By: Jeff Parles
The matchups are set for Thursday’s action in the NCAA Tournament. Here are Jeff Parles’ picks for the 16 games.
All tip times are in CDT
#11 Dayton Flyers v #6 Ohio State Buckeyes
The Flyers just avoided having to play in the first four in their own gym. The reward is a crack at in-state power Ohio State. Dayton is led by Ohio State transfer (hooray storylines!) Jordan Sibert. The Flyers are playing their best basketball at the right one would say. Ohio State has been enigmatic this season. After running through their non-conference slate without a loss the Buckeyes struggled in Big Ten play finishing with a conference record of 10-8. The Buckeyes are 2nd in Ken Pomeroy’s (KenPom) adjusted defense but are inept offensively. In the end I think Aaron Craft does enough to lead the Buckeyes past the Flyers.
PICK: OHIO STATE
#15 American University Eagles v #2 Wisconsin Badgers
American won the Patriot League Title by beating down Boston University in final thanks to an incredible defensive effort. American is led by first year coach Mike Brennan (Patriot League Coach of the Year) and senior big, Tony Wroblicky (Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year). The Eagles are in KenPom’s top 50 for adjusted defense. Wisconsin, like every team in the Big Ten, has been up and down the entire season. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker are bigs that can really stretch the defense. Bo Ryan teams have had heartbreak in March but the Badgers have enough to get by American in the Round of 64.
#9 Pittsburgh Panthers v #8 Colorado Buffaloes
For an 8 versus 9 matchup this game looks really dull on paper. Colorado’s best player Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a torn ACL on January 12. At that point the Buffs looked like a legitimate threat to make some real noise in the PAC 12 and in March. Since Dinwiddie went out Colorado has gone 8-8 and has really struggled outside of Boulder. The Panthers finally got a signature win in the ACC Tournament as they dispatched the Tarheels in the quarterfinals. Before that victory Pitt’s two best wins were against Stanford and at NC State, two solid wins but nothing spectacular. Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna have been apart of Panther disappointments in March. Those disappointments will continue for Pittsburgh.
#12 Harvard Crimson v #5 Cincinnati Bearcats
A very intriguing 12-5 matchup here in the classic East Region game in SPOKANE, WASHINGTON (makes sense right?) The Crimson stunned New Mexico last year in the NCAA Tournament as a 14 seed, but return to the dance as a much better team. The Crimson have five guys averaging 10+ points per game with a 6th average a shade until 10, so they are incredibly balanced scoring the basketball. Cincinnati on the other hand is the Sean Kilpatrick show. Kilpatrick has carried the Bearcats throughout his senior season averaging 20.7 points per game. Cincy is 9th in adjusted defense according to KenPom and because of that I like the Bearcats to escape the Round of 64 with a victory.
#14 Western Michigan Broncos v #3 Syracuse Orange
The Broncos come into the NCAA Tournament on a hot streak as they have won 12 out of their 13 games en route to the Regular Season and Postseason Titles in the MAC. The 3 headed monster of David Brown, Shayne Whittington and Connar Tava have led the Broncos as the 3 average a combined 48 points per game. Syracuse started the season 25-0 but are 2-5 in their past 7 games. The Orange have struggled mightily scoring the basketball over the past month, in order for Syracuse to make a deep they need CJ Fair and Tyler Ennis to start scoring the basketball like they were during the 25 game win streak.
#10 BYU Cougars v #7 Oregon Ducks
I was surprised to see BYU seeded this high, especially after the season ending injury to Kyle Collinsworth. Even without Collinsworth the Cougars will still be able to fill it up, as BYU is 3rd in the country in points per game (84.2). Tyler Haws is really going to need to dominate the game in order for the Cougars to have a chance against the Ducks. Oregon has had a truly bizarre season, as the Ducks went 13-0 in nonconference but started the Pac 12 slate at 3-8 before rattling off 7 straight games to get themselves in the NCAA tournament safely. The Ducks don’t have a star but have a collection of very good players led by Joseph Young, Mike Moser and Johnathan Lloyd. Oregon and BYU met back on December 21st with the Ducks winning in overtime 100-96. I like the Ducks to win another high scoring affair.
#16 Albany Great Danes v #1 Florida Gators
The Great Danes won the America East tournament for the 2nd straight season and defeated NEC Champion Mount St. Mary’s in the first four on Tuesday to advance to the Round of 64. The reward for the Great Danes is the right to get smacked around by the overall number 1 seed Florida Gators. The Gators haven’t lost since Shabazz Napier and UCONN beat them at the horn back on DECEMBER 2nd! Florida rolled through a weak SEC winning all 21 conference games they played. Florida is from the “old breed” of College teams, as four seniors (Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Will Yeguete & Casey Prather) have been a part of 3 straight years of losing in the Elite 8. The Gators will chomp their way to a blowout victory over Albany.
#13 Delaware Fightin Blue Hens v #4 Michigan State Spartans
The Fightin Blue Hens were the Regular Season and Postseason Champions of the Colonial. Delaware has 5 players averaging at least 11 points per game and Devon Saddler, Davon Usher and Jarvis Threatt all average more than 18 points per. Delaware really struggles on the defensive side of the ball as KenPom has them 191st in adjusted defense which is well in the bottom of Division I. The Spartans come into the tournament as one of the favorites despite their low seed. Michigan State has battled the injury bug the entire and is now finally healthy. Garry Harris is one of the nation’s premier shooting guard and no player has improved in his time in college more than Adriean Payne. Every player who has played 4 years for Tom Izzo has made a final four. This round of 64 matchup should be a blowout despite Delaware’s ability to score the basketball.
PICK: MICHIGAN STATE
#10 St. Joseph’s Hawks v #7 Connecticut Huskies
An incredibly intriguing 10-7 matchup in Buffalo featuring two northeast teams. The Hawks are playing their best basketball at the right time as they won the Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn this past week. St. Joe’s is led by senior guard Langston Galloway and an excellent trio of frontcourt player (Ronald Roberts, DeAndre Bembry, Halil Kanacevic). The Huskies are back in the NCAA Tournament after being ineligible for the dance last year. Shabazz Napier is one of the best guards in the nation and can singlehandedly carry the Huskies deep into the Tournament. In the end I think Napier goes off and gets Connecticut into the Round of 32 in what will be Thursday’s best game.
#15 Wofford Terriers v #2 Michigan Wolverines
Wofford won the Southern Conference Title by beating Western Carolina by 3 in the final. The Terriers are led by junior guard Karl Cochran, who has become a highly efficient scorer. Michigan won the Big Ten regular season crown by 3 games and won 25 games in a year where Mitch McGary only played 8 games. Nik Stauskas is arguably the most improved player in the entire nation has he and Caris Lavert have carried the Wolverines this season. This game will not be much of a contest but Michigan is going to have a dogfight regardless of their opponent in the Round of 32.
#12 NC State Wolfpack v #5 Saint Louis Billikens
The Wolfpack were far and away the most controversial selection to the field of 68 when the bracket was revealed this past Sunday. NC State rewarded the committee for putting them in with a victory over Xavier in the first four on Tuesday Night. TJ Warren was the ACC player of the year is one of the best scorers in college basketball. NC State is going to need a 2nd scorer to help out Warren like Ralston Turner did on Tuesday (17 points). Saint Louis started the season 25-2 with their only two defeats coming at the hands of Wisconsin and Wichita State before stumbling down the stretch. The Billikens lost 4 of their 5 including losses to lowly Duquesne and St. Bonaventure. St. Louis is an excellent defensive and they will probably have a good plan to at least slow down TJ Warren. In the end, I still think NC State gets it done and upset the Billikens.
PICK: NC STATE
#12 North Dakota State Bison v #5 Oklahoma Sooners
Another trendy 12 over 5 upset pick in Spokane. The Bison were the Regular Season and Postseason Champions of the Summit and have a special player in Taylor Braun. North Dakota State is amazingly efficient on offense; they are number one in the country in Field Goal Percentage and 20th in KenPom’s adjusted offense ratings. The Sooners are also an excellent offensive squad as they put up 82.2 points per game, which is good for 7th in the nation. The Sooners are also 13th in KenPom’s adjusted offense ratings. This is going to be a very entertaining game throughout but I like the upset here.
PICK: NORTH DAKOTA STATE
#15 Milwaukee Panthers v #2 Villanova Wildcats
Into the final slate of game on Thursday we go, as we potentially have a massive upset on our hands in Buffalo. Milwaukee won the Horizon League tournament as they dispatched top seed Green Bay in the semifinals and won at Wright State in the finals. Villanova lost in the Big East quarterfinals to Seton Hall as Sterling Gibbs beat the Wildcats at the horn on an absurd step-back jumper. The Wildcats feasted on weaker teams in the Big East as their only two regular season conference losses came at the hands of Creighton and Doug McDermott. Offensively, Villanova has a balanced attack of James Bell, Daruun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston. Thanks to good defense and enough scoring, I like Villanova to survive a scare against the Panthers.
#10 Arizona State Sun Devils v #7 Texas Longhorns
Here is another excellent 7 v 10 matchup, this time in the Midwest Region. The Sun Devils have a legitimate NBA prospect in Jahii Carson (already declared for NBA Draft) as he is one of the few guys in the Tournament that can single-handedly win his team a game or two. The Sun Devils also have shot blocking extraordinaire Jordan Bachynski, the Canadian center is averaging an incredibly 4.1 blocks per game. For Texas, this has been Rick Barnes’ best coaching job (weird statement right there) as the Longhorns were poised for a disastrous year but Barnes got this team with solid but not great talent to 23 wins. Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley are an excellent on the inside with Holmes being able to extend the defense out to the 3-point line where he is shooting 35%. This should be a really fun game but I like Texas to advance.
#13 Manhattan Jaspers v #4 Louisville Cardinals
Two under seeded teams in this 13 v 4 matchup that will take place in Orlando. The Jaspers are coached by Steve Masiello, who is a former Rick Pitino assistant and has really had success in his first seasons as Jaspers head coach. The Jaspers play excellent defense (KenPom has them ranked 42nd) and have a reliable scorer in George Beamon. This team very easily could have been an 11 or 12 seed in this tournament. Louisville is the defending National Champion and was grossly under seeded in this tournament. The Cardinals won the AAC tournament and smacked Rutgers (by 61!), Houston (by 29) and Connecticut (10) en route to the title. Behind Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell, Louisville is poised for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament and it starts with a sound victory over Manhattan.
#13 New Mexico State Aggies v #4 San Diego State Aztecs
For me this is an incredibly dull matchup, New Mexico State has the resume of a 15 seed and got a 13 where they meet one of the best defensive teams in the nation. The Aggies do have a good scorer in Daniel Mullings (16.8 PPG) and have the nation’s tallest player in Sim Bhullar (7 foot 5 inches tall). Bhullar has improved in his 2nd season as an Aggie but I really don’t see much else from this team. The Aztecs are an excellent defensive team (7th in Adjusted D in KenPom), but they have their fair share of problem on the offensive side of the ball. Xavier Thames is a stud but if he isn’t scoring, the Aztecs can easily go on very long droughts. The Aztecs swarming defense will be more than enough to advance to the round of 32.
PICK: SAN DIEGO STATE
Stay Tuned for Friday’s Picks!