All stats courtesy of kenpom.com
#1 Kansas vs. #16 Penn
- Everyone always says, “You want a 16 over a 1?” This one isn’t impossible. Kansas is a vulnerable 1 seed, make no mistake. Yes, they’ve come into their own, but this team struggles mightily on the glass and relies way too much on their shooting, threes in particular. A cold night for the Jayhawks could spell doom. But we’ve know they rely on the 3 way too much. However, when they are hitting, they’re REALLY good, like they’ve shown on this streak. Devonte’Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk are one of the more dangerous scoring tandems in the nation, and they’re both seniors. The biggest question? How healthy is Udoka Azubuike. He’s the only player on Kansas averaging five rebounds or more a game. Other than that, they rely on Lagerald Vick, a 6’ 5” “big man” and Malik Newman. After Azubuike, no one else besides Svi (not a big man) is taller than 6’ 5” that you’d expect to make big contributions.
- Kansas best wins: West Virginia thrice, Texas Tech, Kansas St. thrice, Baylor, Texas twice, Oklahoma, TCU twice, Kentucky
- Normally a 16 seed wouldn’t beat a flawed Kansas team anyways, but Penn is no ordinary 16 seed. The Quakers take care of the ball and play solid defense, which they’ll need to—their margin for error is slim. But their two biggest strengths are offensive rebounding (10th in the nation) and defending the 3 (2nd in the nation). Those are DIRECTLY CORROLATED with Kansas’s weaknesses. AJ Brodeur will have to have the game of his life if they want the upset. It’ll still be tough given how much pure talent the Jayhawks have, but I’m saying there’s a chance.
- Both teams play slightly up-tempo—Penn plays a little faster.
- Injuries: Azubuike should play, but just how healthy he is is arguably the biggest question of the tournament.
- Bets: Penn +15
- Pick: Kansas
#8 Seton Hall vs. #9 NC State
- It’s been a disappointing season for the Hall. They’ve had a ton of talent and seniors (Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Ish Sanogo), but they’ve underachieved to this point, unable to beat Nova or Xavier in the Big East. The Pirates shoot the Ball pretty well and gobble up offensive rebounds, but their defense has bled points, they don’t have a true point guard, and they can’t make their free throws—all red flags in March. But they have a major experience/motivation advantage over a young NC St. team who everyone thought was a ways away. A lot depends on Carrington, who will either break out or torpedo the team, and Delgado, who has regressed and is not only above average at getting rebounds (and he must excel at that before he becomes a liability). But the Pirates best player isn’t a senior. Myles Powell is the team’s best 3 point shooter, a solid playmaker, and growing as a defender. Powell knows he has a season group behind him—that should give him the confidence to light it up.
- Seton Hall best wins: Texas Tech, Louisville, Creighton, Providence twice, Butler twice. Seton Hall worst losses: Rutgers, Georgetown, Marquette twice.
- NC St. has had an impressive season, beating Duke, Clemson, and UNC. Their high-powered offense combined with forcing turnovers and defending the 3 has them causing all sorts of problems. But they don’t match up great against the Hall. The Wolfpack are one of the worst teams in the country and defensive rebounding, and unless Omer Yurtseven or Abdul-Malik Abu are ready to bang, Delgado could have his day.
- NC St. best wins: Duke, UNC, Clemson, Florida St., Louisville, Arizona. NC St. worst losses: UNC Grensboro, Northern Iowa, Georgia Tech, Boston College.
- NC St. plays very fast, and the Hall plays at an above average pace as well.
- Injuries: Desi Rodriguez may not be 100%, but the Hall needs his best as one of their most dynamic scorers.
- Bets: None
- Pick: Seton Hall
#5 Clemson vs. #12 New Mexico St. (Clemson -4.5)
- Clemson looked legit this year but they’ve sputtered down the stretch, losing 5 of 8. The loss of Donte Grantham has started to rear its ugly head, but they’re still a top 10 defense. Defending the 3 ball is Clemson’s weakness, but NMSU probably won’t be able to take advantage of that. This game will be a grind. Marcquise Reed and Elijah Thomas will make this game painful for the aggies, but I’m not sure how much they can score. Tough draw for Clemson, as the location favors. NMSU.
- Clemson best wins: Ohio St., UNC, Miami (FL), Florida, NC St., Florida St. Clemson worst losses: Temple.
- Going off of Clemson’s struggling offense, NMSU has the 14th best defense in the country. They defend both the 2 and the 3 very well, and are a top 30 rebounding team. These are all areas Clemson will struggle, and they’re playing right into the Aggies’ NMSU will have to be extremely active on the o-boards to combat a defense like the Tigers’. New Mexico St. is an experienced team that shares the load between Zach Lofton, Jemerrio Jones, and Eli Chuha, so one of them will have to take over this game.
- NMSU best wins: Davidson, Miami (FL). NMSU worst losses: San diego, Seattle, Utah Valley.
- Clemson plays at an extremely slow pace, New Mexico St. plays at an average pace.
- Injuries: Everyone knows about Grantham
- Bets: New Mexico St. +4.5, New Mexico St. ML
- Pick: New Mexico St.
#4 Auburn vs. #13 College of Charleston (Auburn -10)
- Talk about struggling down the stretch. Tigers have lost 3 of last 4 and 4 of last 6. They’re clearly a much better team at home. But their offense is still overpowering and I think it finds its groove. Auburn can withstand an off shooting night due to their careful nature, offensive rebounding, getting to the free throw line, and great ball movement. But when things do break down, Mustapha Heron can take over.
- Auburn best wins: Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, Murray St., Alabama. Auburn worst losses: Temple, South Carolina.
- Earl Grant had a great year at Charleston, leading a top 100 offense to the dance. But the talent will be much better than the Colonial, and I’m not sure the Cougars’ improved defense can handle Auburn. Charleston has a lot of hot shooters, and senior Joe Chealey is going to have himself a game here, but it may be too much from Auburn.
- Charleston doesn’t have any great wins, although they did play Wichita and Rhode Island this year.
- Auburn plays very up-tempo and Charleston plays very slow.
- Injuries: Auburn has struggled since the loss of Anfernee McLemore, who has been out about a month.
- Bets: None
- Pick: Auburn
#6 TCU vs. #11 Arizona St./Syracuse
- There’s a chance Arizona St. and Syracuse don’t deserve to be in, but that doesn’t mean they cant make some noise. The Sun Devils have a top 20 offense that was awful in conference play. They take care of the ball and get to the FT line very well, but aren’t great at rebounding. However, the fact that they regressed in the Pac 12 may not be a bad thing. Their nonconference may have been tougher, and they beat Kansas, Xavier, San Diego St., and Kansas St. The talent is clearly here and I think Tra Holder one of the best PGs in the nation, can help them get back on track. Cuse plays their usual zone that’s given them a top 12 defense this year, but their offense isn’t great. It’s all offensive rebounds and free throws. Looking for Zona to shoot them out of it (40% from 3) and get the game going at their tempo.
- TCU is 8th in offense, but they’ve been missing their PG Jaylen Fisher for quite some time now. Fisher was erratic at times, but he was their engine. TCU never got a good road win this season and seem vulnerable given their defense is so bad. They’re probably overseeded at a six. How much can Vladimir Brodziansky, JD Miller, and Ahmed Hamdy control the boards? That will determine if TCU can get out of the first round. TCU also plays at a very fast pace.
- TCU best wins: Nevada, St. Bonaventure, West Virginia, Baylor twice, Texas, Kansas St., SMU when healthy. TCU worst losses: Vanderbilt.
- Injuries: Fisher for TCU is the big one, but he’s been out a while.
- Bets: I think Arizona St. should win both of these so ASU -1.5 and whatever they are against TCU. An over in an ASU-TCU game could work too.
- Picks: ASU over Cuse, ASU over TCU
#3 Michigan St. vs. #14 Bucknell (Michigan St. -14.5)
- The Spartans are a 3 seed that might be the favorite to win it all. They’re one of two teams in the top 10 in both offense and defense on kenpom.com. The Spartans have insane talent and experience in Miles Brides, Jaren Jackson, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston, I could go on. But their one weakness is the turnover battle. Bucknell should have many giveaways, but I’m not sure they’ll be able to fluster the Spartans. Their first round game is in Detroit.
- Michigan St. best wins: Purdue, UNC. Michigan St. has no bad losses.
- Bucknell is a smart, balanced team that just got a really bad draw. They do everything well and should be able to play some solid defense against the Spartans. I’d like to see what Zach Tomas can do against one of the nation’s best defenses. But The Bison are going to be physically overwhelmed.
- Bucknell likes to get out and run, but look for Michigan St. to slow it down on them
- Injuries: Not a huge loss, but Bucknell may be without Bruce Moore.
- Bets: None.
- Pick: Michigan St.
#7 Rhode Island vs. #10 Oklahoma (URI -2)
- Say what you want, but Oklahoma is in. The question is, can you trust them? I don’t think so. Trae Young has been exposed and he doesn’t have much help. Their defense has been brutal and a team struggling this much down the stretch doesn’t look like it’ll turn it around. So much relies on Young, but the magic is gone. Not that he’s a bad player, but when URI with the 5th best TO% in all of college basketball gets to him, it spells trouble. Young has to go off for the Sooners to have any chance, and they need to keep the Rams off the free throw line.
- Oklahoma best wins: Kansas, Baylor, Kansas St., Texas Tech, TCU twice, Wichita St., USC. Oklahoma worst losses: Oklahoma St. twice, Iowa St.
- URI should handle the Sooners, but their next two games would likely be against Duke and MSU. A brutal draw for a very good team. Like I said, I think the Rams will hound Young and that will be the key of the game. But they’ll also take care of the ball themselves and should control the glass. A senior duo like studs Jared Terrell and EC Matthews are ready to make some noise, but watch out for a Jeff Dowtin breakout.
- Rhode Island best wins: Seton Hall, Providence, St. Bonaventure, Davidson. Rhode Island worst losses: St. Joe’
- Oklahoma plays super fast. URI plays at a slightly above average pace.
- Injuries: Kameron McGusty should play for Oklahoma.
- Bets: URI -2
- Pick: URI
#2 Duke vs. #15 Iona (Duke -19.5)
- Duke is, as usual, a tough team to figure out. They’ve upped their defense in the zone and is the OTHER team to rank top 10 in both offense and defense on kenpom. But on the other hand, UNC showed us twice how to beat them, and their zone is breakable. Duke shoots the ball very well and they’re the best offensive rebounding team in the country. But they struggle mightily in defensive rebounding. The talent is clearly there with Wendell Carter, Marvin Bagley, Gary Trent, and Trevon Duvall. But so is the inexperience—they’re all freshmen. Grayson Allen will need to lead this team when the chips are down. They have all the tools to win a national championship, but I’d be nervous to bet them to do so.
- Duke best wins: UNC, Notre Dame healthy, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida, Texas, Michigan St., Florida St., Miami (FL), Louisville, Syracuse. Duke worst losses: Boston College, St. John’
- Iona has a talented offense with all upperclassmen playing major roles. But they should get smashed by Duke. The Gaels had a nice season coming out of the MAAC mess, but there just isn’t enough talent here. It’ll be interesting to see the clash between freshmen and upperclassmen.
- Both of these teams play pretty fast.
- Injuries: None. Wendell Carter and Gary Trent will play.
- Bets: Duke -19.5 if you must
- Pick: Duke