelvin Sampson has now taken four different schools to the NCAA Tournament, cementing his spot among the great coaches in the game’s history.

san diego state

San Diego State Aztecs
Record: 22-10
Leading Scorer: Malik Pope (12.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG)
Other Key Players: Trey Kell (10.4 PPG, 4.1 APG, 4.0 RPG)
Key Stats: 36th in the nation in Defensive Efficiency; 18th tallest team in the country on average (78.3 inches)

We had multiple bid stealers this year in the Tournament, and San Diego State was one of the most unexpected ones. The Aztecs scored a massive win over Gonzaga early on, so we should have expected them to be here. However, they started Mountain West play 5-7 and things looked bleak. Coach Brian Dutcher’s team went on to win their final six games of the regular season, knocked off Nevada in the Mountain West semis and then outlasted New Mexico in the title game to earn their automatic berth. Just like when Steve Fisher was at the helm, this team wins with defense. They have some crazy length and tons of athleticism making them extremely difficult to score on.

Matchup – Houston thinks they have a special thing going this year, but I think SDSU might be thinking the same thing right about now with their nine game winning streak. I’m excited to see how Houston’s guards deal with San Diego State’s length on the defensive end. Houston is a very good outside shooting team, but the Aztecs defend the arc pretty well. I think whichever team is better will win, as simple as that.

 

Dallas, TX (East Region)
#3 Texas Tech vs #14 Stephen F. Austin
7:27 pm, TruTV
Spread: 
Texas Tech (-11.5), O/U 138

keenan evans

Texas Tech Red Raiders
Record: 24-9
Leading Scorer: Keenan Evans (17.5 PPG)
Other Key Players: Zhaire Smith (11.2 PPG)
Key Stats: 3rd in the nation in Defensive Efficiency; 38.9% of minutes are played by non-starters (only two teams in the Tournament have a higher percentage of bench minutes)

Chris Beard is quickly climbing the ranks as one of the best coaches in the country. Texas Tech far exceeded expectations this season, and they might have finished even better had star Keenan Evans not gotten hurt late in the year. After he got hurt, the Red Raiders lost four games in a row, showing some weaknesses without Evans on the floor. His health could be the key to whether or not Texas Tech is able to make a deep run in this thing. He played 33 minutes in their Big 12 Tournament loss to West Virginia, and looked much more like himself, so I think Texas Tech is definitely a dangerous team.

sfa

Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
Record: 28-6
Leading Scorer: Shannon Bogues (15.4 PPG)
Other Key Players: Kevon Harris (14.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG), TJ Holyfield (13.0 PPG, 6.4 RPG)
Key Stats: Force turnovers on 26.2% of opponents’ possessions (best in the country); 26.1% of opponents’ points come from the free throw line (highest percentage in the country)

These two key statistics go hand-in-hand perfectly. The Lumberjacks are the most aggressive defensive team outside of Press Virginia, and while it does help them force a ton of turnovers, it also makes them commit a lot of fouls, allowing their opponents to shoot a bunch of free throws. Stephen F. Austin is back in the Tournament for the first time since 2016 when they upset West Virginia in the First Round, and then were just one point away from advancing to the Sweet 16. They’d love to make another run like that this season.

Matchup – Stephen F. Austin is going to create some chaos on the defensive end, but the strongest part of Texas Tech is their guard play. A healthy Keenan Evans along with freshman Zhaire Smith should be able to handle the pressure and have some success. However, Texas Tech does struggle from the free throw line, so if the game is close, the Lumberjacks will have a shot to pull off the upset.

 

Late Evening:

Pittsburgh, PA (East Region)
#8 Virginia Tech vs #9 Alabama
Approx. 9:20 pm, TBS
Spread: 
Virginia Tech (-2), O/U 141.5

virginia tech

Virginia Tech Hokies
Record: 21-11
Leading Scorer: Justin Robinson (13.8 PPG, 5.6 APG)
Other Key Players: Kerry Blackshear Jr. (12.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG)
Key Stats: 12th in the nation in Effective FG%; 8th in 2-point FG% (57.3%, 4th among Tournament teams)

If you take every team in this Tournament and list their three best wins this season, nobody’s list would be better than Virginia Tech’s. They have wins at home over Duke and North Carolina, and they won in Charlottesville against #1 overall seed Virginia. That win at Virginia is the single best win by anybody this season, and it’s the only loss for Virginia over their last 24 games. With those victories, you’d think Virginia Tech would be much better than an 8-seed, but a smattering of losses over the course of the season puts them here. This is definitely a team to pay attention to though, because if they get hot, we already know they can beat anybody.

collin sexton

Alabama Crimson Tide
Record: 19-15
Leading Scorer: Collin Sexton (19.0 PPG)
Other Key Players: Donta Hall (10.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG)
Key Stats: 13th in the nation in Defensive Efficiency; 32.4% from 3-point range (only two Tournament teams are worse)

Alabama entered SEC Tournament play squarely on the Bubble, needing at least one victory to ensure their spot in the Tournament. A miracle floater at the buzzer from super freshman Collin Sexton gave the Tide a 71-70 victory over Texas A&M, getting them to the quarterfinals against regular season champion Auburn. Sexton exploded for 31 points and the Tide knocked off their rivals, clinching their berth in the NCAA Tournament. Sexton is going to be a superstar in the NBA, and if he starts to feel good, this Alabama team could shock the world.

Matchup – This is the best 8/9 matchup in this year’s NCAA Tournament. A Virginia Tech team that is capable of beating anybody in the field versus an Alabama team led by one of the best players in the nation right now, Collin Sexton. Alabama is a fantastic defensive team, but Virginia Tech is one of the most efficient shooting teams in all the land. It will be a great clash of styles.

 

Boise, ID (South Region)
#4 Arizona vs #13 Buffalo
Approx. 9:40 pm, CBS
Spread: 
Arizona (-9), O/U 157.5

arizona

Arizona Wildcats
Record: 27-7
Leading Scorer: DeAndre Ayton (20.3 PPG, 11.5 RPG)
Other Key Players: Allonzo Trier (18.4 PPG), Dusan Ristic (12.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG)
Key Stats: 15th in the nation in Offensive Efficiency; Average height of 78.6 inches (only five Tournament teams are bigger on average)

It has been some kind of season for the Arizona Wildcats. They were the preseason #1 team in the country, but dropped completely out of the rankings following an 0-3 record in the Battle 4 Atlantis. They responded by winning 16 of their next 17 games, reminding everyone why they were #1 to start the year. They only lost 4 games the rest of the season after the trip to the Bahamas, but they’ve dealt with more adversity than anybody. Allonzo Trier was suspended for two games because of a failed drug test (performance enhancers that he claims he took mistakenly) and Head Coach Sean Miller was reportedly caught discussing a $100,000 payment to star freshman DeAndre Ayton by an FBI wiretap. Ayton kept playing, and Miller did miss the loss to Oregon, but both are trying to put everything behind them and move on to winning a National Championship.

buffalo

Buffalo Bulls
Record: 26-8
Leading Scorer: CJ Massinburg (16.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG)
Other Key Players: Nick Perkins (16.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG), Wes Clark (14.6 PPG, 5.3 APG)
Key Stats: 15th in the nation in Adjusted Tempo (4th fastest playing team in the Tournament)

It’s a difficult draw for Buffalo, but you have to give this team a chance, because they are very good. The RPI is flawed, but Buffalo has had a great RPI all season long. This is a great offensive team, defeating Toledo 76-66 in the MAC Championship game. They have four players who average over 14.5 points a game, which is a lot for the college game. They are not very deep, so that could hurt them against a team like Arizona, and they don’t have a great interior presence, which could hurt them against a team like Arizona, but they are going to play the game, so Buffalo has a chance.

Matchup – Arizona is going to be an extremely popular pick to reach the Final Four out of the South Region, and that gives me pause. They are a very good team, but they played in the weakest major conference this season, so they are not nearly as battle tested as some other teams. That is a huge reason why Buffalo has a chance to shock the world and get the victory here. Is it likely? No, probably not, but that’s why we love March Madness, anything can happen!

 

Wichita, KS (West Region)
#3 Michigan vs #14 Montana
Approx. 9:50, TNT
Spread: 
Michigan (-12), O/U 135

mo wagner

Michigan Wolverines
Record: 28-7
Leading Scorer: Mo Wagner (14.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG)
Other Key Players: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (12.6 PPG)
Key Stats: 4th in the nation in Defensive Efficiency; 2nd in Offensive Turnover% (only one Tournament team turns the ball over at a lower rate than UM)

Michigan quietly put together another great season, which is kind of how Head Coach John Beilein likes it. Only thing is when you win your last five regular season games and then win four games in four days, including wins over Michigan State and Purdue, to win a second consecutive Big Ten Tournament title, things tend to stop being so quiet. Regression was expected following the graduation of Derrick Walton and the departure of DJ Wilson, but this Wolverines team might actually be better than last year’s iteration. With the Big Ten Tournament taking place a week earlier than normal, Michigan has been on ice for over a week. Will they be rusty? I guess we’ll find out.

montana

Montana Grizzlies
Record: 26-7
Leading Scorer: Ahmaad Rorie (17.2 PPG)
Other Key Players: Michael Oguine (15.8 PPG), Jamar Akoh (13.1 PPG, 6.7 RPG)
Key Stats: 21.3% of points come from 3-point range (tied for lowest percentage among Tournament teams); 11th in the nation in Defensive Steal%

Montana led the Big Sky wire-to-wire this season, losing just two conference games back-to-back in mid-February. They easily defeated Eastern Washington in the championship game to earn their berth in the NCAA Tournament. Ahmaad Rorie is a fantastic shooting guard, and if he gets hot, I wouldn’t put it past Montana to be able to pull off an upset in the First Round. Heck, the Grizzlies have only lost two games since mid-December, they might not really know how to lose anymore.

Matchup – Michigan is going to be a very popular pick to advance to the Final Four, but I am very interested to see how they play in this game. I think it means something that they have not played since March 4th. If they come out flat, I could see Montana jumping on them and holding them off to shockingly advance. If Michigan wins this game, I like them to go really far this season.

 

Dallas, TX (East Region)
#6 Florida vs #11 St. Bonaventure/UCLA
Approx. 9:57, TruTV
Spread: 
TBD

chris chiozza

Florida Gators
Record: 20-12
Leading Scorer: Jalen Hudson (15.3 PPG)
Other Key Players: Egor Koulechov (13.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG), Chris Chiozza (11.2 PPG, 6.1 APG)
Key Stats: 25th in the nation in Defensive Efficiency; 6th in Offensive Turnover% (only four Tournament teams turn the ball over at a lower rate than UF)

It’s kind of shocking to see a team with 12 losses as a 6-seed, but when you look at their resume, the Gators definitely deserve it. They are not without blemishes, like a home loss to Loyola-Chicago and conference losses to Mississippi, Georgia (twice), Vanderbilt and South Carolina. However, they have neutral court wins over Gonzaga and Cincinnati, and they finished the regular season with consecutive wins over Auburn, Alabama (on the road) and Kentucky. They are the classic “lots of good wins, lots of bad losses” team. All that means is that they are probably just as likely to go to the Final Four as they are to lose their first game.

Matchup – Will update following the conclusion of St. Bonaventure/UCLA

2018 NCAA Tournament Preview: First Four

It has finally arrived ladies and gentlemen, the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament AKA The Big Dance AKA March Madness AKA my favorite sporting event of the year!

I’m going to separate my Tournament preview into three different posts, and I’m going to go chronologically, which means this first post is a look at the First Four games, taking place in Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday and Wednesday night.

*Statistics mentioned are courtesy of KenPom.com and ESPN*

Tuesday, March 13th

Dayton, Ohio (East Region)
#16 Radford vs #16 LIU Brooklyn
6:40 pm, TruTV
Spread: Radford (-4)

Radford Highlanders
Record: 22-12
Leading Scorer: Ed Polite Jr. (13.5 PPG, 7.7 RPG)
Other Key Players: Carlik Jones (11.8 PPG, 3.0 APG)
Key Stats: Average height of 74.8 inches (346 out of 351 teams in DI, smallest team in Tournament); 346th in the nation in Adjusted Tempo (only Virginia is slower among Tournament teams)

Radford had one of the more exciting finishes of Championship week when Carlik Jones nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to defeat Liberty and punch the Highlanders’ ticket to the Dance. Radford likes to limit possessions and keep the game low scoring. They win with defense, which can sometimes be boring, but is often effective (Just ask Virginia). None of Radford’s three games in the Big South Tournament reached a point total of 115.

LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds
Record: 18-16
Leading Scorer: Joel Hernandez (20.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG)
Other Key Players: Raiquan Clark (17.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG)
Key Stats: Average height of 75.2 inches (only Radford is smaller among Tournament teams); 39th in the nation in Adjusted Tempo

The Blackbirds have reached the Tournament after being just the 4-seed in the Northeast Tournament, defeating the league’s top team Wagner in the title game 71-61. Leading scorer Joel Hernandez did it all in that game, scoring 32 points on 10 of 16 shooting. Hernandez is the best player on the court in most of Brooklyn’s games. This team likes to play fast, they like to get out in transition and they like to attack the rim.

Matchup – This game will be a true clash of styles. The Blackbirds want to get out and run and speed the game up, while Radford will look to grind this game to a halt and limit Brooklyn’s possessions. These are the two smallest teams in the Tournament, so rebounding could be a major factor (Radford is the better rebounding team).

 

Dayton, Ohio (East Region)
#11 UCLA vs #11 St. Bonaventure
Approx. 9:10 pm, TruTV
Spread: UCLA (-3.5)

UCLA Bruins
Record: 21-11
Leading Scorer: Aaron Holiday (20.3 PPG, 5.8 APG)
Other Key Players: Thomas Welsh (13.0 PPG, 10.7 RPG), Kris Wilkes (13.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG)
Key Stats: 23rd in the nation in Offensive Efficiency

I was a little surprised to see UCLA make the Tournament (I did not have them making it in my prediction), but I don’t think anybody would deny the fact that the Bruins can beat anybody. They have wins over Kentucky and Arizona this season, and I think that’s the main reason they are here. Aaron Holiday is one of the best guards in the country, and if it wasn’t for DeAndre Ayton, he probably would have been the Player of the Year in the Pac-12. UCLA is great at protecting the ball on offense, but they do not force many turnovers on defense (only two Tournament teams have a lower defensive turnover rate).

St. Bonaventure Bonnies
Record: 25-7
Leading Scorer: Jaylen Adams (19.8 PPG, 5.4 APG)
Other Key Players: Matt Mobley (18.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG)
Key Stats: 19th in the nation in Offensive 3PT%, 23rd in Defensive 3PT%

The Bonnies are one of the hottest teams in the nation right now, having had a 13-game winning streak ended by Davidson in the A-10 semifinals. They boast an incredible backcourt led by seniors Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley. Both guys are extremely talented scorers, each shooting better than 38% from 3-point range and over 85% from the free throw line. Free throw shooting can be a major factor in March, and it could be advantage Bonnies on that front.

Matchup – I think this is going to be the best game of the First Four, with both of these teams likely to feel a little disrespected by the Selection Committee. Both the Pac-12 and A-10 weren’t represented really well in this field of 68 teams, so both the Bruins and Bonnies will be out to prove that they belong. This is the first trip to the Tournament for St. Bonaventure’s seniors, so they will be very motivated in this one. Possibly of note, St. Bonaventure did play in Dayton Arena this season, losing to Dayton 82-72. Despite the loss, familiarity with the court and arena could play a factor for sure.

 

Wednesday, March 14th

Dayton, Ohio (West Region)
#16 Texas Southern vs #16 NC Central
6:40 pm, TruTV
Spread: Texas Southern (-4)

Texas Southern Tigers
Record: 15-19
Leading Scorer: Demontrae Jefferson (23.4 PPG, 4.5 APG)
Other Key Players: Donte Clark (18.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG), Trayvon Reed (9.7 PPG, 8.8 RPG)
Key Stats: Five players average over 9.5 PPG; 23.4% of points come from the free throw line (only two Tournament teams have a higher percentage)

I love when teams like Texas Southern are able to reach the NCAA Tournament. Don’t put a whole lot of stock in their 15-19 record. The Tigers played the toughest non-conference schedule in the nation this season. They receive payment from higher profile schools to come to their gym and play them, using that money to fund their own basketball program. They went 0-13 in non-conference play (all road games), but they did play a few teams tough, losing by 6 to Oregon and by 7 to Clemson, a 5-seed in this year’s Tournament. Head Coach Mike Davis is very experienced, having coached at Indiana and UAB prior, and he’ll have his team ready to fight.

NC Central Eagles
Record: 19-15
Leading Scorer: Raasean Davis (15.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG)
Other Key Players: Pablo Rivas (11.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG)
Key Stats: 11.5% Minutes Continuity (this is a measurement that involves playing time for players who were on the team the previous season. In short, it tracks roster turnover from year-to-year. The national average is around 50%. Only Kentucky has had more roster turnover this season among Tournament teams)

I hope I explained that key statistic in a way that makes sense. I wanted to highlight that because it is the perfect example of why Head Coach LeVelle Moton could be in line for a much higher profile job in the very near future. To take a team that reached the Tournament last season and find a way to return despite the massive roster turnover at such a low profile university is simply amazing. The Eagles were the 6-seed in the MEAC Tournament, and despite losing seven of their last 12 games in the regular season, they were able to win four games in five days to earn this Tournament berth, upsetting Hampton 71-63 in the title game. NC Central played in the First Four last season, so Coach Moton can lean on his experience to get the most out of his club.

Matchup – NC Central is the lowest ranked team on KenPom to reach the Tournament this season (309 out of 351 teams), but you know what they say… “Anything can happen in March.” Texas Southern is the more battle-tested team, having played the likes of Gonzaga, Baylor, TCU, Kansas and Ohio State this season. Both coaches have coached in the First Four before, meaning they’ll have their teams well prepared for the pressure and excitement that comes with the NCAA Tournament.

 

Dayton, Ohio (Midwest Region)
#11 Syracuse vs #11 Arizona State
Approx. 9:10 pm, TruTV
Spread: Arizona State (-1.5)

Syracuse Orange
Record: 20-13
Leading Scorer: Tyus Battle (19.8 PPG)
Other Key Players: Frank Howard (15.0 PPG, 5.0 APG), Oshae Brissett (14.7 PPG, 8.8 RPG)
Key Stats: Average height of 80.1 inches (tallest team in Division I this season); 16.4% of minutes played by non-starters (least bench minutes in Division I this season)

I try not to get too angry at the decisions made by the Selection Committee because it is extremely difficult to come up with the 68 team field, but Syracuse just does not belong in this Tournament. Their resume does not stack up to some of the teams that were sent to the NIT. Nonetheless, they are here, and Coach Boeheim will have his team ready to go. You know about their vaunted 2-3 zone defense, made ever the more effective by their height (second highest defensive block percentage in the nation). In 2016, a lot of people didn’t think Syracuse deserved to make the Tournament, and they responded by reaching the Final Four. Could they do it again this year?

Arizona State Sun Devils
Record: 20-11
Leading Scorer: Tra Holder (18.4 PPG)
Other Key Players: Shannon Evans II (16.6 PPG)
Key Stats: 17th in the nation in Offensive Efficiency; 36th in Adjusted Tempo (only seven Tournament teams play faster)

Jay Bilas likes to say that the Selection Committee should not be in the business of sending messages, they should just pick the best teams. I tend to agree with him, but they sent a clear message by including Arizona State as an at-large selection, and that is that non-conference strength of schedule matters. The Sun Devils went a perfect 12-0 in non-conference play, including a neutral court win over 1-seed Xavier and a road win over 1-seed Kansas. Those are two of the best wins by any team this season, and that is why they got in despite an 8-10 record in Pac-12 play and a first round loss to Colorado in the Pac-12 Tournament. Tra Holder is one of the most fun players to watch this season, and if he gets hot, the Sun Devils could make a run.

Matchup – The strongest opinions from the experts in the immediate aftermath of Selection Sunday are about these teams’ inclusion in the Tournament. One of them is going to get a win and face TCU on Friday night. Arizona State is not a fantastic 3-point shooting team, but they are capable of hitting outside shots, and they’ll have to if they’re going to have success against Syracuse’s zone defense. While I don’t think Syracuse should be here, I do think they have the edge in this game.

 

I will be back again tomorrow with a look at the First Round games taking place on Thursday. Enjoy the First Four, and happy March Madness!!!

Bracketology: 3/11/18

I’m going to try to keep this post short and sweet for you guys. IT’S SELECTION SUNDAY! Enough said.

I’ve put together one final bracket prediction, and you can see it by following the link below, and then it will be followed by a few notes.

*Teams in red are conference champions or projected conference champions*

Jayson’s Bracketology 3-11-18

Last Four Byes: Texas, Florida State, St. Bonaventure, USC

Last Four In: Arizona State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Louisville

First Four Out: Oklahoma State, Saint Mary’s, Middle Tennessee, Notre Dame

Next Four Out: UCLA, Marquette, Syracuse, Oregon

My bracket today includes who I believe will win today’s five conference title games, not necessarily who is favored to win. In fact, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Houston and UT Arlington are all the lower seeded team in their games today, but I expect all of them to come out victorious.

If Harvard beats Penn, they would be a lower seed in the NCAA Tournament (likely a 15-seed). Georgia State would slot right in where UT Arlington is as a 14-seed if they win the Sun Belt.

I do expect Rhode Island to defeat Davidson in the Atlantic 10 title game today, but this is the game today that could have the biggest impact on the bracket. The Selection Committee’s chairman Bruce Rasmussen said in an interview with NCAA.com’s Andy Katz that Davidson will not be an at-large team with a loss. If Davidson pulls off the upset, I believe they would be an 11-seed, pushing Louisville out of the field for me, and moving USC into the First Four.

You can watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show tonight at 6:00 pm on TBS, and be sure to stay tuned as I will have extensive, region-by-region Tournament previews early this coming week.

Bracketology: 3/9/18

Selection Sunday is in two days, and, well, nothing is real clear. Virginia, Villanova and Xavier probably have 1-seeds locked up, with Kansas, Duke and North Carolina likely vying for the final 1-seed.

The Blue Devils and Tar Heels will play for the third time this season, and the winner likely earns a 1-seed with an ACC Championship victory over the winner of the other semifinal between Virginia and Clemson.

The Bubble is extremely murky right now, but I’ll discuss that after I give you a look at my updated bracket. Follow the link below to view the bracket:

*Teams shaded in color are projected automatic bids. Teams in red font have clinched their berth*

Jayson’s Bracketology 3-9-18

Last Four Byes: Alabama, Oklahoma, USC, St. Bonaventure

Last Four In: Saint Mary’s, Middle Tennessee, Baylor, Notre Dame

First Four Out: Louisville, Oklahoma State, Syracuse, Arizona State

Next Four Out: UCLA, Penn State, Oregon, Marquette

Middle Tennessee could be the first potential bid thief of the postseason. The Blue Raiders were upset in the quarterfinals of the C-USA Tournament by 9-seed Southern Miss, opening the door for a potential two bids from the conference.

MTSU is 24-7 on the season now, and outside of a season sweep to Marshall and the Southern Miss loss, they have lost the rest of their games by a combined 20 points to Belmont and likely Tournament teams Auburn, Miami and USC. They don’t have any really good wins, and that’s what ultimately could leave them out, but I think they’ll sneak in as of right now. They have a Top-30 RPI and two Quadrant 1 wins (Quadrant 1 wins consist of home wins vs Top-30 RPI teams, neutral wins vs Top-50 RPI teams and road wins vs Top-70 RPI teams). A third win, on the road against Old Dominion, could move into Quadrant 1 if the Monarchs win the C-USA.

Notre Dame is the most fascinating case, maybe in the history of the Tournament. The Irish, when healthy, are probably one of the 15 or 20 best teams in the nation. But they were without stars Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell for extended stretches this season, and they struggled mightily at times without them.

There are experts who believe the Second Round win over Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament was enough to get them in, but I’m not so sure. I think a win over Duke would have sealed it, but Marvin Bagley made sure that didn’t happen, putting up 33 points and 17 rebounds to lead Duke to the 88-70 victory.

I’m extremely torn on what I think the Committee will do with the Irish, so I have them as my last team in. That would be an extremely precarious position, so ND is likely to have a nervous wait until Sunday night.

There are a number of Bubble teams playing today that could have a big impact on the Tournament:

Alabama – The Crimson Tide are likely in following their last second victory over Texas A&M yesterday, but they have a chance to secure their spot if they can knock off Auburn in the SEC quarterfinals.

USC – The Trojans avoided a disaster by beating Oregon State, and today they’ll take on Oregon in the Pac 12 semifinals. The Ducks have worked their way onto the Bubble, so I don’t think a loss would keep USC out, but they should play like it would.

St. Bonaventure – The Bonnies could be in or out at this point, so they need to win against Richmond tonight. They should only feel safe if they reach the A-10 finals. That would mean two more wins.

UCLA – The Bruins have a big chance tonight against Arizona. If they can knock off the Wildcats, I think it would be hard to keep them out of the Field of 68. With a loss, I don’t think they’ve done enough to warrant an at-large bid.

Oregon – I still think the Ducks are a little ways off from an at-large berth, but a win over USC tonight gives them a shot at an automatic bid in the Pac 12 title game.

If time permits, I’ll hopefully have one final bracket prediction on Sunday morning, but in case I don’t, everybody enjoy the final few days of Championship Week! The NCAA Tournament starts in just FIVE days! It’s such an exciting time of year!

Bracketology: 3/5/18

Championship Week has kicked off, and as we enter the busiest, most exciting week of the college basketball season, things are already crazy as ever!

Five teams have already punched their ticket to this year’s NCAA Tournament. Saturday night, Murray State defeated Belmont in the OVC Championship to become the first team officially into the field of 68. The Racers have reached the Dance for the first time since 2012 when they were a 6-seed.

Yesterday, four more automatic bids were earned. Radford’s Carlik Jones drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Highlanders a 55-52 victory over Liberty in the Big South title game. Radford is in the Tournament for the first time since 2009.

In the Arch Madness finale, Loyola-Chicago dominated Illinois State, winning 65-49 and punching their first ticket to the Tournament since 1985! The Ramblers will be a popular upset pick in the first weekend. Florida Gulf Coast was the team to beat in the Atlantic Sun all season, but the Lipscomb Bison were able to defeat them for the second time this season, taking the A-Sun crown with a 108-96 win over the Eagles. It will be the first NCAA Tournament appearance for Lipscomb.

In the marquee game of the day Sunday, it was the Michigan Wolverines finishing off an impressive run to win their second consecutive Big Ten Championship, knocking off Purdue 75-66. Isaac Haas scored 23 points in the loss, while Mo Wagner led the way for Michigan with 17 points. The Big Ten Tournament was held a week early this season, so the teams will have to sit around and watch everyone else play this week before finding out their fate. It will be interesting to see how the Big Ten fares in the Tournament after this layoff.

I have a new Bracket prediction as we kick off Championship Week, and you can view it by following the link below:

Jayson’s Bracketology 3-5-18

*Teams in color are projected auto-bids. Teams in red have clinched their spot in the Tournament.

Last Four Byes: Missouri, Arizona State, Syracuse, Texas

Last Four In: Louisville, Baylor, USC, Alabama

First Four Out: UCLA, St. Bonaventure, Penn State, Notre Dame

Next Four Out: Washington, Utah, Nebraska, Mississippi State

Notre Dame is going to be the most fascinating case for this year’s Selection Committee. With Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell in the lineup, the Irish were 12-4 this year, including a close loss at #1 Virginia to close the regular season. Without Colson, ND was 6-9. Without Colson and Farrell, they were 0-4. With those two guys healthy, they are very clearly a Tournament team, and they are healthy entering the ACC Tournament. I believe if the Irish can get to the quarterfinals, they have a chance. If they can reach the ACC semis, I think they should feel good about their chances, as that would mean wins over Virginia Tech and Duke to get there. If they find a way to reach the ACC title game, I think they’re a lock. I do not believe that they need to win the automatic bid.

Two more automatic bids will be earned tonight, first in the MAAC Championship Game, with 4-seed Iona taking on 6-seed Fairfield (7:00 pm, ESPN). This one could be a toss-up, with Iona the better team but Fairfield playing really well right now. I’ll take Iona and their postseason experience (they have reached the Tournament in four of the last six seasons) to pull out the victory and make it three straight Tourney appearances.

Then the Southern Conference will crown their champion when 1-seed UNC Greensboro takes on 2-seed East Tennessee State (9:00 pm, ESPN2). The Buccaneers are the defending SoCon champions, falling to Florida in the First Round of the Tournament last season. UNC Greensboro meanwhile has not reached the Dance since 2001. These two teams split their season series with the home team winning both. On a neutral floor, the better team has the advantage. I think that is ETSU, so I’ll pick them to make their second straight NCAA Tournament.

I’ll be back tomorrow with an extensive preview of the major conference tournaments that will kickoff tomorrow afternoon with the ACC Tournament, the rest starting either Wednesday or Thursday.

CBB Weekend Preview: 3/2-3/4

IT’S MARCH! IT’S FINALLY MARCH! HALLELUJAH!!! Quite possibly my favorite month of the year is finally here, and it has started off with a bang! Even the last day in February was wild with Miami’s buzzer-beating victory in Chapel Hill over North Carolina.

March kicked off yesterday with the Second Round of the Big Ten Tournament, which saw Wisconsin outlast Maryland, Michigan survive in overtime against 12-seed Iowa, Penn State use a late run to take out Northwestern and in the finale, last place Rutgers won their second game in as many days, upsetting Indiana thanks to some unconscious shooting in the second half.

Also yesterday, Louisville was on their way to a massive win at home against #1 Virginia, leading by as many as 13 in the second half. But, a foul on a Ty Jerome 3-pointer with less than 2 seconds left and an inbounding violation on Deng Adel were followed by a DeAndre Hunter deep three at the buzzer to shock the Cardinals and give Virginia a crazy 67-66 comeback victory. How could you not love college basketball in March?

The Big Ten Tournament continues today with the Quarterfinals, and here’s a look at how the bracket stacks up so far:

2018 Big Ten Tournament Quarters

My picks for today remain the same from the picks I originally made back on Monday. I’ll take Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue and Ohio State to advance today.

Arch Madness kicked off yesterday with the First Round in St. Louis, and with no Wichita State to dominate the conference this year, it’s much more wide open! Here is a look at the bracket:

2018 MVC Tournament for Blog

Loyola-Chicago is clearly the most talented team, and they scored a non-conference victory at Florida this season, so they could make some noise if they win Arch Madness and advance to the Big Dance. I believe that happens, and here’s how I see it playing out:

Jayson's MVC Tournament Prediction

Illinois State is a team that thought they should have gotten an at-large berth to the Tournament last season, but were left out of the field. That could motivate the holdovers in this year’s Arch Madness. I see them reaching the title game, but falling to a more talented Loyola-Chicago team.

Another big tournament will kick off today with the West Coast Conference in Las Vegas, where it’s expected that we’ll have Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s playing once again for the title on Tuesday night. Here’s the bracket:

2018 WCC Tournament for Blog

The Zags and Gaels are pretty much guaranteed to go to the NCAA Tournament, but every other team in this conference would need to win the automatic bid. BYU is talented, and San Francisco could certainly reach the title game, but we seem destined to see a third meeting between Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. Here’s how I see it shaking down:

Jayson's WCC Tournament Prediction

Gonzaga is without question the best team in this conference, and I think they’ll prove it here with an easy run through yet another conference tournament. I think they win all three games going away.

For most conferences, the regular season wraps up this weekend, while the first few automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament will be handed out as well. Here’s a preview of the biggest games coming up over the next few days.

Friday

#17 Rhode Island @ Davidson
8:00 pm, CBS Sports Network

The Rams are coming off their worst performance of the season, a 78-48 loss to Saint Joseph’s on Senior Night. It was an embarrassing effort from Dan Hurley’s club, and I think they’ll be motivated to get back on track in this one. That won’t be easy though, as they take on the Wildcats, who sit right behind Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 standings. These teams played a few weeks ago, with the Rams winning it 72-59. Davidson will be out for revenge. This should be a great game.

Ohio Valley Conference Semifinals:
#4 Jacksonville State @ #1 Murray State (8:00 pm, ESPNU)
#3 Austin Peay @ #2 Belmont (10:00 pm, ESPNU)

Once again, the OVC will be the first team to crown a champion and officially send a team to the NCAA Tournament, and I think any of these four teams could get it done. Murray State and Belmont are the two best teams, and they proved that throughout the regular season, but both Austin Peay and Jacksonville State have won the OVC Tournament in recent seasons, so they are experienced and they know what they have ahead of them. The Championship game will take place Saturday night at 8:00 on ESPN2.

Saturday

#23 Kentucky @ Florida
12:00 noon, CBS

It has been an up and down season for Florida, but they have an impressive resume and are well on their way to the Tournament. They could end their regular season in a great way with a win over the Wildcats. Kentucky is one of the hottest teams in the country, and they could stake their claim to a Top-4 seed in the Big Dance if they add a road win over Florida to their resume.

#18 Clemson @ Syracuse
2:00 pm, ESPN3/ACC Network

Clemson has struggled at times since losing Donte Grantham for the season, but they are still one of the best teams in the ACC, and a win over them would help any Tournament resume. That’s what Syracuse has to be thinking as they take the floor for Senior Day. The Orange are directly on the Bubble and a win in this game could go a long way. It probably doesn’t guarantee them a berth, but it certainly would help.

Notre Dame @ #1 Virginia
4:00 pm, ESPN3/ACC Network

Notre Dame is clinging to it’s NCAA Tournament hopes, but they have Bonzie Colson back, so they have a chance to make some noise in the ACC Tournament and get to the Big Dance. It certainly wouldn’t hurt them to add a road win over Virginia to their resume. The Cavaliers pulled off an improbable win last night over Louisville, and they will be mighty tough to beat on Senior Day.

Louisville @ NC State
6:00 pm, ESPN

The poor Louisville Cardinals. They had a win over Virginia and a likely berth to the NCAA Tournament right in their hands, and they let it slip away. They remain on the Bubble, and I really think it could go either way right now. That’s what makes this game in Raleigh so important. The Wolfpack have worked their way to the top of the Bubble over the last few weeks, so I don’t think a loss hurts them here. That being said, of course they want to win and continue their momentum into the ACC Tournament.

Arkansas @ Missouri
6:00 pm, ESPN2

These are two SEC Bubble teams, and I think if the season ended right now, they’d both be in. Arkansas is probably safer, but Missouri has a huge X-factor that could change everything for them. Superstar freshman Michael Porter Jr. could play on Saturday, and if the Tigers get him back for the postseason, they are going to be a dangerous team. They could end up as an 8 or 9-seed, and they’d be the last 8/9 that any 1-seed would want to see in the Second Round.

#9 North Carolina @ #5 Duke
8:15 pm, ESPN

The most compelling rivalry in college basketball will add another chapter to close out the regular season on Saturday night. Duke had been rolling before falling to Virginia Tech earlier this week. North Carolina had also been playing really well, but were upset by Miami on Senior Night. This will be the last game at Cameron Indoor for Grayson Allen, so I expect him to go off. Whether that means a Duke win or not, we’ll just have to tune in and find out!

UCLA @ USC
10:15 pm, ESPN

A true Bubble battle. These teams are jockeying for position on the Bubble, and I think they could both be in, they could both be out, it’s really up in the air. USC started the season great, had a lull in the middle of the season, and are playing well again here down the stretch. UCLA has been up and down all season, and could use a road win over USC to enhance their resume. I’m sure Bill Walton will be on the call for this game, so that either means it’ll be lots of fun (if you enjoy him), or unwatchable (if you loathe him, as I do).

Sunday

#10 Cincinnati @ #11 Wichita State
12:00 noon, CBS

The top two teams in the American will do battle for the second time this season, the Bearcats looking for revenge after falling to Wichita at home in the first meeting this season. With a win here and a run through the conference tourney, I think either of these teams could potentially earn as high as a 2-seed in the Big Dance. The first step to that though is a win in this one to finish the regular season.

Big South Championship Game
Radford/Winthrop vs. Liberty/UNC Asheville
1:00 pm, ESPN

The second automatic bid will go to the winner of the Big South. UNC Asheville is the 1-seed, and they and 2-seed Winthrop are the best teams in the conference, and are likely to oppose each other in this title game. Winthrop won the Big South last season, and are looking to make it two trips to the Big Dance in a row, while UNC Asheville looks to make the Tournament for the first time since 2016, when they defeated Winthrop in this title game.

Atlantic Sun Championship Game
#2 Lipscomb @ #1 Florida Gulf Coast
3:00 pm, ESPN

The Atlantic Sun will award their auto-bid Sunday as well, with Florida Gulf Coast hosting Lipscomb, the winner heading to the Dance. The Eagles have won the A-Sun three of the last five years, and they look to head to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season. Meanwhile, Lipscomb is looking to reach the Tournament for the first time in school history. These two teams just played at FGCU on February 17th with Lipscomb pulling off the 90-87 upset victory. That could give them the confidence they need to win this game and their first Atlantic Sun Championship.

Enjoy the last weekend of the regular season and the start of Championship Week! Selection Sunday is just over a week away! I’ll be back Monday with a new Bracketology and some other fun stuff.