#16. Austin Peay vs. #1 Kansas
The Kansas Jayhawks were able to capture their 12th straight Big 12 regular season championship as well as another Big 12 Tournament title last week. The Jayhawks are entering the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and winnersg of 14 straight. Senior forward Perry Ellis and junior guard Wayne Selden represent the bulk of Kansas’ scoring, with Ellis averaging 16.7 PPG and Selden 13.3 PPG. Good guard play is what you need to go far in March and Kansas has two of the nation’s best in Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason.
The additional ball handler in their starting lineup has helped immensely for the Jayhawks. Throughout the majority of the season, Mason and Graham have kept the offense running smoothly, this is a result to a 3:1 assist/turnover ratio amongst the two. Marksmen Brannen Greene and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk are vital three-point shooters off the bench for Kansas, as the Jayhawks are the second best three-point shooting team in the country, connecting on 42.6 percent of their perimeter shots.
The insertion of 6’10” forward Landen Lucas into the starting lineup back in January was the piece that Kansas needed and has turned KU’s interior defense to one of the best in the country even without a perennial shot blocker. While he’s only averaging 5.8 PPG, Lucas’ size has kept opponents off the glass. Since his time as a starter, Lucas is averaging 7.7 rebounds per game and has enhanced KU’s two-point defense; holding opponents to 33.8 percent inside the arc.
Austin Peay finished 4th in the OVC during the regular season, but reeled three wins in a row to take home the tournament crown. The Governors don’t rely a lot on the three-ball, only making an average of five per game. Most of their points come inside, where senior center Chris Horton averages 18.9 PPG and 12.0 RBG. Still, in the end, Kansas has way too many weapons and the Governors’ lack of size will kill them. Kansas breezes past to the Round of 32.
Pick: Kansas 84-58
#9 UConn vs. #8 Colorado
UConn tore through the AAC Tournament by winning three games in a row. Actually, if it wasn’t for their late run, they might have missed the tournament completely. The Huskies offer up a balanced attack with four starters averaging double figures. Sophomore guard Daniel Hamilton is UConn’s most impact player as he’s the team’s third leading scorer (12.4 points per game) and leading rebounder (8.9 per game). It’s uncharacteristic for a 6’7” guard to lead the team in rebounds, but Hamilton has thrived in this role all season. To compliment Hamilton, the Huskies feature junior shooting Rodney Purvis and senior forward Shonn Miller.
To oppose UConn will be 5th place finishers in the Pac 12, Colorado Buffaloes. If there’s one thing you need to know about Colorado it’s that they’re the 4th best rebounding team in the country, grabbing 42.4 per game. At the fore-front of Colorado’s rebounding surge are forwards Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon. Among the two, both are averaging seven boards per game and cause friction inside. Scott and Gordon are well-represented in the paint, but wing George King keeps Colorado’s offense moving, by averaging 13.8 PPG and is drilling 45.6 percent of his three-point shots.
It’s March and while you could make a strong case that UConn is in prime position to go on another epic run to take the National Title. Understand the competition that’s in front of them. The Buffaloes are a bigger, deeper, and more experienced team than the Huskies. While UConn’s guards create a lot off the dribble, it won’t matter if they can’t rebound a lot of their missed shots. Coming into the game, UConn poses as the 150th best rebounding team in the NCAA, their lack of size won’t be able to overcome Colorado’s physicality and occasional hot shooting.
Pick: Colorado 68-64
#12 South Dakota State vs. #5 Maryland
It appeared that too high of expectations were put on Maryland this season, as the Terps floundered when the pressure turned up amid the heart of Big Ten play. But make no mistake, the Terps are still lethal and capable of making a deep tournament run. Point guard Melo Trimble and shooting guard Robert Carter have pioneered Maryland to a fifth seed by their sufficient shooting and consistent scoring (both are averaging over 12 PPG). Diamond Stone has emerged into a force down low unexpectedly this past month. The freshman Stone is logging an average of 27 minutes per game and is Maryland’s lone rebounding threat. Head coach Mark Turgeon may have to ride Stone this tournament considering how little production he’s received from his bench this season.
South Dakota State captured both the Summit League regular season and conference tournament title by relying heavily on their persistent perimeter defense. Senior guard George Marshall and freshman Mike Daum are long and can create problems for Trimble and Damonte Dodd, who have been shaky with the ball this year. The Jackrabbit’s don’t have a big lineup, but they do have depth and a battle of attrition is something to focus on. However, Maryland does have size to constitute mismatches inside and the combination of Stone and Jake Layman should take over late.
Pick: Maryland: 74-63
#13 Hawaii vs. #4 Cal
Cal may be the only team in this region that can match up with the top seeded Jayhawks athlete-wise. Freshman Jaylen Brown is good as they come when put on-the-ball to defend other team’s guards. Brown is the Golden Bears’ second leading scorer averaging 15.0 PPG. Senior forward Tyrone Wallace and guard Jordan Matthews round out Cal’s scoring. Despite being a smaller team, their ability to shoot and stretch the floor by playing mostly four guards can generate problems to teams.
Hawaii wasn’t given any favors from the committee by being placed in the top half of this region. You could make a strong case that the Warriors were under-seeded, only losing five games the entire season. Hawaii takes a heavy amount of threes, attempting 22 per game. Roderick Bobbit and Aaron Valdes both are shooting over 35 percent from behind the arc. Stefan Jankovic, 6-11 transfer from Missouri can score, shoot from almost anywhere on the floor. His height and ability to rebound over Cal’s smaller forwards may disrupt offensive efficiency for the Golden Bears.
Much like Cal, the Warriors possess one of the best shooting defenses in the country. Hawaii obtains the 18th best field goal defense, holding teams to shoot 39.8 percent from the field. With that being said, I’ll make my first upset of the tournament and take Hawaii over Cal. Hawaii’s guards won’t shoot it necessarily well, but if they can shut down Brown and Matthews from scoring, the Warriors can utilize their depth bench to pull of the upset.
Pick: Hawaii 83-77
#11 Wichita State vs. #6 Arizona
Arizona, just like Hawaii fell victim to being faulty seeded by the committee. The Wildcats finished third in a deep Pac 12 and awarding them with a #6 seed seems peculiar. Arizona will throw a considerable amount of size at Wichita State, who was able to breeze past their first four game 70-50 over Vanderbilt.
The Wichita State Shockers took home the Missouri Valley regular season title, however fell to Northern Iowa in the conference tournament semifinals. The Shockers were hampered by injuries much for much of the season, from starting point Fred Van Vleet all the way down to shooting guard Evan Wessel.
Arizona will employ tantalizing 7’0” center Kaleb Tarczewski as much as they can. Tarczewski has thrived in his role for the Wildcats, which is to block shots and gather rebounds. The senior is averaging 9.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per contest this season. For offensive purposes, Arizona will hand it to their experienced back court, where senior small forward Ryan Anderson and guard Gabe York lead the Wildcats’ in scoring, both averaging over 15 points per game. The one thing Anderson has done for Arizona is stabilize himself as a premier rebounder. Despite his 6’8” size, he leads the leads the team in rebounds with 10.4 per game.
Wichita State upholds the nation’s best scoring defense, limiting teams to 59.3 points per game. The Shockers’ feisty and resilient mindset will keep them in it all the way to the end. But this will be when Arizona’s size begins to show.
Pick: Arizona 70-65
#14 Buffalo vs. #3 Miami
Miami is a favorite to make it all the way to the Elite 8 by many and for good reason. The Hurricanes have sound and athletic guards and forwards who can run the floor well. At the heart of Miami’s attack is fearless point guard Angel Rodriguez, who is second on the team in scoring with 11.7 PPG. When the Canes need a bucket or an offensive surge, they depend on 6’6” small forward Sheldon McClellan, averaging 15.7 PPG and is shooting 39.4% from three. Miami will also count on Davon Reed, Ja’Quan Newton, and Tonye Jekiri to produce off the bench.
Buffalo rode a tumultuous regular season to get to the NCAA Tournament. The Bulls only won 17 games before pulling off three consecutive wins in the MAC Tournament. Buffalo doesn’t have a ton of size, but they won’t need it as Miami isn’t that tall themselves. Freshman guard CJ Massinburg can hot from three, shooting 40% from three. But they’re going to need a lot more offensive firepower than that to hang with the Canes.
Pick: Miami 77-55
#10 Temple vs. #7 Iowa
Seventh-seeded Iowa makes its third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes, who registered their fourth straight 20-win season under coach Fran McCaffery, attempt to make it past the second round for the first time in its sixth try since 1999. The Hawkeyes are carried by the tandem of senior forward Jarrod Uthoff and junior guard Peter Jok, who have accounted for 44 percent of the team’s scoring and 53 percent of its made 3-pointers.
Temple Owls return to the tournament after a two-year absence on a roll, winning 13 of their last 17 games after opening with an 8-7 record under coach Fran Dunphy, who takes the Owls to their sixth NCAA tournament in his 10 seasons but first since 2013. The Owls don’t do anything particularly spectacular aside from playing defense, but even that wasn’t there in a 77-62 loss to Connecticut in the American Athletic Conference tournament. Overall, Temple limits the opposition to 41.7 percent shooting from the field and 31.4 percent from 3-point territory, but occasionally they’ll throw in a clunker as it did against the likes of Villanova, Tulsa and UConn. Quenton DeCosey is the main cog on offense, averaging 15.6 points and Jaylen Boyd cleans up underneath with 8.3 rebounds per game.
Uthoff and Jok appeared to go through a shooting slump toward the end the season, which could explain the Hawkeyes’ swoon. Over a five-game span that included four losses, Uthoff made 35.3 percent and Jok 34.8 percent, but the duo seem to come out of it in a loss to Illinois in the Big 10 tournament. The other main contributors for the Hawkeyes are Anthony Clemmons, Mike Gesell, who leads the team with 6.3 assists per game, and Adam Woodbury, the top rebounder at 8.5 per contest. All three will have to shoot the ball well over the 33rd best three-point defense in the country, as Temple allows teams to shoot just 31.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Pick: Iowa 76-68
#15 UNC Asheville vs. #2 Villanova
Villanova, for the majority of the season was the hottest team in college basketball, winning 23 of their first 25 games. In fact, the current crop of Wildcats were ranked No. 1 in the nation as recently as last month and comes in with a variety of dangerous weapons.
Josh Hart, a first-team All-Big East selection, is Villanova’s best and most consistent player, 15.5 PPG, although Kris Jenkins and Ryan Arcidiacono are effective complements to the junior guard. Six of Villanova’s top seven scorers have made at least 20 three-pointers, led by Jenkins (83) and Arcidiacono (60). The Wildcats will also look to forward Daniel Ochefu, who averages 9.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game to do damage down low.
UNC Asheville, which upset top-seeded Winthrop in the Big South tournament championship game, will try to be as physical with Villanova as Seton Hall was on Saturday. The Bulldogs are in the Big Dance for the first time since 2012, when they were seeded 16th and nearly upset No. 1 seed Syracuse before falling 72-65 in a controversial Round of 64 matchup. Freshman Dwayne Sutton averages 12 points per game, joining four of his teammates in double-figures, a group that is led by Dylan Smith (13.5 points), who made 77 three-pointers this year – 41 more than anyone else on the team.
Villanova hasn’t made out of the first weekend since 2009. But they should make quick work of Asheville.
Pick: Villanova: 81-64
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