It’s March Madness once again and I couldn’t be more excited for the first weekend of the tournament. The first two days of March Madness are probably my favorite days of the sports calendar every single year and hopefully, it lives up to the hype this time around. In this article, I will be previewing every first-round matchup with reasons why you should pick each team while also giving a pretty harsh critique of the selection committee sprinkled in throughout the article. (I’m not too pleased) Let me know what you guys think of this, I’m not posting a full bracket prediction but if you have any questions about filling out your bracket I’m more than able to help, I’ve won bracket pools and have plenty of analytics that can help you get the best chance to win your pool. For any further questions feel free to tweet or dm me, my twitter is @mikerothou
Final note, all team offensive, and defensive efficiency rankings will be coming from kenpom.com it is the best website by far, in my opinion, to look at advanced college basketball stats.
Duke Vs 16. Nc Central/NC State
Game preview: There isn’t much to preview with first-round games with 1 seed, everyone knows that only one has ever lost in history and I don’t expect a team with Zion Williamson to be the next.
Game pick: Duke
VCU Vs 9. UCF
Game preview: Here comes my first gripe with the selection committee, how are the Rams an 8 seed? This makes almost no sense to me, Marcus Evans was just on crutches and the team lost to the 8 seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Furthermore, this team lacks big-time wins, their only wins over tournament teams are against Temple, Old Dominion, Iona, and Saint Louis… please tell me what this team did to deserve to be a higher seed in an NCAA tournament game? Win the regular season title in one of the worst seasons the Atlantic 10 has seen the past decade? I’m simply not buying VCU at all, they have a weak resume, their best player isn’t healthy, and they haven’t beaten a team as good as UCF all year. I’m not the biggest fan of UCF but at least they have just beaten Houston and Cincinnati in this month and boast a huge problem down low in Tacko Fall. With Fall they are known as a defensive force but, they have improved their offensive scoring numbers this season. In 9 of their last 14 games, they have scored 68 or more points including a 95 point performance in a blowout win over SMU. Finally, UCF has a top 60 offense and top 40 defense, that balance will be too much for VCU who has an offense ranking outside the top 100.
Game pick: UCF
Mississippi State Vs 12. Liberty
Game preview: I think both of these teams are actually fairly overseeded. I expected Mississippi State to be a 6 seed and imagined Liberty to be a 13 but here we are in a 5 Vs 12 matchup that has lots of intrigue from public betters. Right now Liberty has over 70% of the tickets sold in Vegas and 90% of the money against the spread where Liberty is a 7 point favorite, I don’t back the public on this upset though. I’m not picking against the Bulldogs here because they’ve shown the ability to beat good teams out of conference, they have wins over Saint Marys, Clemson, Wofford, and Cincinnati. On the Liberty side, they took down a talented Lipscomb squad in the conference final to go dancing for the first time ever. Liberty just hasn’t impressed me enough when they played the big boys to warrant the respect to win a tournament game, they lost to Vandy (with Darius Garland), Georgetown, and Alabama. Their only marquee wins are Lipscomb and UCLA so far and Mississippi State is much better than both. Finally, Liberty lacks a marquee scorer, with their leading bucket getter being right above 13 PPG.
Game pick: Mississippi State
Virginia Tech Vs 13. Saint Louis
Game preview: This game really does hinge on how Justin Robinson plays, if he is healthy (which reports say he will be) I really don’t see any way that Saint Louis can hang with the Hokies. With Robinson and NAW, Virginia Tech has one of the best backcourts in the entire nation and have the ability to beat anybody (they beat Duke) which makes this draw very unfortunate for Saint Louis. If Robinson isn’t healthy and struggles then this is a very winnable matchup for Saint Louis, the Billikens have a bunch of athletes and really defend the perimeter well. They run this bizarre zone defense that I guess would be classified as a 1-3-1 but it really is unique, however, it could be vulnerable to a 3-point barrage which Virginia Tech is plenty capable of. (Hokies are top 10 in 3-point shooting) If Virginia Tech goes cold then Saint Louis will be there in the end but I find this situation unlikely and the inconsistency of Saint Louis offense (205’th offensive efficiency) will be why Tech advances.
Game pick: Virginia Tech
Maryland Vs Belmont
Game preview: Here comes my second soapbox of the article and it’s all about Temple. There is no universe where Temple should make the NCAA tournament. I have literally no clue how Temple was selected as one of the 68 teams deemed worthy to play in March Madness. They are ranked 76’th in Kenpom, that’s over 40 spots below Clemson, Texas, and Nc State. FORTY SPOTS. Temple didn’t beat anyone except for Houston and their best out of conference win is probably Missouri, who finished 15-17 in the SEC. On the Belmont side, I’m happy they made the tournament because I typically cape for the mid-majors but they really lack marquee wins. The best thing they have going is a lack of bad losses, their only defeats all season were Green Bay, Purdue, Jacksonville State (2x), and Murray State. Belmont does have a crazy offense that ranks 20th in the nation and is led by Dylan Windler. This makes them a dangerous team, especially considering the fact that an 11 seed from the first four has won a game every year. Maryland is a team that I really don’t understand, and I don’t think anyone really does. They have Anthony Cowan Jr, Bruno Fernando, and Jalen Smith. But this team has a bunch of big wins like Wisconsin, Purdue, Iowa, and Ohio State (2x) but have lost to Penn State by 18 and Nebraska who only had 6 scholarship players in the past three weeks. Good luck figuring out which Terps team shows up to play.
Game pick: Belmont
LSU Vs 14. Yale
Game preview: Who would’ve thought the game involving an Ivy league school would be the matchup between schools in sticky situations after recent investigations? LSU is a team I’ve been high on since the preseason, they were actually my longshot pick to win the national championship back in the preseason. I think this team has a ton of talent and I was worried about how they would fare under the coaching of Will Wade, that’s why I’m not too worried about them playing without him because I never rated him too high. The only real loss I think that would come is the familiarity from the leader for the team on the sideline but from an X’s and O’s perspective it’s not much of a loss, Wade is more of a recruiter. On the Yale side, this couldn’t be a worse matchup for LSU. Yale is only 4 spots below St Johns and 6 below Temple in Kenpom. They are also over 20 spots higher than 13 seed Saint Louis in Kenpom. The Ivy League has had a problem of being underseeded for years and Andy Glockner did a fantastic thread on the problem with the ivy league being underseeded and overperforming expectations recently. The Ivy league has won 5 tournament games since 2010 and lost 3 other games by 2 points. That is coming from all teams seeded 12-16, that is crazy impressive. I think some of this problem comes from the tournament being played on a Sunday and the selection committee always seeds them based on what would happen if the lower seeded team won to not overrate in that situation but instead have underrated the Ivy league champ year after year for almost a decade. I’m not sure how billion dollar industries are making these mistakes and cannot make multiple brackets for different scenarios considering how much money rides on these games. The Ivy league shouldn’t have to move the date of their conference tournament to give the selection committee more time to determine where they should play, the selection committee has plenty of time to make a newly revised bracket for an upset winner. However, I believe the best course of action would be to move the tournament back to give them enough time to accurately seed the Ivy league champ. (Next season this could be even more important if an at large bid is available for the league) Despite me being well aware of the Yale and Ivy league history I just can’t go against LSU because I just love the talent of this team and with Tremont Waters being an experienced leader I’ll ride with him, despite this game being one of the games I’m most looking forward to watching as both teams can put up points in bunches.
Game pick: LSU
Louisville Vs 10. Minnesota
Game preview: I have no clue what to expect from Minnesota and I really don’t know how anybody can. They really have no signature wins until March and then they beat Purdue twice in 10 days and then loses to Michigan 27 a day after the second win. Louisville, on the other hand, is ranked 17th in Kenpom and that’s ahead of 3 seed LSU, 4 seeds Kansas and Kansas St, 5 seeds Marquette and Mississippi State. This team lost 3 overtime games and another close loss against Duke is probably the reason why they aren’t a 5 or 6 seed. I think Louisville is being very undervalued and I’ll give you a little insight to my next round pick here, I’ve got the Cardinals taking down Michigan State. I believe there is an opportunity to fade teams that just won their conference tournament, especially ones on Sunday that have less rest time and Michigan State has lost Josh Langford for the season who was their best player when these two teams met in nonconference play.
Game pick: Louisville
Michigan State Vs 15. Bradley
Game preview: I already hinted that I have Michigan State losing in the next round but this 2 Vs 15 matchup doesn’t seem very interesting. Bradley stopped the threat of Sister Jean crashing the final four party for the second year in a row but then got in the news for denying a long-tenured journalist for not ‘representing the Bradley brand’. I’ve got news for Bradley, nobody knew about the Bradley brand until that story went viral. On the basketball court, this team is a nice story winning one of the most exciting mid-major tournaments named ‘arch madness’ but I find it highly unlikely that they pose much of a treat to Sparty. Finally, I’m fading Sparty because the stereotype that Tom Izzo is some amazing March Madness coach hasn’t been true very recently, the Spartans haven’t made it to the second weekend since 2015.
Game pick: Michigan State
Gonzaga Vs 16. Fairleigh Dickinson/Prairie View A&M
Game preview: I have very little to say about these 1 Vs 16 matchups but especially games involving the first four games from the 16 seeds. These games involve the worst teams in the tournament going against an offensive juggernaut like Gonzaga. It won’t be good for the winner of the first four game in Dayton.
Game pick: Gonzaga
Syracuse Vs 9. Baylor
Game preview: Everyone I think is buying into the Syracuse hype way too much this season. The Orange are just 4-7 in their last 11 games and after a huge victory at Duke, they only beat one tournament team the rest of the season (Louisville) combine that with Tyus Battle being banged up and I just don’t understand why they are receiving 60% of the picks in ESPN’s bracket challenge. On the Baylor side, I’m not a huge fan because of their recent cold run, but they have shown the ability to beat good teams like when they took down Iowa State (2x) and Texas Tech. Tristan Clark going down is a tough loss to their offense but it still finished 28th in the nation. If Baylor doesn’t go cold like the three teams that lost to Syracuse last year did (all lower than 25% from 3) then the Bears should get a chance at Gonzaga.
Game pick: Baylor
Marquette Vs 12. Murray State
Game preview: I really wanted to pick against Marquette because they are by far the most overseeded top 5 seed in the country. This team wasn’t even top 25 in Kenpom and are 1-5 in their last 6 games. Adding on to that Marcus Howard got banged up in the Big East tournament semis against Seton Hall in a game that was practically unwatchable for viewers due to all the fouls called. I really wanted to make the Golden Eagles my pick to be a 5 Vs 12 upset but I simply can’t pull the trigger. For starters I’m not as high on Ja Morant as many in the national spectrum are, I doubt his jump shooting ability and he has a lot of turnovers. Obviously, this is because of the massive responsibility he has to create offense for his team but that is another reason why I can’t trust the Racers to pull the upset, this team is way too one dimensional. Marcus Howard will be able to guard one of their lesser scorers and be hidden on the defensive end all game. Also, Marquette will have a clear size advantage with both Hauser brothers and Theo John protecting the rim. This is a bad matchup for Murray State but I’m not sure what matchup would’ve been much better, this seems like a fun team that has too many holes to be a serious contender for a Cinderella.
Game pick: Marquette
Florida State Vs 13. Vermont
Game preview: This is a disaster Vermont in terms of a matchup. Florida State is one of the longest and most athletic teams in the nation and their combination of size, speed, and athleticism will give any mid-major absolute fits. Vermont is a well-coached team that is one of the best rebounding teams in the country despite only playing 1 guy taller than 6’6 in their regular rotation. Against Florida State, it seems like this advantage will go away because sometimes no matter how good you box out, the bigger and stronger man will grab the rebound; across the board, Florida State is bigger and stronger. One caveat I will throw out there for any Vermont fans looking for some hope, Baylor was one of the most athletic teams in the country three years ago and a great rebounding team but when they faced Yale, a team like Vermont with less athleticism and more rebounding, Baylor got upset and lost the rebounding battle. This game is remembered infamously for when Taurean Prince described to a reporter what a rebound is when he asked ‘How does Yale out rebound Baylor?’
Game pick: Florida State
Buffalo Vs 11. Arizona State/St Johns
Game preview: Ok are we ready for my second rant about how the selection committee is an absolute joke? No? Well too bad it’s coming anyway. How is St John’s in the tournament this season? What did they do to warrant selection to this exclusive postseason tournament because I have no clue. For a little fun let’s look at some computer stats tweeted by Joe Tamalo.
NC State NET – 33 BPI – 26 SOS – 49 SOR – 31 KenPom – 33
St Johns NET – 73 BPI – 69 SOS – 62 SOR – 53 KenPom – 78
There is no justification for St Johns to be selected over Nc State but unfortunately for all you SOS OOC truthers (who are misguided themselves) there were more teams much better who were also ignored in favor of the Red Storm. It’s a real shame that we make these huge mistakes in selecting something that is so important to so many people and creates so much money in the process but we do. On the other hand, Arizona State got a second at large bid from the PAC 12, that’s a thing that happened this year. The same Arizona State that sits behind Toledo in Kenpom. Speaking of Toledo you know who beat Toledo on the road, won their conference regular season and tournament championship? Buffalo did, that’s who. Buffalo returned almost all of their team that busted plenty of brackets when they took down Arizona last season. With Cj Massinburg, Nick Perkins, Jeremy Harris, and Jayvon Graves, the Bulls have a variety of offensive scorers who can threaten any defense. I honestly don’t know which matchup I’d be more concerned with Buffalo playing, but I think maybe a Hurley rematch would add more storylines so I’ll root for that.
Game Pick: Buffalo
Texas Tech Vs 14. Northern Kentucky
Game preview: Texas Tech has the top defense in the country, that’s going to make it difficult for any double-digit seed to defeat them. After going through a rough stretch in the middle of January, the Red Raiders won 11 out of 12 heading into the Big 12 tournament. Jarett Culver is one of my favorite draft prospects and his two-way ability on the wing makes Texas Tech a tough team to counter. On the Northern Kentucky side, they won a great Horizon league tournament by taking down Oakland on a buzzer beater then beating Wright State pretty comfortably. Northern Kentucky has been riding a hot scoring performance from Jalen Tate (brother of former Buckeye wing Jae’sean Tate) and shoot the ball very well. Northern Kentucky led their conference in 3-point %. Northern Kentucky also lost by exactly 13 points against the two NCAA tournament teams they faced, UCF and Cincinnati. Another factor going against the Norse, they lost at home to Cleveland State, that’s a really bad loss and I find it unlikely they push Texas Tech seriously.
Game pick: Texas Tech
Nevada Vs 10. Florida
Game preview: This is probably one of my most fascinating first-round matchups and I could probably be convinced to take either side. Nevada has been disappointing all season after their blowout loss to New Mexico who finished below .500. They lost to Utah State in their last game against a tournament team and lost to a down San Diego State team in the conference tournament. All signs point towards this Nevada team is a major disappointment and looking at their resume if it wasn’t for a strong preseason ranking I’m not sure this team isn’t stuck in an 8-9 matchup. I’m taking a different approach with this Nevada team though, I really believe in this group, for starters they are one of the oldest teams in the country. If there’s anything we’ve learned in March it’s that experience can play a factor and this team just made a sweet 16 last season and returned a lot of pieces from that run. I also think this regular season was just a grind, it was almost like Warriors esque because the Wolfpack had way more talent than anybody in their conference except Utah State and I think they got bored at times. The Martin twins and Jordan Caroline came back for one reason, to make a deep March run again and they should be rested up for that late season push. This is also one of the deepest teams in the country, they had many transfers that were double-digit scorers at their previous school and signed Jordan Brown, a five-star recruit who hasn’t been a key contributor. This team has depth and experience that sounds like a perfect match for a March run, but if you’ve watched this Nevada team at all in 2019 you probably hardly ever saw a team that looked capable of making it past the first weekend of the tournament. Another factor going in their direction for a late run, 9 of the last 13 times a 2 seed has lost 4 or more of their last 10 games, they lost in the first weekend. Michigan and Tennessee fit that criteria this season if Nevada wins their first round game, they will likely tango with the Wolverines. On the Florida side, this team really makes no sense to me, I see their potential and the fact that they beat LSU twice and lost in overtime in the other game is really promising. Florida has a lot of talent at the guard position with Andrew Nembhard and Kevaughn Allen, but this team was very inconsistent, they had two separate three-game losing streaks, one of which was started with a home loss to Georgia. I think the youth of Florida is what ends up costing them, Nevada has a lot of grown men and their strength could be the difference if this becomes a bully ball type of game.
Game pick: Nevada
Michigan Vs 15. Montana
Game preview: I’m not sure how much there is to preview with this game, these teams just played last year in the first round, Michigan got off to a slow start but after being up by only three at halftime separated themselves to a 14 point victory that seemed never in doubt once Michigan came back from a 10-0 deficit. This Michigan team does not have the offensive talent that they had last year but are still top 20 in the country. This Michigan team is now defensive oriented and finished the year with the second best defensive unit in the nation. With a team this balanced I find it difficult to see a scenario where a team from the Big Sky keeps this game within single digits. The biggest opponents Montana played in the regular season were Creighton, Uc Irvine, and Arizona. They lost each of those games by 26, 9, and 19 points respectively. To me, that shows that this team despite being a tournament regular recently doesn’t have the horses to compete with the big boys.
Game pick: Michigan
Virginia Vs 16. Gardner-Webb
Game preview: No, I don’t think that Virginia will lose to another 16 seed. Historical data has proven that high seeds that play at slower tempos are actually less likely to be upset than teams that play at medium pace tempos or faster tempos. Virginia has the most complete team in the nation, they rank second in the country in offensive efficiency and fifth in defense. They are the only team in the nation that is top five in both categories, while North Carolina, Duke, and Michigan State are top 10 in both stats. The biggest difference between this team and last years team is their offensive efficiency and Deandre Hunter. Hunter is one of the best college players in the country and his offensive stats are really underrated, the dude makes 55% of his two-point shots, 45% of his threes, and 78% from the free throw line. Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy are both excellent shooters who make really good decisions which help Virginia keep turnover numbers low. Virginia has also only lost one game to a team that doesn’t have Zion and Duke was extremely hot from downtown compared to season averages in both games against the Cavaliers. To me, Virginia is the best bet to win the national title to win your bracket pool just because of the large majority of people who will have Duke taking home the title. If Virginia wins the title the number of people you will be competing against will be considerably fewer than if you pick Duke and they win it all. Gardner Webb deserves a little bit of a shout out however because this team is 30 spots higher in Kenpom than any of the other 16 seeds, it is pretty funny the committee gave them the most difficult 16 seed.
Game pick: Virginia
Ole Miss Vs 9. Oklahoma
Game preview: I think this is a game where pretty much every analyst is pretty much just putting their hands in the air and saying “I don’t know or care”. This is probably because each team had some impressive victories. Ole Miss took down Baylor, Auburn (2x), and Mississippi State. Oklahoma, on the other hand, beat Wofford, Kansas, and Florida. Both teams are struggling though, Ole Miss is 1-4 in their last 5 and Oklahoma is 2-3. With both teams being so evenly matched I wouldn’t get mad at anybody for going the other way but I think the fact that Oklahoma is slightly higher in Kenpom and is getting less than 40% of the picks in the ESPN bracket challenge makes it viable to take the lower seed in this spot.
Game pick: Oklahoma
Wisconsin Vs 12. Oregon
Game preview: Wisconsin is a team that varies greatly from the eye test and numbers. From a watching perspective, Wisconsin doesn’t impress anyone, they don’t have any real insane athletes and have to sit their best player at the end of games because of his inability to hit from the free throw line. From a numbers perspective, Wisconsin is 12th in Kenpom and that is the highest among any double-digit loss team. Their defense is ranked 3rd in the nation and their consistency on that end is impressive. Ethan Happ is amazing in pretty much every advanced stat for a college basketball player and despite him being incredible he still has to sit out some crunch time minutes because of his inability to make a free throw. His unique offensive skill set for a big man makes him so difficult to guard throughout the majority of the game, with his combination of post moves, touch around the hoop, and passing vision. Oregon, on the other hand, struggled most of the season in a weak PAC 12 but really turned it on recently. They have won eight straight games and have seemed to finally learned out how to play without a projected first-round pick, Bol Bol. Oregon is also the highest rated 12 seed in the tournament in Kenpom and has a top 20 defense in the nation. Kenny Wooten and Louis King are also matchup problems for a Badgers team that lacks elite athletes.
Game pick: Oregon
Kansas State Vs 13. Uc Irvine
Game preview: Kansas State comes into the tournament winners of 4 of 5. My problem with them is that Dean Wade is questionable to play their first-round game, with him out I believe Kansas State has a strong chance of losing, with him in the game and playing at 100% I think the Wildcats will advance to the second round. Barry Brown is one of the best defensive guards in the nation but Uc Irvine doesn’t have one go-to scorer on the perimeter for him to shut down. Irvine has gone to Texas A&M and won, they also beat Saint Mary’s on the road as well. They did lose by double digits to Utah State and Butler but are rolling right now. The Anteaters won their three conference tournament games by almost 20 points per game. Uc Irvine also has the best 2-point FG % defense in the nation.
Game pick: Ur Irvine (contingent on Wade being announced out)
Villanova Vs 11. Saint Mary’s
Game preview: These teams are very close in Kenpom for a 6 Vs 11 contest but I think the individual matchup is a nightmare for Saint Mary’s. Villanova has a defensive mentality where they typically switch almost 1 through 5, and Saint Mary’s offense works through screens and creating space for them to score, with Villanova switching everything they won’t have the 1 on 1 player to get consistent buckets. Saint Mary’s might have a chance to stay in the game because they have been the defense that has held Gonzaga under 70 points two out of the three times it happened all season. Villanova does have the 16th ranked offense but their defense is 73rd, I just think the lack of athletes for the Gaels will give Villanova little trouble defensively.
Game pick: Villanova
Purdue Vs 14. Old Dominion
Game preview: Purdue is almost unbeatable when Carsen Edwards doesn’t have to dominate the shot selection. I don’t see any scenario where the wings on Purdue and their bigs aren’t able to get easy shots against an overmatched opponent. Purdue has the 5th best offense in the nation and I think they cruise in round one. Despite starting slow this season their computer numbers never suffered this season and are the highest ranked nine-loss team in the nation. On the Old Dominion side, they don’t look to be an imposing team but beat VCU and Syracuse this season, the only two single-digit seeds they faced all season. If Old Dominion can recreate the magic that they had during those first two victories then they can compete but Purdue is a completely different animal than VCU and Syracuse were.
Game pick: Purdue
Cincinnati Vs 10. Iowa
Game preview: Cincy lost their last two regular season games before winning the American conference tournament championship. Their computer numbers have always been lagging behind their ap poll ranking, even after that tournament run they still sit at 32, behind double-digit seeds like Florida and Saint Mary’s in Kenpom. Jarron Cumberland is the best offensive player on the Bearcats and he’s going to have to make plays in the clutch to allow Cincy to score in the halfcourt. Cincy is balanced as a team, with the 46th ranked offense and 28th ranked defense, despite relying on their defense they aren’t a one-dimensional unit. Iowa, however, enters the tournament 2-6 in their last 8 games. They have a great offense that can put up points on almost anybody but their defense is outside the top 100. If they allow Cincy to get some momentum offensively their crowd in Columbus could get going crazy. In the end, I think the venue and the recent cold streak for Iowa is the difference.
Game pick: Cincinnati
Tennessee Vs 15. Colgate
Game preview: I find Tennessee an unlikely candidate for being upset due to their experience and offensive firepower. Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams are both players who are fantastic college basketball players and some draft analysts love each of them. Colgate is the top-ranked 15 seed but this looks like a bad matchup for them. Tennessee is 6-4 in their last 10 games and 9 of the last 13 number 2 seeds who lost 4 of their last 10 lost in the first weekend. Be careful if you have Tennessee in your final 4.
Game pick: Tennessee
North Carolina Vs 16. Iona
Game preview: This game is going to have a lot of points, I’d bet it’s probably the highest scoring game of the opening round. Both of these teams love to get up and down the court and chuck shots from all over the court. Unfortunately for one of these teams, they will be unable to really stay within striking distance to make this game interesting. North Carolina has been rolling and despite losing to Duke by one point I still think many people believe in them making a serious tournament run. Carolina has a lot of scoring depth, with Coby White, Cam Johnson, and Luke Maye. With these guys, I think Iona struggles to ever slow down the Tar Heels offensive attack. This game should be fun to watch if you ignore the scoreboard but won’t be the game most people will have their attention on because of a lack of competitiveness.
Game pick: North Carolina
Utah State Vs 9. Washington
Game preview: I think this is the 8-9 game I’m most confident about, Utah State is rolling and Washington is one of the most overseeded teams in the country. The Aggies have a bunch of scoring from Sam Merrill and have an NBA center prospect in Neemias Queta. Combine that with the fact that Utah State has beat Saint Mary’s, Uc Irvine, and Nevada. Washington doesn’t impress me at all outside of Matisse Thybulle. Thybulle is able to roam in the Washington zone and gets a ton of steals and blocks on jumpers but is still a project on the offensive end. If Washington is going to win this game it’s going to be because Utah State cannot find offensive success against a zone because they haven’t seen many zones this year.
Game pick: Utah State
Auburn Vs 12. New Mexico State
Game preview: Auburn won the SEC tournament and played 4 games in 4 days and now has to go out on the West coast and play the early game on Thursday. I’m sorry but I think this is an awful spot for the Tigers to play. The Aggies (different Aggies from last time) pushed Kansas to a three-point game at Phog Allen Fieldhouse early in the season and could get a rematch with an upset, and I think they get it.
Game pick: New Mexico State
Kansas Vs 13. Northeastern
Game preview: It finally happened, Kansas didn’t win the Big XII, I’m not sure what college basketball is anymore because that’s been a constant my entire viewing life. Kansas isn’t the same team that was ranked in the top spot preseason but Dedric Lawson has been forgotten about as a very productive college player. Also, Kansas being down for Kansas standards doesn’t mean they’ve been bad, they are still 20th in Kenpom. Northeastern beat Alabama by 16 but then lost to Virginia Tech and Syracuse by over 20 points. Kansas is much closer to those two teams than Alabama in terms of talent level, so I don’t think the Jayhawks are on upset alert.
Game pick: Kansas
Iowa State Vs 11. Ohio State
Game preview: I thought Ohio State was destined to play in Dayton in the first four but the committee gave them one of the last ‘byes’ for at large teams. Iowa State is red hot. The Cyclones just won the Big XII tournament after going through a huge mid-late season struggle. They apparently had an in-team fight and I think it might’ve sparked something with a team that has tons of talent. With guys like Talen Horton-Tucker, Tyrese Haliburton, Marial Shayok, Lindell Wigginton, Iowa State has dudes to lead them to wins. Iowa State is also by far the top-ranked 6 seed in Kenpom, being ranked 16th, no other 6 seed is in the top 20. Ohio State has been a pretty average team all season, which was expected after Keita Bates-Diop graduated. This was always a rebuilding season for Chris Holtmann with a huge recruiting class coming in 2019. Ohio State did enough to be dancing again but I have many problems with their chances of winning a game in the tournament. First off Kaleb Wesson got a three-game suspension and then came back for the Big 10 tournament where Ohio State beat Indiana in a frantic game then lost to Michigan State. After two huge road wins over Cincinnati and Creighton early in the year, Ohio State only beat Nebraska and Indiana on the road in 2019. With Iowa State rolling and being the best 6 seed, I think Ohio State struggles to win and rebuilds for a deep run next season.
Game pick: Iowa State
Houston Vs 14. Georgia State
Game preview: Houston flew under the radar for most of the season but were net darlings. (The new NCAA analytic tool) They have tied for the most wins in the country along with Buffalo and had a chance to enter the tournament with 32 wins but fell to Cincinnati. Houston’s only losses this season are to NCAA tournament teams so I would be surprised if they fell to this Georgia State bunch. D’Marcus Simonds is a name most hardcore college hoops fans know about and he will be looking to lead the Panthers to their first tournament win since coach Ron Hunter fell off his chair after RJ hit a shot to stun Baylor.
Game pick: Houston
Wofford Vs 10. Seton Hall
Game preview: I just love when my favorite 7 seed gets paired up with my favorite 10 seed… Wofford wasn’t too happy about this draw either during the selection show as they seemed disappointed to draw Seton Hall. Wofford going unbeaten in the Socon this season is one of the most underrated achievements all season, the Socon had Unc Greensboro and Furman who were both great mid-majors and nobody could take down the Terriers once conference play began. Wofford is led by Fletcher Mcgee and he leads the team with the second best 3-point percentage in the nation. Seton Hall, on the other hand, is coming off a run in the Big East tournament that led them to a tough championship game loss to Villanova. They also have great potential because of their scoring prowess with Myles Powell being one of the most likely March Heros. Another storyline for this game, the winner will likely be taking on Kentucky, and Seton Hall took down the Wildcats in MSG in December in one of the craziest games of the season, a rematch would be awesome but I also want to see Fletcher Mcgee against Tyler Herro so either way, it’s a win-win.
Game pick: Wofford
Kentucky Vs 15. Abilene Christian
Game preview: After getting rocked by Duke on opening night in the champions classic, Kentucky has bounced back strongly. Despite not winning either the SEC regular season or tournament championship, Kentucky has still positioned themselves well for a deep March run. Pj Washington is my favorite player on the team as he has stepped up for guys like Keldon Johnson not living up to lofty preseason expectations for the freshman. Kentucky should have no problem with a round one matchup but will be pushed to the end in their round of 32 game.
Game pick: Kentucky
So those are my round one picks for March Madness, let me know what you think by tweeting @mikerothou