NCAA tournament first round preview
This year’s college basketball season was one of the most unusual that we have ever seen. FBI investigations, players getting arrested for shoplifting, insane guard play, dominate big men, and a constantly changing Top 25, to name a few headlines from the 2017-18 season. March Madness is truly the greatest event in all of sports. 68 teams with a one game to prove what they have. The winners get another game, the losers see their dreams shattered. Whether you are a mid-major, a 15-seed, or the #1 overall seed, each team has the same opportunity: 40 minutes of basketball. Let’s get to it.
This past Sunday, the NCAA unveiled the “top” 68 teams in the country that will be battling it out on the biggest stage for the right to call themselves the National Champions. Year after year, millions of people fill out a bracket; some for fun, some for competition.
This year’s tournament has the capability to be one of the most fun and intriguing tournaments ever. That’s right, ever. There’s no clear cut favorite. Surely there will be a team that goes on the Cinderella run, the question is, which one? A top seed will go down early, but have fun choosing which one. That’s what makes millions of people fill out brackets and tune into the games year after year.
With that being said, it’s time to get to the fun stuff. Here are my predictions for the Round of 64 games.
#1 Villanova vs. #16 Radford
This one is pretty cut and dry. Jay Wright and have proved throughout the season that they are one of the top teams in the country, time and time again. I 100% expect them to dominate this one from start to finish.
#8 Virginia Tech vs. #9 Alabama
One of my favorite matchups of the first round. Buzz Williams and the Hokies facing off against Collin Sexton and Avery Johnson. The Hokies have an impressive resume, knocking off Virginia, Duke, Clemson, and UNC this season. A tough loss in the ACC Tournament to Notre Dame might still be dwelling on them and Alabama has the best point guard in the country on their team. Yes, I said it; Collin Sexton is better than Trae Young. I expect this one to be a dogfight, but it will be Sexton and the Tide who come out on top in the end.
#5 West Virginia vs. #12 Murray State
12/5 upsets are very trendy picks, but this isn’t the one. West Virginia is a very poised team on both sides of the floor and they have a Wooden Award candidate in Jevon Carter who should be able to keep OVC Player of the year, Jonathan Stark (21.8 ppg) from taking over for the Racers. Expect “Press Virginia” to keep Murray State out of rhythm and to slow down their scoring. Murray State are winners of 13 in a row, but that streak is coming to an end. Bob Huggins and Co. will survive and advance.
#4 Wichita State vs. #13 Marshall
Dan D’Antoni’s boys like to get up and down and shoot the three. They also have one of the highest scoring backcourts in the country in Jon Elmore (22.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 6.9 APG) and C.J. Burks (20.5 PPG). The Thundering Herd are back in the tournament for the first time since 1987, so expect them to be motivated and ready to go. Unfortunately for them, they are matching up with one of the most experienced and efficient teams in college basketball: Wichita State. The Shockers have a team full of upperclassmen, and six players who average over 8.0 points per game. While a team that shoots threes and pushes the tempo is really tough to beat, they can also be very vulnerable if the shots aren’t falling. Marshall simply doesn’t have the inside game to take down Wichita State. Shock ’em! Wichita State will advance to take on WVU.
#6 Florida vs. #11 St. Bonaventure
I really like this matchup. The Bonnies are coming off a thrilling win against UCLA in the play-in game and will look to carry that momentum into their matchup with the Gators. The Gators have five players who all love to shoot the three ball, which makes them an extremely dangerous team. Jaylen Adams (19..4 ppg) had a rough shooting night against UCLA (2-16, 8 points), but started to catch rhythm late in the game. If Adams can get it going, the Bonnies have a legitimate shot to be beat Florida. At the end of the day, the Gators have more experience and better shooters, which is why I think they advance.
#3 Texas Tech vs. #14 SF Austin
Stephen F. Austin is back in the tournament and looking to bust a few million brackets again this year. The Lumberjacks entered the 2014 NCAA Tournament as a 12 seed and knocked off #5 VCU in OT. In 2016, the Lumberjacks busted some more brackets as the 14 seed by upsetting #3 West Virginia by fourteen points. While this is also a trendy upset pick, Texas Tech is one of the top defensive teams, and far too athletic to let them join that list of shame. Expect a 15+ point blowout by the Red Raiders, especially if Keenan Evans is healthy.
#7 Arkansas vs. #10 Butler
The Bulldogs vs. the Razorbacks. This one is a toss up. Butler is a team that historically performs well in the tournament and have the potential to beat anyone, considering they dropped 101 points in a win against Villanova. Arkansas is a very balanced team, lead by Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon, who typically combine for nearly 40 points a night. Arkansas looks to force teams into making mistakes with their crazy defense, but Butler is historically a poised team that takes great shots. Kelan Martin (20+ ppg) leads a very conservative Butler offense that rarely turns the ball over. The Bulldogs have won at least one game in each of their past 3 tournament appearances, but I like Arkansas’ offense in this one. The Razorbacks take the battle of the cool mascots.
#2 Purdue vs. #15 Cal State Fullerton
This one will be over before it starts. I’m not one to judge teams based on one game, but CSF lost to USC (a non-tournament team) by 42 points. Who knows, a different team could show-up for CSF. I mean, they did get to this point somehow. At the end of the day, Purdue is one of the biggest and toughest teams in the country, which I think will be too much for the Tigers. You can put Purdue down in pen to advance to the next round.
#1 Virginia vs. #16 UMBC
If your looking to go out on a limb and pick a 1/16 upset, I would not chose this one. UMBC advanced to the NCAA Tournament on a 3-pointer at the buzzer against the America East powerhouse Vermont, which could give them some momentum. Virginia is the best defensive team in the country and they proved to the whole country throughout the season that they are the #1 overall team. Write in Virginia for this one, and don’t be surprised if the Retrievers don’t score more than 50 points.
#8 Creighton vs. #9 Kansas State
This is probably one of the toughest games of the first round to pick. Both teams have guys that can get it done on both sides of the floor. Kansas State beat Oklahoma, Texas twice, and TCU twice, while Creighton beat Villanova and UCLA. Now that Dean Wade and Barry Brown are expected to play for K-State, that makes this game even more interesting. Senior guard Marcus Foster will lead the Blue Jays to victory in this one.
#5 Kentucky vs. #12 Davidson
Oh boy, oh boy! This one is going to be good. Coach Calipari has his boys playing well at the right time after a rough season to say the least. But don’t count out Davidson – one of the best three point shooting teams in the country. This one might be closer than many people are thinking. If the Kentucky team that played in the SEC tournament shows up, then they should win this one. If the Kentucky team from the middle of the year shows up, Davidson will run away with this one. I’m going with the Wildcats in this one. See what I did there?
#4 Arizona vs. #13 Buffalo
DeAndre Ayton. Allonzo Trier. Yeah, I’ll take them in this one. Actually, it’s not fair of me to not give any love to Buffalo. Buffalo has four players who average between 14.0 and 17.0 points per game. If they weren’t playing Arizona, I would like Buffalo a lot in the round of 64. Unfortunately, they are going against possibly the best duo in college basketball. Oh yeah, and Arizona has that whole FBI scandal to try and overcome, so they will be playing with a little bit of firepower.
#6 Miami vs. #11 Loyola-Chicago
Let’s just get this out of the way: do not underestimate Loyola-Chicago. They are one of the best scoring teams in the country. They shoot the ball over 50% and have a defense that ranks top-5 in points per possession. Miami’s Bruce Brown will not play, but I think Miami is more battle tested than Loyola-Chicago, so I’m going with Miami.
#3 Tennessee vs. #14 Wright State
Defense, defense, defense. That’s the name of the game for the Volunteers and they will defend you hard for 40 minutes. Their offense is a little shaky, but with Admiral Schofield I would never count them out of a game. Wright State isn’t very good on the offensive end, so I fully expect the Vols to roll through this one, starting with their defense. AND the Volunteers just released a video, saying “Don’t pick us”. It’s clear they feel that they have to prove something. I REALLY like Tennessee to make a deep run in this tournament.
Don't pick us.pic.twitter.com/cGmCl55gTS
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) March 14, 2018
#7 Nevada vs. #10 Texas
The Nevada Wolfpack can light it up on offense, averaging over 80 PPG, with a plethora of scorers. The Martin twins and Jordan Carolina combine for over 50 points, 20+ rebounds, and nearly 10 assists per game. But let’s not forget about the future Top 5 Draft pick that the longhorns have in Mo Bamba, who averages a double double. Shaka Smart is also historically a great coach in the tournament, so it’s very tough to pick against them. Nevada does not have a deep bench seeing how only six players average over seven minutes a game, but I think their trio of 6’7” scorers will be enough to get past Shaka and Bamba. <— That was a lot fun to type.
#2 Cincinnati vs. #15 Georgia State
Ron Hunter and the Bulldogs are back in the tourney for the first time since they shocked the world by upsetting Baylor in 2015. Their offense runs through sophomore phenom D’Marcus Simonds, who averages north of 20 ppg. As for Cincinnati, they produce their offense through their lockdown defense that forces offenses to fold and turn the ball over. When I say lockdown defense, I mean lockdown defense. Any team that holds their opponents to fewer than 60 points per game is a team that is capable of doing serious damage in the tournament. This is a very trendy upset that some people are picking, but unless Georgia State can score throughout the game for a total of more than 70 points, they don’t have a legitimate shot at beating the Bearcats. Plus, RJ Hunter isn’t on the team anymore, so I expect the Bearcats to run away with this one.
#1 Kansas vs. #16 Penn
If you are looking for the 1/16 upset, this is the one that COULD happen. I’m not saying it will happen, but Penn is the strongest 16 seed that the field has ever seen. They are one of the best teams at defending the three and 10-2 in their past twelve games. Kansas on the other hand was the Big XI regular season champion for the 14th time in a row and went 4-1 against the Top-25 this season. Sorry folks, this isn’t going to be the 1/16 upset.
#8 Seton Hall vs. #9 NC State
The Pirates and the Wolfpack both have very athletic teams that can beat anyone. NC State beat Duke, Clemson, UNC, and Arizona. Seton Hall beat Texas Tech, Creighton, and Providence, but played Villanova and Xavier tough. I went back and forth with this one, but finally decided to go with the veteran squad, Seton Hall to advance. The Wolfpack will have no answer for 6’10” senior Angel Delgado.
#5 Clemson vs. #12 New Mexico State
The Tigers proved themselves in the ACC with their elite defense and ability to keep teams off the free throw line. New Mexico State doesn’t shoot free throws well, which could give Clemson a big advantage. UPSET ALERT. The Aggies will still pull this one out for the annual 12/5 upset. Zach Lofton is a crafty scorer who averages nearly 20 points per game. Pair him up with Jemerrio Jones, who has double-double capability, and the Aggies can be the Cinderella story of this year’s tournament.
#4 Auburn vs. #13 Charleston
As winners of 11 out of their past 12, I really, really like this Charleston. Led by Grant Riller (18.7 PPG), Joe Chealey (18.5 PPG) and Jarrell Brantley (17.0 PPG), the Cougars have a very balanced scoring attack that can lead them to wins. Auburn has lost 3 out of their last 4, but they won 21 out of their first 23 games to start this season. Auburn has their own balanced, yet elite offensive attack and strokes it at 78.6% from the free throw line. Like I said, I really love this Charleston team, just not against Auburn.
#6 TCU vs. #11 Syracuse
After their win on Wednesday night over Arizona State, Syracuse is riding some momentum into this matchup with the Horned Frogs. TCU shoots nearly 40% from three, which will help them against Syracuse’s zone. I’m going to keep this simple. No team can 100% prepare for Cuse’s zone in just two days. My New York bias has me picking Cuse in this one!
#3 Michigan State vs. #14 Bucknell
Michigan State has one of the best rosters on paper. Jaret Jackson and Miles Bridges, yeah I’ll take them over Bucknell. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but this isn’t 2016 and Bucknell isn’t Middle Tennessee State, so I fully expect the Spartans to survive this one and move on.
#7 URI vs. #10 Oklahoma
HERE WE GO! Dan Hurley’s team has some of the best guards in the country, while Oklahoma has the freshman phenom Trae Young. This game is must see TV. Can Trae Young pull of his heroics once more for the Sooners, or will he be one-and-done… in the tournament. It’s nearly impossible to prepare for Trae Young with little notice, but Rhode Island has seniors E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell to do their best. URI is one of the most dangerous teams in this tournament, which leads me to believe they can take this one. Rams over Sooners in a high scoring affair.
#2 Duke vs. #15 Iona
After winning the MAAC Tournament…again, the Gaels have a tough task in trying to slow down a Duke team full of NBA prospects. Iona’s only chance is to outshoot the Blue Devils, which they can do (38.8% from three). The Blue Devils have the definite advantage inside which is where they will dominate. I’m taking Duke, in a surprising close one (15ish points).
#1 Xavier vs. #16 Texas-Southern
The 15-19 Tigers looked impressive in their First Four win over NC Central, but they have a tall-task (no pun intended) in trying to defend Xavier.
#8 Missouri vs. #9 Florida State
The biggest headline heading into this game is the comeback of Michael Porter Jr. Heading into the year, Porter Jr. was projected to be an NBA lottery pick, before he hurt his back. Porter Jr. is back in action after a rough shooting performance in the SEC Tournament. If he can get off easy shots, it’s going to be a long night for Florida State. With that being said, nobody has a bigger team than the Seminoles. Their length can disrupt anybody they are playing. Terance Mann and Phil Cofer make up a dominate frontcourt, but I think Porter Jr., Kassius Robertson, Jordan Barnett and Jontay Porter will be too much for the Noles – Missouri wins this one.
#5 Ohio State vs. #12 South Dakota State
The Buckeyes vs. the Jackrabbits is a very intriguing matchup. South Dakota State can score with the best of them (84.9 ppg) and have a big threat in 6-foot-9, 250-pound Mike Daum. On the other hand, Ohio State has the Big 10 Coach of the Year, and the Big 10 player of the year ((Keita Bates-Diop) (19.4 PPG, 8.8 RPG)). Ohio State has already beaten Michigan State, Michigan, and Purdue this season and don’t have a horrible loss all season. Ohio State should avoid the upset and move on.
#4 Gonzaga vs. #13 UNC Greensboro
Gonzaga has a very potent and balanced offense, highlighted by five different players averaging double figures. In contrast, UNCG’s strong point is on defense where they holds teams below 65 points on average. At the end of they day, Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie will be too much for the Spartans.
#6 Houston vs. #11 San Diego State
Houston is one of my Sweet 16 teams simply because they play hard, and have a guy named Rob Gray. Gray can score in flashes from anywhere on the court. The Aztecs struggle to find a true-scorer on some nights, which is why I like this matchup for Houston, who has a top tier defense. The Aztecs streak of 9 straight wins comes to an end in Wichita at the hands of Houston.
#3 Michigan vs. #14 Montana
Michigan is peaking at the right time. Coming off their second straight Big Ten tournament championship, the Wolverines are capable of beating anyone right now. They wear you down with great shot selection on offense and solid defense on the other end. They just knocked off Michigan State and Purdue, so it’s safe to say Montana will be next.
#7 Texas A&M vs. #10 Providence
Texas A&M is a very unique team. They play slow, rebound, and don’t like to launch it up from three. They have solid bigs inside that can rebound the ball like no others. But, Ed Cooley’s team has shown that they can hang with the top dogs with 3 straight OT games in the Big East Tourney, knocking off Xavier and losing in the final seconds to Villanova. I like the Aggies toughness and grit in this one.
#2 UNC vs. #15 Lipscomb
Led by Joel Berry and Luke Maye, the Tar Heels are efficient and rebound the ball so well. They have made two straight Final Four’s and are the most experienced tournament team in the field. Roy Williams is 27-0 in the first round and that will improve to 28-0 on Friday.