Monday, March 18, 2013

First Weekend Primer

Ben Fishman

    It’s finally here! March Madness is upon us. Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting tidbits throughout the first weekend of play. From big games to big names, we cover it all in the First Four and first weekend preview.

    Louisville won the Big East with as impressive of a showing as we’ve seen as all season in the second half and was awarded the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. What did that get them? That would be Duke, Michigan State, St. Louis and the toughest bracket in the tournament. Louisville will get to play in front of a largely favorable Cardinal crowd in Lexington and Indianapolis, but they will need a lot more than that to advance to Atlanta.

    Indiana on the other hand got beat once again by Wisconsin and was held to its lowest scoring total of the season in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Yet there was selection chair Mike Bobinski saying that Indiana was the only team that had a #1 seed locked up. Indiana has a relatively clear path to Atlanta should they play the way they did on the road in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers have a couple troubling games against potentially North Carolina State and Syracuse, but Indiana has beaten better teams this year.

    Gonzaga was close to dropping off the #1 seed line after Miami wrapped up the ACC Tournament championship. Instead Mark Few’s squad gets to remain out West and enter the tournament as the #1 team in America. The Bulldogs also have a tough rout to Atlanta, with Ohio State and New Mexico waiting for them potentially in the Elite Eight. Pittsburg and Wisconsin are two tough outs as well and Gonzaga must be ready to play.

    Many analysts are saying that this year could be the one where upsets rule the tournament. The state of Michigan might be the victim of two of those. In the second round the Wolverines get South Dakota State, led by Nate Wolters, in a game where Michigan must bring its A game. Michigan State on the other hand, gets a tough Valparaiso team, the champion of the Horizon league. Should they win that one, they would likely get a Memphis team that had them down 50-20 the last time the two teams met in the NCAA Tournament.

    Steve Alford’s New Mexico team could be a trendy pick to make the Final Four out of the West regional, but they have to get past Ohio State to reach the Elite Eight let alone Atlanta. Should they get to the Elite Eight and meet Gonzaga, Alford’s squad has the talent to knock off Gonzaga in LA.

    Marshall Henderson is going to be must-see TV, even if he’s only around for one game. Bo Ryan gets a week to prepare for the hot shooting and wild Ole Miss guard which could spell bad luck for the Rebels. Still, Ole Miss was left for dead a couple weeks ago following a bad road loss to Mississippi State. Since then, Andy Kennedy’s team has rattled off 5 wins including an upset over Florida, a team they were blown out by just last month. Now, the Rebels are dancing and could be a trendy pick to upset Wisconsin.

    Oregon was hosed by the committee last night. The Ducks were given a 12 seed and the right to play a streaky Oklahoma State team in the 5-12 matchup. Oregon finished 26-8 and won the Pac-12 championship. Their resume also included wins over UNLV, Arizona, and UCLA twice. For whatever reason, they were given a double digit seed in one of the weirdest seedings we’ve seen in a while.

    The committee valued road wins very highly this season. Indiana picked up road wins at Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. Tom Crean’s squad also beat Georgetown earlier this season before the Hoyas rounded into form in Brooklyn. Memphis lost one road game all season and received a 6 seed when some were projecting them as low as a 10.

5 Games to Watch in Round 2:

(5) Wisconsin vs. (12) Ole Miss
Bo Ryan has to be ready to go after Marshall Henderson in what will be a fantastic matchup on Thursday. Ole Miss is the hottest team in the country and just beat a very good Florida team. The Rebels strength down low is also a plus as their post players will look to use their toughness to matchup up with Wisconsin’s streaky stretch bigs.

(6) UCLA vs. (11) Minnesota
The Bruins come into the tournament having lost Jordan Adams to a broken foot over the weekend. Minnesota comes in having been beaten by Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Both teams began the year with high hopes, and neither really lived up to those expectations. The winner of this game will simply want it more.

(4) Michigan vs. (13) South Dakota State
We’ve already mentioned SDSU’s Nate Wolters, an NBA prospect, but SDSU also has a stud in Jordan Dykstra who shoots 43% from 3-point range. The Jackrabbits as a team shoot just under 40% from deep and can get very hot at any time. Trey Burke will need to be huge if Michigan intends to hang around past the first weekend.

(6) Butler vs. (11) Bucknell
I’ve never thought it wise to bet against Brad Stevens but this might be the one time I might seriously consider it. Bucknell boasts a stud in 6-11 Mike Muscala who averages 19 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. The Bison have four guys who average at least 10.3 points per game but the numbers drop off after that. Still, the Bison go 9 deep and will give Butler’s Andrew Smith a run for his money.

(8) North Carolina vs. (9) Villanova
Roy Williams will get a shot at his former team this weekend if his Tar Heels advance past Jay Wright’s Villanova Wildcats. UNC comes in thinking they should have won the ACC Tournament this weekend, but faltered down the stretch to Miami. Villanova comes from the battle tested Big East and wants to prove that they still matter in the college basketball world. Villanova hasn’t won an NCAA game since 2009-2010 and desperately wants a win against a UNC team that has been anything but consistent all year long.


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