All stats courtesy of kenpom.com.
#1 Xavier vs. #16 NC Central/Texas Southern (No line yet)
- Xavier has all the talent to make the Final Four but their defense has struggled down the stretch. They can secure defensive rebounds and prevent teams from getting to the free throw line, but that’s about it. Very experienced team that went to the Elite 8 last year and brought back pretty much everyone. Trevon Bluiett will be one of the best players in this tourney, and Kerem Kanter and JP Macrua are excellent flanking him. Quentin Goodin and Naji Marshall will be x factors that determine how far the Musketeers go.
- Xavier best wins: Cincinnati, Butler twice, Seton Hall twice, Creighton twice, Providence. Bad losses: None, although they did prove they were not quite in the same class as Villanova.
- Texas Southern and NC Central are two of the worst teams of the country. Southern can get to the free throw line and NC Central does a good job on the boards, but neither one has a shot at beating Xavier, or has any wins of note.
- Texas Southern plays fast, Xavier plays relatively up-tempo, NC Central plays extremely slow.
- Injuries: None
- Bets: None
- Pick: Xavier
#8 Missouri vs. #9 Florida St. (Florida St. -1)
- Everyone is going to talk about how Michael Porter Jr. is back, but his health is in question and the team played pretty well without him, including his brother Jontay. Still, they’re banged up and rely on freshmen, but Porter’s absence has helped Kassius Robertson, a senior, step into a feature role. Jordan Barnett will not be playing and that is a huge absence. The Tigers are one of the worst in the country at taking care of the ball and forcing turnovers. Whether that improves with Porter remains to be seen. I worry Porter may try to do too much to help his NBA stock, clearly why he returned from injury. Missouri has really held teams to low shooting percentages. They also shoot well from 3, and FSU is terrible at defending that.
- Missouri best wins: Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Arkansas, a healthy UCF. Missouri worst losses: Utah, Illinois, Mississippi, Mississippi St., LSU, Georgia.
- Florida St. has stumbled down the stretch, losing 3 of their last 5 and 5 of their last 8. The Seminoles regressed quite a bit in ACC play, but still sport a top 30 offense. They should win the turnover battle here and are a top 50 team in offensive rebounding. This game really is a toss up. I don’t think FSU can defend here, but they can at least get turnovers, and with injuries and Porter’s return, I really don’t know what we’ll get from Missouri.
- Florida St. plays pretty fast, Missouri plays pretty slow.
- Injuries: Jordan Barnett is out for Missouri, as well as a few other benchwarmers
- Bets: None
- Pick: Florida St.
#5 Ohio St. vs. #12 South Dakota St. (Ohio St. -8)
- I think a lot of people are going to sleep on how good the Buckeyes are. They have a top 30 offense, and top 20 defense, and a NPOY contender in Keita Bates-Diop, as well as an experienced backcourt of junior CJ Jackso and senior Jae’Sean Tate. These two teams are very similar in that they take care of the ball, don’t force turnovers, and rebound on the defensive end. The Buckeyes rely more on the inside game, and they should have their way down low. Ohio St. is just a solid all around team who had a great season in an underrated Big Ten with 3 final four contenders.
- Ohio St. best wins: Michigan, Michigan St., and Purdue (notable that they won the only meetings with MSU by 16 and huge comeback at Purdue). Ohio St. Worst losses: Penn St. thrice. Losing to the same team 3 times (twice by 3 or less) is a matchup issue more than anything. Penn St. has a very good 2 pt defensive % and took away easy buckets from the Buckeyes in those matchups.
- South Dakota St. had another great year that was capped off by an impressive drubbing of South Dakota. They take care of the ball better than anyone in the country and shoot at a high percentage. It’s gonna be a battle of 2’s vs. 3’s, so if the Jackrabbits can get hot, they have a shot. Everyone will be talking about Mike Daum, but freshman David Jenkins has had a phenomenal year. I do worry, however, that if he shrinks on the big stage, the Buckeyes can focus on Daum and be done with it. Daum vs. Bates-Diop will be one of the best matchups of the first round.
- South Dakota St. best wins: Buffalo. South Dakota St. worst losses: Wyoming, Missouri St., Colorado
- Contrast in styles, as you’d expected: The hot-shooting Jackrabbits play at a high tempo, Ohio St. slows it down with brute force.
- Injuries: None
- Bets: I’d consider Ohio St. if the line dropped a bit, maybe to -6.5 or -7
- Pick: Ohio St.
#4 Gonzaga vs. #13 UNC Greensboro (Gonzaga -12.5)
- Why is no one talking about Gonzaga? Mark Few proved he can make it to the Final Four, and while I know there’s been plenty of roster turnover, but Josh Perkins and Jonathan Williams are still there, and we’ve seen Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura grow into important roles. And all of these guys share a decent amount of the offensive responsibility, so they can afford an off night. The Bulldogs are top 20 in offense and defense, they kill it on the glass, and their only flaw is they don’t force turnovers. They’re a true Final Four contender.
- Gonzaga best wins: Ohio St., Texas, Creighton, St. Mary’s twice (fuck the committee). Gonzaga worst losses: None.
- Greensboro is a stingy defensive team but I fear they won’t be able to keep up with Gonzaga. They do just about everything right on that end (top 40 in nearly every defensive category, but they get most of their points off offensive rebounds. They’re a fine team but they were likely to be overmatched, especially against the Zags.
- Greensboro has no notable wins and several bad ones.
- Gonzaga plays somewhat up-tempo, Greensboro plays very slow.
- Injuries: None
- Bet: I don’t like laying this many points, but if you need to bet this game I’d take Gonzaga.
- Pick: Gonzaga.
#6 Houston vs. #11 San Diego St. (Houston -4)
- This one is a DOOZY and could be the best matchup of the first round. I love both of these teams and they’re as hot as anyone. You want a real dark horse Final Four team that no one is talking about? That would be the Houston Cougars. Houston is 18th in offense, 31st in defense, and never beat themselves. They control the glass, defend well, and take smart shots, hitting threes at a near 39% clip. Do you like Cincinnati? How about Wichita St.? Houston is just as good as those two teams and no one realizes it. Rob Gray has been the engine that makes this team go, and the thing that will keep them going. Watch out for Corey Davis and Armoni Brooks both shooting over 42% from three.
- Houston best wins: Wichita St. twice, Cincinnati, Providence, Arkansas. Houston worst losses: Memphis, Drexel, LSU, Tulane.
- The Aztecs, like Houston, don’t really have a weakness. They’re just less talented. They’re solid on both ends of the ball, as well as rebounding. They don’t shoot many threes but still managed to keep up in the Mountain West. They’ve won 9 games in a row, are peaking at the right time, and have Malik Pope, one of the more underrated big men in all of college basketball. Trey Kell can be a problem as well.
- San Diego St. best wins: Gonzaga, Nevada twice. San Diego St. worst losses: Washington St., California, Wyoming, UNLV, New Mexico, Fresno St. twice.
- Both of these teams play at a relatively average pace.
- Injuries: None of note
- Bets: I expect a lot of trading punches with these two teams. Over 142.5
- Pick: Houston
#3 Michigan vs. #14 Montana (Michigan -11.5)
- The Wolverines had an impressive run in the Big Ten tourney, but they’ve had a lot of time off and get a pretty talented Montana team. Sporting a top 5 defense, Michigan does just about everything right on that end of the ball. On the other end, Moritz Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman lead an offense that isn’t too shabby itself. Some may worry about Jordan Poole as a freshman PG, but Michigan is the second best team at taking care of the ball. These Wolverines are legit.
- Michigan best wins: Michigan St. twice, Purdue, Ohio St., UCLA, Texas. Michigan worst losses: LSU, Northwestern
- Montana has been to the dance a few times in the past few years but could never really make any noise. This year may be different. They’re hot, winners of six straight, and they get a team who had a lot of time off. Montana is very balanced itself and outside of shooting the ball, they don’t have any major weaknesses. They can survive without the three ball. What’s interesting to me is that Michigan is terrible at offensive rebounds, while Montana excels at cleaning the defensive glass. This could lead to the Grizzlies hanging around.
- Montana hasn’t beaten anyone of note and has played a relatively weak schedule, losing to several below-average teams.
- Michigan likes to play really slow, and I could see Montana playing into that. They play at an average pace.
- Injuries: No one of note
- Bets: Montana +11.5 and maybe the 1H under
- Pick: Michigan
#7 Texas A&M vs. #10 Providence (TAMU -3.5)
- Providence had a wild Big East tournament, playing three straight overtime games and nearly capturing the title. The Friars have underachieved this year, but they’re getting hot at the right time. They play an ugly brand of basketball and like to muck it up, relying on their defense. But the talent is there: Makai Ashton-Langford, Rodney Bullock, Alpha Diallo, and Isaiah Jackson have all been important players. But it’s been the play of Kyron Cartwright, the 5’ 11” senior point guard, that’s helping them peak.
- Providence best wins: Villanova, Xavier twice, Creighton twice, Butler. Providence worst losses: Minnesota, Massachusetts, Marquette, DePaul.
- The Aggies looked to me like a top 15 team this year, but they’ve also underachieved. They’re pretty similar to Providence in that they rely on their 12th ranked defense, but the consistency has sputtered as they’ve traded winning streaks with losing streaks. The duo of Tyler Davis and Robert Williams should be menacing on defense, and expect a hot tournament from DJ Hogg if TAMU makes a run. Once again, they’ve got a freshman PG in TJ Starks who while talented, turns it over quite a bit. Cartwright should give him trouble, but Davis and Williams may kill the Friars on the offensive glass.
- TAMU best wins: West Virginia, USC, Buffalo, Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, Alabama. TAMU worst losses: LSU twice, Mississippi St.
- Providence will want to slow this one down. A&M plays at an average pace.
- Injuries: Senior Duane Wilson has been out for the Aggies for about a month now and they’ve been 3-4 in his absence.
- Bets: Maybe 1H under
- Pick: Providence
#2 UNC vs. #15 Lipscomb (UNC -19.5)
- I’m still not convinced the Tar Heels are they good. They match up well with Duke and had some great nonconference wins, but in ACC play, I think they’ve underwhelmed. It’s not out of the questions Joel Berry, Luke Maye and co experience a championship hangover, and I don’t think Roy Williams is a very good coach. This is your average run and gun Tar Heel team that struggles sometimes on defense. They force almost no turnovers and don’t defend the three ball well, but they rebound like all hell. I can see Kenny Williams hitting some big threes as well.
- UNC best wins: Duke twice, Michigan, Ohio St., Arkansas, Davidson, Tennessee, Clemson, Syracuse twice, Miami (FL), NC St. UNC worst losses: Wofford.
- Beating FGCU twice in the span of a few weeks is a nice little nugget, as well as sweeping Belmont, but Lipscomb will just be happy to be here. They can hang on the defensive boards and force turnovers, but they don’t shoot any threes and their offense isn’t that good as a whole. Garrison Matthews is a stud.
- Lipscomb has the resume you would expect from a 15 seed.
- You thought UNC liked to run? Lipscomb plays at the 5th highest tempo in the nation. This will likely play right into UNC’s hands.
- Bets: In a fast paced game everyone will love the over, but Lipscomb is bad on offense and could just get killed here, leading to an under 161.5 I also won’t criticize you if you lay the points with UNC. They often blow out their smaller first round matchups.
- Pick: UNC