All stats courtesy of kenpom.com
#1 Villanova vs. #16 LIU-Brooklyn/Radford (No line yet)
- Nova has the best offense in the nation and can beat you in every phase. Jalen Brunson should be player of the year, and he’s made for this tournament. There are some concerns about their defense and size, but they ranked 22nd in defense and having Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall playing great. Add in athletes like Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo, plus the returning Phil Booth, and the Wildcats are every bit the national title contender you’d expect them to be.
- Villanova best wins: Xavier twice, Providence twice, Seton Hall twice, Butler twice, Creighton, Gonzaga, Tennessee. Villanova worst losses: St. John’
- Radford plays at such a slow pace and plays tough nosed defense, so maybe they’ll be annoying to the Wildcats. LIU Brooklyn is just not very good.
- Injuries: None
- Bets: None
- Pick Villanova
#8 Virginia Tech vs. #9 Alabama (Virginia Tech -1.5)
- Does the committee like giving Nova tough second round matchups? It’s realistic that the national title contender falls in the round of 32 as a 1 seed for the 3rd time in five years. The Hokies are a balanced team with a high-powered offense and a decent defense. Rebounding is their weakness, but that holds true for Bama as well. Justin Robinson has had a hell of a year, but this team is deep: five guys score double figures and pretty much all of their players shoot threes. It would not surprise me at all to see V Tech go on a run, they’re very underrated. Check out their wins, they’re giant slayers.
- Virginia Tech best wins: Virginia, UNC, Duke, Clemson, NC St. Virginia Tech worst losses: Saint Louis.
- Everyone is on the Collin Sexton train, and for good reason. The point guard is a blur and is peaking at the right time. Could he single handedly lead Bama? Maybe, but temper expectations for the freshman. The Tide will need a healthy Donta Hall which they missed against Kentucky. Alabama is an absolutely ferocious defense, ranking 13th in the nation. But they’re not without their flaws. As I mentioned, they can’t rebound well, they don’t shoot threes, and Sexton and the gang have problems holding onto the ball. It’s not out of the questions to see the frosh and a white-hot defense lead a deep run, but they have a tough road.
- Alabama best wins: Rhode Island, Texas A&M twice, Auburn twice, Tennessee, Florida, Oklahoma. Worst losses: Minnesota, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Mississippi, Mississippi St.
- Both teams play at a slightly above average pace.
- Injuries: It’s uncertain if Donta Hall will play for the Tide.
- Bets: Virginia Tech -1.5
- Pick: Virginia Tech
#5 West Virginia vs. #12 Murray St. (West Virginia -10.5)
- WVU got screwed. They’re a five seed that relies on forcing turnovers yet, they could get Landry Shamet in the Round of 32 and either Jalen Brunson or Collin Sexton in the Sweet 16. However, their first problem is Jonathan Stark (not a bastard) of Murray St. The senior point guard is excellent at taking care of the ball and is a big time shot maker. He anchors a balanced Murray team who ranks in the top 60 in kenpom, has balance, and ran through the OVC. Murray is 7th in defending the 3 point shot and ranks in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efg%. They can grab some o-boards and shoot the ball extremely well. This is trouble for the Mountaineers, who are awful and defensive rebounding and defending the 3 ball.
- Murray St. best wins: Murray St. has no good wins but did lose to Auburn by 4. Their bad losses include Saint Louis, Belmont (not really bad), and Jacksonville St.
- The question is the same: Is this West Virginia team any different than the rest? Senior Jevon Carter is a beast and the team is much better when Daxter Miles has played, but they don’t shoot the ball particularly well, they like to force turnovers, and they get out and run. The blueprint is out there to beat them and Murray has what it takes. If the Racers make this a half-court game, I truly think they’re going to win. It’s worth nothing that WVU is 4th in the nation in offensive rebounding, and they could need every o-board they can get.
- West Virginia best wins: Virginia, Texas Tech twice, Kasnas St. twice, Oklahoma twice, Texas, Missouri, a healthy UCF
- West Virginia plays at an above-average pace, while Murray St. play at a below average pace.
- Injuries: None
- Bets: Murray St. +10.5, Murray St. ML
- Pick: Murray St.
#4 Wichita St. vs. #13 Marshall (Wichita -12)
- Wichita St. has underwhelmed quite a bit this year. They’re probably the third best team in the American and their defense has regressed. But their offense is lights out and they can score with anyone. Landry Shamet is going to cause problems in this tournament and perhaps this Shocker team is just waiting to turn it on. However, the biggest advantage is on the glass, especially in this matchup. Markis McDuffie, Shaquille Morris, Rashard Kelly, and Darral Willis are a group of grown men. There’s a ton of experience on this team an
- Wichita St. best wins: Cincinnati, Houston. Wichita St. worst losses: Temple.
- The Thundering Herd are just that, playing at the sixth highest pace in the nation. They ran through a tough Conference USA that included teams such as Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, and Western Kentucky. And while they shoot the ball very well and get to the free throw line, that may be all they’ve got. Jon Elmore had a coming out party in the conference tourney, so he’ll be someone to watch. But this team is dreadful on the boards, and Wichita can make them pay.
- Marshall has no great wins and a handful of bad losses.
- Wichita plays at a slightly above average pace, while the herd play fast as hell.
- Injuries: None.
- Bets: None.
- Pick: Wichita St.
#6 Florida vs. #11 St. Bonaventure/UCLA
- The Gators are a dangerous 6 seed who got tripped up in SEC play, but they could be coming along. Florida rains threes, protects the ball, and hounds the opposing players on defense. Being 37th in offense and 25th in defense isn’t quite national title contender good, but it is very balanced. And this team has been there before. Jalen Hudson, Chris Chiozza, Egor Koulechov, KeVaughn Allen, and Keith Stone (always smooth) could take this team to new heights in the dance. But Florida has their flaws, and they’re going to face a good three point shooting team in the Bonnies or Bruins. The Gators don’t defend the three ball particularly well and if their own long range shot goes cold, they could be in trouble, but this team has a lot of potential.
- Florida best wins: Gonzaga, Kentucky twice, Cincinnati, Arkansas, Auburn, Texas A&M, Alabama, Missouri. Florida worst losses: Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia twice, Vanderbilt.
- I’d love to see the Bonnies get in, as the backcourt of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley is one of the best in the nation. They could give Florida fits. Bonaventure can’t really take advantage of their weakness on the boards, but these dudes can get hot and maybe even win the turnover battle against Florida. Similarly, UCLA guard Aaron Holiday is someone the Gators don’t want to see. But their defense is bad and they probably won’t record any turnovers in that game. They have a chance to defend the glass better than Florida. Against each other, I think it’ll be a high-scoring affair with the senior leadership of Adams and Mobley leading the Bonnies to an upset over the Bruins.
- Bonaventure’s best wins: Rhode Island, Davidson, Syracuse, Maryland, Buffalo. St. Bonaventure’s worst losses: Niagara, Dayton, St. Joe’s. UCLA best wins: Arizona, Kentucky, USC twice. UCLA worst losses: Stanford, Colorado twice, Oregon, Oregon St.
- UCLA plays at a fast pace, St. Bonaventure plays relatively quick, and Florida likes to slow it down.
- Injuries: Bonaventure could be missing Courtney Stockard for the play-in game, which would be a huge blow.
- Bets: None.
- Pick: Florida
#3 Texas Tech vs. #14 Stephen F. Austin (Texas Tech -11.5)
- It’s been a breakout year for Chris Beard and the Red Raiders who have had a breakout year. Tech has the no. 3 defense in the nation and absolutely terrorizes opponents from all avenues. They’ve been banged up recently, but now that they’re healty, TTU could fly under the radar. Keenan Evans runs the show, but Jarrett Culver, Niem Stevenson, , and Zhaire Smith have all played important roles. The question is can Tech score. Their offense is lacking at times but they make up for it with offensive rebounds and getting to the free throw line.
- Texas Tech best wins: Kansas, West Virginia, TCU twice, Kansas St. twice, Oklahoma, Texas twice. Texas Tech bad losses: Iowa St.
- Stephen F. Austin is back doing what they do best: forcing more turnovers than anyone in the entire country. However, I get the feeling Evans will be able to handle the pressure. They have trouble taking care of the ball themselves, so expect a lot of turnovers, and they rank 57th in OREB%, so expect a lot of offensive boards. This game will have a lot of extra possessions and a fast pace.
- SFA doesn’t have anyone wins of note and lost to Mississippi St., SELA, Central Arkansas, and Lamar twice.
- Stephen F. plays fast, Tech plays slow. I feel the Lumberjacks may get them into a track meet.
- Injuries: None.
- Bets: Over 138
- Pick: Texas Tech
#7 Arkansas vs. #10 Butler (Butler -1.5)
- This is the only matchup where the lower seed is favored. Everyone loves Butler as a tournament team, but there’s certainly a reason to. The Bulldogs battled in a tough Big East and were underrated all season. They’re a top 25 kenpom team at 10 seed. Their offense, led by stud Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin, is a sight to behold. But they have their flaws. Difficulties in offensive rebounding, getting to the free throw line, and a bad efg% make Butler hard to trust. But I’m not sure Arkansas has what it takes to take advantage of those. If I’m the Razorbacks, I up my 3-point shooting—Arkansas shoots over 40% from 3 as a team, but only 28.8 percent of their shots come from long range. Butler struggles defending the perimeter.
- Butler best wins: Villanova, Creighton, Seton Hall, Providence. Butler worst losses: Georgetown, St. John’
- Arkansas is similar in that it has a high-powered offense paired with a somewhat weak defense. But their struggles on the glass could come up even against the Bulldogs. Daniel Gafford is a freak down low, but Mike Anderson needs to look at his personnel and understand to beat Butler, you must shoot threes. The Razorbacks’ two biggest contributors are Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon, both seniors who shoot 43% from deep.
- Arkansas best wins: Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Florida, Alabama, Auburn. Arkansas worst losses: Mississippi St., LSU twice.
- Arkansas plays at a fast pace, while Butler plays at an average pace.
- Injuries: None
- Bets: None
- Pick: Arkansas
#2 Purdue vs. #15 Cal St. Fullerton (Purdue -20.5)
- Purdue’s second ranked offense is thanks in part to their #5 efg%, 42% three point shooting, and virtually no turnovers. But they’re uninspiring on the glass and they don’t force many turnovers themselves. The Boilermakers have a ton of weapons to throw at you, mainly Carsen Edwards, Isaac Haas, and Vincent Edwards. Dakota Mathias is also an elite role player. Haas can be a huge (no pun intended) problem down low and his game has gotten polished. As an experienced bunch, Matt Painter’s group should figure things out after a long layoff, but the question remains, can they return to national title contender status?
- Purdue’s best wins: Michigan twice, Arizona, Louisville, Butler. Purdue’s worst losses: Western Kentucky, Wisconsin.
- It’s unclear if Fullerton was the best team to come out of the Big West, and that’s generally a red flag. They have an OK defense and get to the line more than anyone in the country, but Purdue should overwhelm them.
- Fullerton likes to play fast, but Purdue will slow them down.
- Injuries: None.
- Bets: None.
- Pick: Purdue