NCAA Tournament First Round Preview: West Region

I’m going to start of my Regional previews with the West Region, and it’s for no other reason than that each of the eight First Round games in this region will take place on Thursday. So it makes sense for me to get this one out there first.

The West Region is led by the #4 overall seed, the 32-1 Gonzaga Bulldogs, who despite what some people may say, more than deserved to be a 1-seed. They did not play in a very difficult conference this season, but they challenged themselves out of conference, and if you go an entire regular season losing just one game, you deserve to be a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

In the immediate aftermath of the bracket reveal, the popular opinion was that the West is the weakest region in this year’s Tournament. But just because the region is considered “weak” overall, doesn’t mean that the team to make it out of San Jose didn’t earn their trip to the Final Four just as much as the teams in the other three regions. Without any further delay, here is a preview of the First Round in the West Region.

*Any statistics discussed are courtesy of KenPom and ESPN*

2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket

West Region

Salt Lake City, UT
#1 Gonzaga (32-1) vs #16 South Dakota State (18-16)
Thursday 3/16, 2:00 pm TBS

Overview: The Zags had a really good shot to enter the Tournament undefeated, but BYU had other ideas, defeating them 79-71 in the Bulldogs’ regular season finale. They rebounded though, winning the conference title beating Saint Mary’s, the WCC’s only other Tourney team, for a third time in the finals. Don’t let the past fool you, this team is legit. South Dakota State is in the Tournament for the second straight year after defeating Omaha in the Summit League title game 79-77. The Jackrabbits enter the Dance as the team with the most losses in the Field.

Key Players: Washington-transfer Nigel Williams-Goss is the leader for the Zags, and not only that, but he’s easily one of the best players in the entire nation. Williams-Goss averages a team-leading 16.9 points and 4.8 assists per game. He has lots of help though, as four teammates also averages double-figures, including senior center Przemek Karnowski (12.6 PPG) and freshman big man, and future NBA’er, Zach Collins (10.2 PPG in just 17.1 MPG). The fact that a probable 1st rounder in the NBA Draft comes off the bench for Mark Few is all you need to know about this team’s talent. South Dakota State does have a star of their own though in 6-9 sophomore Mike Daum. Daum is 2nd in the nation in scoring at 25.3 points per game, and he put up 37 points in the title game victory over Omaha.

Why GONZ will Win: The most simple answer is because no 16-seed has ever beaten a 1-seed. I believe it will happen one day, but I don’t see it happening here. This team is a legit National Title contender. SDSU is an extremely poor defensive team, and Gonzaga just has too much firepower. They are 2nd in the nation in effective FG percentage according to KenPom, and they’ll be too much for the Jackrabbits to handle. Gonzaga easily moves on.

Why SDSU will Win: I just said a 16-seed has to beat a 1-seed at some point, so why not South Dakota State? As a legitimate point, there haven’t been many 16-seeds in history with a player as talented as Mike Daum. He could certainly go off for another huge game, and if that happens, it’s possible that the Jackrabbits could keep it close, and maybe even pull off one of the biggest upsets in history.

 

Salt Lake City, UT
#8 Northwestern (23-11) vs #9 Vanderbilt (19-15)
Thursday 3/16, approx. 4:30 pm TBS

Overview: One of the best stories of this entire basketball season is Northwestern finally reaching the NCAA Tournament. The school that hosted the very first NCAA Tournament is dancing for the very first time. They are the last major conference team to play in an NCAA Tournament, and don’t think just making it here is all they wanted. This team believes they can make a run in this thing, and so do I. They drew a tough First Round matchup though in Vanderbilt, a team much better than their record suggests. 15 losses is the most for an at-large team in Tournament history, but Vandy got in based on their strength of schedule (17th according to KenPom) and a number of big wins, knocking off Big 12 champion Iowa State and defeating Florida three times!

Key Players: The straw that stirs the drink for the Chris Collins’s Wildcats is junior point guard Bryant McIntosh (14.4 PPG, 5.7 APG). McIntosh and fellow junior Scottie Lindsey (14.2 PPG) have been on a mission to get this team into the Tournament, and they’ll be damned if they aren’t going to make sure this team makes a great showing in their first trip. Vanderbilt is an extremely talented team as well, led by a couple upperclassmen in senior big man Luke Kornet (13.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG) and junior guard Matthew Fisher-Davis (13.6 PPG, 37% 3PT). Fisher-Davis has struggled down the stretch, and he’ll need to play well if they’re going to win this game.

Why NW will Win: The Wildcats have finally gotten here, and I have a hard time believing that they aren’t going to make the most of it, and that means getting at least one victory. This team is extremely balanced, talented in the paint and on the perimeter. Bryant McIntosh is probably the best player on the floor, and he leads a group of guards that I believe has the clear advantage in this game. They will make enough shots down the stretch to win a tight one.

Why VAND will Win: Northwestern is a great story, but it’s certainly possible that Vanderbilt is the better team. The Big Ten had a down year, and Vandy beat Florida three times, a team that is better than just about every team Northwestern played this season. Luke Kornet is a big man that likes to play on the perimeter, and the floor spacing Vandy brings will open up driving lanes, allowing the Commodores to get to the free throw line, where they shoot over 77 percent, and win a close game, ending the dream season for Northwestern.

 

Buffalo, NY
#5 Notre Dame (25-9) vs #12 Princeton (23-6)
Thursday 3/16, 12:15 pm CBS

Overview: The first game of the Tournament this year will pit the only team to reach the Elite Eight in each of the last two seasons against the winners of the very first Ivy League Tournament. Coming into the season, Notre Dame was expected to have a drop-off, picked to finish 7th in the ACC. Instead, Mike Brey reminded everyone why he is one of the best coaches in basketball, leading the Irish to the ACC title game. They’re going to be tested here though by a very experienced Princeton team. The Tigers have a little momentum (19-game winning streak, second longest in the nation entering the postseason) and history on their side as well. The Ivy League representative in the Tournament has won a game three out of the last four seasons.

Key Players: Bonzie Colson is one of the best rebounders in the nation (10.2 per game, best in the ACC), and he also leads the Irish in scoring at 17.2 points per game. Oh yeah, and he’s only 6-5. He does have a 7-2 wingspan though, which definitely helps. ND also has one of the most improved players in the country in point guard Matt Farrell. Farrell came on late last season, playing well in the NCAA Tournament. He put a full season of success together this year, and I’m sure that will carry over to the postseason. I mentioned Princeton’s experience earlier, and they are led by seniors Spencer Weisz (team leading 32.9 minutes per game) and Steven Cook (13.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG). Cook shoots over 42 percent from 3-point range, one of three starters who shoot better than 40 percent from behind the arc.

Why ND will Win: Once again, the Irish are an overlooked team heading into the Tournament. They feel slighted by Committee giving them a 5-seed, and will play with a chip on their shoulders because of it. I don’t think Princeton has a player that can deal with the matchup problem that is Bonzie Colson. Colson and company have way too much talent, and they will overwhelm the Ivy League champs. Notre Dame wins this one going away.

Why PRIN will Win: 12-seeds over 5-seeds is always a favorite upset pick in the Tourney. Over the last five Tournaments, 12-seeds are 10-10 in the First Round. Only four times since the field expanded to 64-plus teams in 1985 has no 12-seed advanced to the Round of 32. What else does Princeton have going for them? There isn’t science to back this up, but a fair amount of upsets in the Tournament tend to happen in the early afternoon games. This game will lead off the First Round, and the Tigers will be fired up to start the Tourney off with a bang. If they can find a way to pressure the Irish on defense while keeping them off the free throw line (ND is the best FT shooting team in the nation), they can score the upset.

 

Buffalo, NY
#4 West Virginia (26-8) vs #13 Bucknell (26-8)
Thursday 3/16, approx. 2:45 pm CBS

Overview: Early going in the season, I, along with a fair amount of experts, pegged West Virginia as a team that could contend for a National Championship. After that, the season had its ups and downs, with the Mountaineers scoring victories over Virginia, Kansas, Baylor, and Iowa State twice, but also losing Texas Tech and Oklahoma, and blowing a 12-point lead with less than three minutes left in a game at Kansas. On the other side, we have a Bucknell team that dominated the Patriot League, going 15-3 in conference play, defeating Lehigh in the championship game, the team that was responsible for two of the Bison’s three conference losses. This is a very young team, as out of the nine players who average over 10 minutes a game, zero are seniors.

Key Players: A couple junior forwards are the ones to watch out for on the Bucknell side. 6-7 Zach Thomas (16.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG) and 6-9 Nana Foulland (14.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG) are the top two scorers and rebounders for the Bison. West Virginia plays a suffocating style of defense, and that is spearheaded by senior Tarik Phillip and junior Jevon Carter, who average 1.8 and 2.6 steals per game respectively. The Mountaineers have a very balanced scoring attack, with just two players averaging double-figures.

Why WVU will Win: A team with good guard play can give West Virginia problems. They thrive on being able to force turnovers and score quickly off of them. Bucknell’s guard play is not the best, and they are in the bottom half of the nation in offensive turnover percentage. That does not bode well for them. “Press Virginia” will do exactly that, and win this game going away.

Why BUCK will Win: The West Virginia team we have seen lately has not been the same one that many pegged as a title contender at the beginning of the season. If the Bison can limit turnovers and be able to set up their offense, they can dominate WVa on the interior. Big games from Thomas and Foulland are enough to fuel Bucknell to the upset.

 

Orlando, FL
#6 Maryland (24-8) vs #11 Xavier (21-13)
Thursday 3/16, 6:50 pm TNT

Overview: It’s been a tale of two seasons for both of the teams in this game. Maryland started an impressive 20-2 this season, but limped down the stretch going 4-6 over their last 10 games, including a quarterfinal loss to N’Western in the Big Ten Tournament. I believe a 6-seed was a little high for them. Xavier started well also, going 15-6 to start their year. Then star point guard Edmond Sumner suffered a season-ending knee injury. They were able to win their first three games after the injury, but then fellow star guard Trevon Bluiett was injured. He missed just two games, but the team ended up losing six of their last seven, before picking up a couple wins in the Big East Tournament.

Key Players: The Musketeers really miss Edmond Sumner, but they do still have junior Trevon Bluiett, who averages a team-leading 18.1 points per game. The only other Xavier player not injured who averages double-figures is guard J.P. Macura at 14.5 points per game. Maryland is lead by one of the most talented guards in the country in junior Melo Trimble (17.0 PPG). He has five NCAA Tournament games to his credit, and that experience could play a major factor for the Terps.

Why MARY will Win: Xavier, despite having very good outside shooters, tend to try to do their most damage on the interior. Maryland has a lot of size, and it is tough to get good looks in the paint against them. Melo Trimble will be the best player on the floor, and he will take over this game and hit a late shot to send Maryland to the Second Round.

Why XAV will Win: They struggled down the stretch, but they picked up some steam in the Big East Tournament, knocking off Butler and nearly beating Creighton. Trevon Bluiett has a penchant for hitting the big shot. I think this will be a very close, low scoring game, and it could come down to which team has the ball last. If it comes down to one shot, I want Bluiett taking the shot. He hits it, and the Musketeers advance.

 

Orlando, FL
#3 Florida State (25-8) vs #14 Florida Gulf Coast (26-7)
Thursday 3/16, approx. 9:20 pm TNT

Overview: A little in-state Tourney battle, and it’s taking place in their state! I am a fan of this “coincidence.” Florida State earned this high a bid at the beginning of ACC play, going 6-1 to start conference play, with all but the first one against ranked teams (wins over Virginia, Duke, Notre Dame and Louisville in that span). They had struggles after that, losing to teams like Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Pitt. On the other side, Dunk City is back in the Tournament! You probably remember FGCU from their Sweet 16 run as a 15-seed in 2013, the birth of Dunk City. Believe it or not, they have more dunks this season than they did that year. The Eagles were not playing at full strength for a portion of this season, but they are at their fullest right now, and they are probably better than a typical 14-seed.

Key Players: The Seminoles are one of the most athletic teams in the country, led by star freshman and future 1st round NBA Draft pick, 6-10 Jonathan Isaac (11.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.5 BPG). He has some fantastic teammates as well in guards Xavier Rathan-Mayes (10.4 PPG, 4.8 APG) and Dwayne Bacon (team-leading 16.9 PPG). 6-8 senior forward Marc-Eddy Norelia is a beast for FGCU, but he missed 10 games during the season due to personal issues (team was 6-4 in those games, including single-digit losses to Baylor and Michigan State). He is back (which is HUGE for the Eagles), and in his absence, UCF-transfer Brandon Goodwin became a star in his own right, averaging 18.4 points per game.

Why FSU will Win: For as talented as FGCU is, they don’t even come close to what the Seminoles have to offer. Florida State is great on both sides of the floor, and they should have an easy time playing their style against the Eagles. FSU will run the Eagles to death and simply outscore them en route to victory. No fun for Dunk City this year.

Why FGCU will Win: This team will come into this game thinking that they are the better team. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to push a team over the edge. For as talented as Florida State is, they have really struggled at times away from Tallahassee. Orlando isn’t very far, but it’s still not Tallahassee. Dunk City will prove to be alive and well, getting the Florida crowd on their side, rekindling some of the magic from 2013, and pulling off the huge upset.

 

Salt Lake City, UT
#7 Saint Mary’s (28-4) vs #10 VCU (26-8)
Thursday 3/16, 7:20 pm TBS

Overview: When you talk about teams that are flying under the radar, Saint Mary’s is one of the first teams that comes to mind this year. They have just four losses this season, and three of them are to Gonzaga, who as it was noted earlier, is an extremely good team. The Gaels did not play a difficult schedule this year, but they know how to win, and KenPom has them as the 14th best team in the country. VCU has flown under the radar a little bit this year as well, finishing second in the A-10 in both the regular season and the tournament. Will Wade is one of the biggest names in coaching right now in terms of major conference openings, and he has done a great job with this team.

Key Players: Saint Mary’s has a player named Jock Landale, and he is a 6-11 junior who is averaging 16.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, and he finished second in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings. So yeah, he’s extremely good. VCU has some talented players as well, with senior JeQuan Lewis (14.7 PPG, 4.6 APG, 1.7 SPG) and junior Justin Tillman (12.4 PPG, 8.8 RPG) leading the way. They also have a monster in the middle, 6-7 senior Mo Alie-Cox, who I think has been at VCU for 18 years. At least it’s felt like that long.

Why SMC will Win: You can knock the Gaels for playing an easy schedule, but you can’t knock them for losing to Gonzaga three times. They are a much better team than most people realize, led by one of the most efficient offenses in the nation. They are in the Top-15 in the country in both 2-point and 3-point percentage, so it’s not like you can just take one of them away and expect to beat them. They will slow the game down, play their pace, work through their star Landale, and get the victory.

Why VCU will Win: This is going to be a low scoring game, as both teams are better on the defensive side of the ball. Athleticism is going to be a major advantage for the Rams, and I think if they can force some missed shots and get out and run, they can beat Saint Mary’s.

 

Salt Lake City, UT
#2 Arizona (30-4) vs #15 North Dakota (22-9)
Thursday 3/16, approx. 9:50 pm TBS

Overview: A few weeks ago if you asked people who the best team in the Pac-12 was, most probably said Oregon or UCLA. Arizona laughs at those people now, having beaten the Bruins and the Ducks in consecutive nights to win the Pac-12 Tournament and earn the 2-seed in the West. This team’s strength of schedule was not strong, but here are the four teams they lost to: Butler, Gonzaga, Oregon, UCLA. All teams on the top four seed lines in this Tournament. They are totally healthy right now, and peaking at the perfect time. North Dakota is in the Tournament for the first time in school history, needing overtime to defeat Weber State in the Big Sky title game.

Key Players: Allonzo Trier might be the best player for Arizona, and he missed the first 19 games of the season. Trier is averaging 17.3 points per game, and his return has transformed this team. Lauri Markkanen is another player you should pay attention to on the Wildcats. The 7-0 freshman is drawing Dirk Nowitzki comparisons, and it’s spot on. 6-0 senior guard Quinton Hooker is the man for the Fighting Hawks, averaging 19.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game.

Why AZ will Win: They are playing their best basketball right now, and a lot of times, it’s the teams that get hot down the stretch who go on to make deep runs in the Tournament. North Dakota isn’t great on defense, and they tend to struggle to guard the 3-point arc most of all. Arizona has a bunch of great shooters. They will make more than 10 from behind the 3-point line en route to a huge win.

Why UND will Win: It’s going to be tough for the Hawks to even compete in this game, as Arizona is considered by most to be the favorite to advance to the Final Four out of this region. Arizona likes to slow the pace on offense and set up in the half court, while North Dakota would much rather speed the game up. If they can force some missed shots and push the tempo, maybe North Dakota has a shot to shock the world.

 

NCAA Tournament Preview: West

The first two games in the 2016 NCAA Tournament took place last night in Dayton, with Florida Gulf Coast and Wichita State advancing to the First Round. Bracketball has been previewing the First Round over the last few days, and today, we’ve reached the fourth and final region, the West Region, which will have its semifinals and finals in Anaheim, California.

The 1-seed in the West is the undisputed 2016 Pac 12 Champions, the Oregon Ducks. Some experts question whether the Ducks were deserved of a 1-seed over the likes of Michigan State, Oklahoma and Villanova. You know the Ducks will take that and play with a giant chip on their shoulder.

As with the rest of the previews, any statistics are courtesy of ESPN and KenPom. Here is one more look at the bracket in its entirety.

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West Region

Spokane, WA
#1 Oregon (28-6) vs #16 Holy Cross/Southern
Friday 3/18, 7:27 pm TruTV

Overview: What an end to the season for the Oregon Ducks. They played terrific in Pac 12 competition, winning the regular season title over Utah, then they went and just wiped the Utes off the MGM Grand Arena floor in the Pac 12 Title Game, winning 88-57, their third victory over Utah this year. This team likes to play fast, and the put up a ton of points. There a difficult match-up for almost any team, and certainly for either Holy Cross or Southern.

Key Players: You can look back to my First Four preview to see the key players for HC and Southern, but for Oregon, they don’t necessarily have a star player, just a lot of really good players. Guard/forward Dillon Brooks is the emotional leader for this group, and he’s their leading scorer at 15.7 points per game. Freshman guard Tyler Dorsey is their sharpshooter, shooting over 43 percent from long range while scoring over 13 a game. And JUCO-transfer forward Chris Boucher is a force defensively, as he blocks 3.1 shots per game, one of the best marks in the country.

Why ORE will Win: As I’ve said in my other previews, a 16 has never defeated a 1, and I don’t see it starting with a team as talented as Oregon.

 

Spokane, WA
#8 St. Joseph’s (27-7) vs #9 Cincinnati (22-10)
Friday 3/18, approx. 9:57 pm TruTV

Overview: St. Joe’s looked like a tournament team for much of the second half of the season, but they solidified their spot with a win over VCU in the A-10 Championship Game. This is arguably the most talented group Phil Martelli has had since Jameer Nelson and Delonte West led the Hawks to an undefeated regular season in 2004. On the other side, you have a Cincinnati team that made the Tournament despite losing a thriller in four overtimes to UConn in the American quarterfinals. Many thought that might eliminate the Bearcats, but they’ve earned a 9-seed instead.

Key Players: The Hawks are led by a legit NBA prospect in forward DeAndre Bembry. Bembry is extremely athletic, and he averages 17.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game this season. Along with Isaiah Miles (18.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg), the Hawks have a really talented frontcourt. Junior guard Troy Caupain is the offensive star for Cincinnati. Caupain this season is averaging 13.2 points and 4.8 assists per game. If he struggles, the team usually does too.

Why SJU will Win: They are playing with all sorts of confidence right now. They were nearly defeated by George Washington in the A-10 quarterfinals, and then pretty easily handled Dayton and VCU. They are extremely athletic, and they value the basketball more than most teams. Cincinnati is very good defensively, especially in the paint, so for St. Joe’s to win, they’ll need to avoid turning the ball over, and they’ll need to make jump shots.

Why CIN will Win: As I just mentioned, Cincinnati has one of the best interior defenses in the nation, and that could cause some problems for the Hawks. St. Joe’s can make jump shots though, so Cincinnati needs to put a lot of pressure on the ball to force turnovers and contested jumpers. That will give them the best chance to come out on top. If Cincinnati can slow the game down to their pace, they’ll be in good shape.

 

Providence, RI
#5 Baylor (22-11) vs #12 Yale (22-6)
Thursday 3/17, approx. 2:45 pm CBS

Overview: What an incredible accomplishment it is for Coach James Jones and the Bulldogs to be able to get to this point. Yale is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1962, and they will take on the Baylor Bears out of the Big 12. Baylor is a very talented team, but they just couldn’t get past the class of the Big 12, going 0-7 against Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

Key Players: Both teams have several talented players, but for the purposes of this game, the key is going to be on the glass. For Baylor, that is Rico Gathers’s department. Gathers, a 6-8 senior who has already made clear his intentions to pursue a career in the NFL after the season, leads the team in boards at 9.1 per game. He’ll be battling with 6-6 senior forward Brandon Sherrod for the Bulldogs. Sherrod is second on the team in rebounding with 7.1 per, but he is the biggest body on the team, so he’ll be the one banging with Gathers.

Why BAY will Win: These teams play a very similar style. They both want to play a slow pace, and they are both very good on the boards. The difference comes with Baylor being the better offensive team, while Yale is better on the defensive end. I think that is good news for Baylor. The Bears are the more athletic team, and they’re more talented. Yale defends the paint well, but they’ll have trouble with the size of the Bears’ frontcourt. If Rico Gathers and Johnathan Motley play well, Baylor wins this game.

Why Yale will Win: The thing Yale has going for them is that they have nothing to lose. They’re in the Tournament for the first time in over 50 years, so it’s a huge accomplishment just to be playing in this game. If Yale wants to move on to the Second Round, I think they’ll need to make shots. Baylor gives up a lot of open looks from three in their 1-3-1 zone defense, and Yale shoots a good percentage from distance. If they can make shots, they could very easily outscore Baylor and win this game.

 

Providence, RI
#4 Duke (23-10) vs #13 UNC Wilmington (25-7)
Thursday 3/17, 12:15 pm CBS

Overview: The First Round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament will kick off tomorrow on St. Patty’s Day with Duke and UNC Wilmington going at it in Providence. It’s been a strange season for the Blue Devils. They lost four of five games at one point, and people weren’t sure if they’d even make the Tournament, but they turned it on eventually. They do limp into the tourney though, having lost four of their last seven games. UNC Wilmington is a hot team on the other hand, having won 16 of their last 18 games, including a victory over top-seed Hofstra in the CAA finals.

Key Players: You probably hate him, but sophomore guard Grayson Allen is the whole show for Duke. Many expected freshman star Brandon Ingram to be that guy, but he’s been way too inconsistent for them to rely on him. Allen averages over 21 points a game for Duke, and he’ll have to shoulder the load if they’re going to make a run. Junior guard Chris Flemmings is the leader for the Seahawks, averaging 16.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. The Seahawks like to play small, and they spread the wealth among their guards.

Why Duke will Win: All season, this has felt like one of those Duke teams that will be overseeded in the Tournament (they are) and will probably go out early (we’ll see). That being said, Duke is just flat out more talented than UNC Wilmington. The Seahawks like to play small, and Marshall Plumlee has played better lately for Duke. I’d expect them to try to play in the paint to take advantage of UNC Wilmington’s lack of size. If they don’t, Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram will just probably take over this game.

Why UNCW will Win: Duke might be the worst defensive team in this tournament. There have been many games this year where it looks like they aren’t even trying to play defense. UNC Wilmington is a very efficient team offensively, and if they come out aggressive, they could get out in front of the Blue Devils. Duke lacks size as well, and they give up a lot of points inside the arc, where UNC Wilmington does most of their damage. They’ll need to be aggressive offensively if they want to pull off the upset.

 

Oklahoma City, OK
#6 Texas (20-12) vs #11 Northern Iowa (22-12)
Friday 3/18, approx. 9:50 pm TBS

Overview: Shaka Smart has done an incredible job in his first season at the helm of the Texas Longhorns. They don’t play as fast as his VCU teams did, but they are just as good defensively as those teams were. They have wins over North Carolina, Oklahoma and West Virginia (twice), so they know how to beat the top teams. Another team that has some huge wins this year is the team they’re up against in the First Round, the Northern Iowa Panthers. Northern Iowa also defeated North Carolina this season, and they also have a win over Iowa State, as well as two victories over Wichita State. This will be a great game.

Key Players: The most talented player for Texas is junior guard Isaiah Taylor. Taylor is averaging 14.8 points per game, which leads the team, and he also posts 4.9 assists per contest. He is the straw that stirs the drink for the Longhorns. On the other side, Wes Washpun is a name you’ll want to become familiar with. Washpun averages 14.3 points and 5.2 assists per game for the Panthers, and he is extremely clutch. He hit a jumper from the top of the key as time expired to defeat Evansville in the MVC title game to get Northern Iowa to the Tournament.

Why TEX will Win: Texas played the toughest schedule in the nation according to KenPom, so they will be more than ready for the bright lights of the NCAA Tournament. This team is great defensively, and they don’t give up a lot from the perimeter. Prince Ibeh is a great interior presence, but Texas is best defending jump shooters. Northern Iowa likes to shoot a lot of jump shots, and that should play right into the hands of the Longhorns.

Why UNI will Win: Northern Iowa has lost to teams like Colorado State, New Mexico, Missouri State and Loyola-Chicago this season, but the Panthers play up to their competition. Texas is a really good team, and that means that Northern Iowa is likely to step it up because of that. The Panthers struggle on the offensive boards, so they’ll need to make shots if they’re going to win this game.

 

Oklahoma City, OK
#3 Texas A&M (26-8) vs #14 Green Bay (23-12)
Friday 3/18, 7:20 pm TBS

Overview: Texas A&M has had a terrific season, losing to Kentucky in the SEC Championship game, but earning a higher seed in the NCAA’s than the Wildcats. That shows you how good certain people think this team is. In the First Round, they’ll take on the Green Bay Phoenix, who are one of the most fun teams to watch in this field. Green Bay plays faster on offense than any team in the country according to KenPom, and they’ll look to turn this game into a track meet.

Key Players: A pair of transfers lead the way for the Aggies. Danuel House started his career at Houston, and now he is one of the leading scorers for Texas A&M at 15.5 points per game. Also averaging 15.5 points per game this year for the Aggies is SMU-transfer Jalen Jones. These two guys are really good, and they’ll look to lead Texas A&M deep into this tournament. On the other side, Green Bay is led by a couple seniors in guard Carrington Love and forward Jordan Fouse. Fouse scores 12.8 points and corrals 8.4 rebounds per game, while Love is terrific both offensively and defensively, scoring 17.7 points per game, and getting over 2.5 steals a game.

Why A&M will Win: Texas A&M is one of the best defensive teams in the country, and they’ll have to be on Friday if they’re going to slow down the Phoenix. Green Bay likes to play at the rim, and Texas A&M has some really good interior defenders in Jones and freshman Tyler Davis. If the Aggies can slow the game down a little, and force Green Bay into contested jump shots and not allow them to get into the lane, they should get the victory.

Why GB will Win: Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good the defense you’re playing is when you play at lightning speed like Green Bay does. They will take the first open shot they get, so it will be paramount for Texas A&M to keep the pressure on. If Green Bay can speed this game up and not turn the ball over, I could definitely see them pulling off the upset.

 

Oklahoma City, OK
#7 Oregon State (19-12) vs #10 VCU (24-10)
Friday 3/18, 1:30 pm TNT

Overview: The Selection Committee was very kind to the Pac 12 this year, and one of the biggest beneficiaries were the Oregon State Beavers. A team with 12 losses, that I had pegged as a true Bubble team ended up with a 7-seed, way out of Bubble territory. They’re a good team, but maybe not 7-seed good. They’ll take on the VCU Rams who haven’t skipped a beat after losing coach Shaka Smart to Texas. New head man Will Wade is bringing another really good defensive team into the Big Dance.

Key Players: The point guard for Oregon State has a name that may be familiar. Gary Payton II runs the show for the Beavers, and as you can tell by the name, he is the son of “The Glove.” Payton is a fantastic player across the board, averaging a team-leading 15.9 points per game to go along with 7.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.5 steals per game. For VCU, senior guard Melvin Johnson will be finishing off his stellar career in the NCAA Tournament, but he may be less than 100 percent, as he banged up his foot in the A-10 Tournament. Johnson leads the Rams in scoring at 17.4 points per game.

Why OSU will Win: Gary Payton II is more than capable of shouldering the load for the Beavers, and if he takes over this game, there might not be anything VCU can do. Oregon State may be without second leading-scorer Tres Tinkle, who has not played in the last four games. If Oregon State can take care of the ball and make threes, something that they are very efficient in doing, they can defeat VCU.

Why VCU will Win: If Oregon State is without Tinkle, the coach’s son, in this game, the pressure that VCU’s guards will put on Payton and Tinkle’s replacement could be too much to handle. Despite being 6-8, Tinkle is a great ball handler. VCU may be licking their chops if Tinkle doesn’t play, and that spells bad news for the Beavers. VCU likes to play at the rim, and Oregon State can struggle to defend the paint at times. That should be the gameplan for the Rams if they want to move on to the Second Round.

 

Oklahoma City, OK
#2 Oklahoma (25-7) vs #15 CSU Bakersfield (24-8)
Friday 3/18, approx. 4:00 pm TNT

Overview: Seniors and shooting. That is how Oklahoma has gotten it done this season, and they are National Championship or bust. An early season blowout of Villanova set the tone for how this season could be for the Sooners, and then wins over Iowa State, West Virginia and Baylor proved that this was one of the best teams in the nation. It has been a rough start in Division I basketball for D-II power CSU Bakersfield, but they have finally made the NCAA Tournament for the first time this year after knocking off New Mexico State in the WAC finals.

Key Players: Buddy Hield is likely the National Player of the Year, and for good reason. Hield averages 25 points per game for the Sooners, most of any major conference player. He also shoots an incredible 46.4 percent from three-point range. Along with fellow seniors Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler, this group is looking to make a deep run in the tourney this year. The Roadrunners are one of just a couple teams in the field who have five players averaging double-figures in scoring, led by senior forward Aly Ahmed at 12.9 points per game. 5-10 junior point guard Dedrick Basile was huge for the Roadrunners in the WAC final against NMSU, and he’ll need to be spectacular once again if Bakersfield has any shot in this game.

Why OU will Win: I just cannot imagine Buddy Hield losing the NCAA opener in his final season to a 15-seed. It just won’t happen. Oklahoma has too much firepower on offense for the Roadrunners to handle.

Why CSB will Win: While Oklahoma is a great team, all it will take is one off shooting night from the Sooners and they could be done. KenPom rates CSU Bakersfield as one of the top-30 defensive teams in the nation, but they are best at defending inside the arc. Oklahoma is deadly from behind the arc. If the Roadrunners can force some missed jumpers, they have a slight chance in this one.

 

And we have now previewed each of the First Round games in this year’s NCAA Tournament! Thursday and Friday are going to be jam packed with excitement, so make sure you have your sick voice ready when you call into work to get the day off! We’ll have another post on Friday with a preview of the 2nd round games taking place on Saturday.