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It’s here! March Madness is finally here!
While you wait and watch the year’s most watched The Price is Right of the year or try to cram 8 hours of work into 4, here are your previews for all 16 games today, along with their TV stations and approximate tip times. Tip times are central time because this blog is run by people that make poor decisions.
Or just skip the previews and use this as your game thread. Behave. Usual rules apply. Complain about the refs at your own risk. Violators must provide their own airfare to Prague.
#8 Maryland Terrapins (21-12) v. #9 West Virginia Mountaineers (19-14)
11:15 am, CBS, Birmingham | WVU -2 | O/U 137.5
Both teams return to the NCAA tournament after missing it last season. I assume the committee put them together for the storyline of two neighboring states playing each other, but its hard to think of two neighboring states that care less about each other.
Maryland plays away from home where they haven’t beat anyone other than the Minnesota Gophers since November. Their home/road splits are really what everyone is wondering about with regards to Maryland. The home version of Maryland can beat just about anyone while the road version of Maryland probably struggles to beat the 16 seeds in this field. Which one is neutral site Maryland? Or are they somewhere in between? This is the 2nd consecutive tournament appearance for head coach Kevin Willard and his 6th overall but Willard has just a 1-5 tournament record.
West Virginia lost 11 conference games in the rough and tumble Big 12 and joined the ranks of the limited number of teams that have finished four games below .500 in conference play and still made the tournament. They are led by Bob Huggins in his 39th season as a head coach. Huggins has made two final fours and is 34-25 in the tournament, but hasn’t had a deep run since 2010. The Mountaineers have 6 seniors in the rotation including former Iowa Hawkeye Joe Toussaint. They have a balanced offense, like to play quick, and grab a lot of offensive rebounds. Their defense has been just average this season relying on generating turnovers to get stops, but struggling to avoid fouling.
MNW: I think if West Virginia wins, those Hill People Counties in western Maryland should be allowed to secede and join West Virginia. They can crown Huggy Bear their king and get to banning what I’m calling (soft-C) Cecond Round Terps.
misdreavus79: How is the total for this game 137.5? We’d be lucky to break 120 the way these teams play.
Maryland or West Virginia
This poll is closed
#4 Virginia Cavaliers (25-7) v. #13 Furman Paladins (27-7)
11:40 am, TruTV, Orlando | UVA -5.5 | O/U 131.5
Virginia returns to the field after a one season absence while Furman makes their first appearance since 1980! Must be a good year for stuff that last happened in 1980. It was nice of the committee to give Furman fans a reasonable eight hour drive to Orlando for their first appearance in a long time.
Tony Bennett is one of just six coaches in the tournament field with a national championship to his name, but his teams play a painfully slow tempo that make them susceptible to upsets as the lower number of possessions allow for more noise in the outcomes of games. This year’s Virginia team excels at sharing the basketball and avoiding turnovers. They started the year red hot beating Baylor and Illinois in Las Vegas, but then proceeded to not live up to the expectations created by those wins for the rest of the year. They merely shared the ACC regular season crown with Miami and lost to Duke in the ACC tournament championship. They have four seniors, but one (Ben Vander Plas) is out for the season after breaking his hand in practice last week. Old friend Armaan Franklin and old enemy Kihei Clark both start for the Cavaliers.
Furman will want to play faster than Virginia and while they aren’t the best three point shooting team in the country (34.4%) they have excellent ball movement and an understanding that an average three point look is better than a good two point attempt. The Paladins have the highest 2 point attempt percentage in the nation by only taking great two point looks and shoot threes on over 46% of their field goal attempts. This bodes well for upset potential but they will need to make their shots. Seniors Jalen Slawson and Mike Bothwell are the stars and seven of the nine guys in the rotation returned from last year’s team that lost to Chattanooga in the Southern championship game.
MNW: A good three-point shooting team against the pack-line defense will be an interesting matchup—can Furman space the floor and free up those shooters with a couple pindown screens?
Probably not, but purple Paladins is an elite color/nickname combo. Great picture find, BU.
Thumpasaurus: Y’know, I’m something of a furman myself.
misdreavus79: Being upset as 4-seed is not as fun as being upset as a 1-seed. Go Furman!
Virginia or Furman
This poll is closed
The lawful good Paladins
#7 Missouri Tigers (24-9) v. #10 Utah State Aggies (26-8)
12:40 pm, TNT, Sacramento | USU -1 | O/U 155
Missouri makes their triumphant return to the tournament under first year head coach Dennis Gates while Utah State returns after a one year gap that occurred during Ryan Odom’s first season on the job.
The Tigers have a really good offense and play a fast pace designed to get up and down the floor. They shoot a ton of threes and have three seniors shooting over 39% from behind the arc in Kobe Brown, D’Moi Hodge and Nick Honor. Missouri is a bit of an island of misfit toys, as just two players played for Missouri prior to this season. Despite that they have tons of upperclassmen including 8 seniors although only 6 of those are healthy. The Tigers biggest weaknesses are that they are an abysmal rebounding team, and they give up a ton of open looks from three or in the paint as they take gambles to get steals. While they do get a lot of turnovers, they also get into foul trouble often.
Utah State is a terrible matchup for Missouri. They do a good job of taking care of the basketball, are used to playing up tempo, and have a tremendously efficient offense that can set the nets ablaze (38.5% from three, 54.1% from two on the season). The Aggies have just one underclassman and 5 seniors in the rotation. Starting PG Steven Ashworth rarely turns the ball over, is shooting 43.9% from behind the arc, and is complemented by three other players shooting above 36% from three. The Aggies also have a bunch of length on their roster that should prevent them from being overwhelmed by Missouri’s pressure and help them steal offensive rebounds. Outside of Ashworth, nobody is under 6’4”. Ryan Odom makes his 2nd tournament appearance as a head coach and first since 2018. He has never lost a first round game (Odom’s former team was UMBC).
MNW: This is a really fun game featuring a nice story in Mizzou and a maddeningly efficient team in Utah State. The Aggies bring some of the most rage-inducing, moon-burning Utahns you can imagine (I’m just assuming Steven Ashworth is one of 10 children, all of whose names start with S or go in alphabetical order or something), and I’m already irritated thinking about it.
Also, a word about that picture: as I age, one of the most irritating parts of college basketball has been the three-point celebrations that involve holding up three fingers and doing something stupid. Goddamnit I want to yell at a cloud every time you hold a three to your veins or shoot a bow and arrow or something else. And turn down your damn music.
Aggies by 5.
Thumpasaurus: The only nice story involving Mizzou is the Kim Anderson era.
misdreavus79: The Mountain West is officially on 0-fer watch, so we’ll know pretty early if Nevada making it over Oklahoma State (or Rutgers, to be frank) was the right choice. Because, of course, all conference teams are representative of each other yes?
Missouri or Utah State
This poll is closed
Land grant Utah
#1 Kansas Jayhawks (27-7) v. #16 Howard Bison (22-12)
1 pm, TBS, Des Moines | KU -22 | O/U 145.5
Kansas has never missed the tournament under Bill Self and are the defending champions. They draw Howard which seems incredibly unfair to the guy having to play 1 on 5. This is Howard’s third NCAA tournament appearance and first since 1992 when they also lost to 1 seeded Kansas 67-100. Hey committee, you didn’t need to do that.
Kansas looked fairly dominant in November, December, and February. The Jayhawks had a brief losing streak in mid-January, and have been blown out by Texas twice in the past two weeks. They have a significant lack of height compared to a typical 1 seed - which shouldn’t be a problem here - and don’t shoot the ball all that well. Jalen Wilson and Gradey Dick are stars and deservingly so, but the Jayhawks success has been built upon their defense this season. Health issues for head coach Bill Self caused him to miss the Big 12 tournament and senior starter Kevin McCullar is dealing with back spasms. Both are expected to be back, but we will see.
Howard makes the tournament two seasons after everyone thought they would with top NBA prospect Makur Maker who they somehow convinced to come to campus. Of course the Bison only ended up playing 5 games that year and then Maker went pro. This season however, Howard swept the MEAC regular season and tournament after getting beat up pretty good in non-conference play. The Bison are awful at turnovers, committing them at a bottom 10 rate in the country. All is not lost for Howard though, they shoot threes at a 37.2% clip and any 16 seed that is going to have a prayer will need to have a fantastic shooting night. Elijah Hawkins (45.2%), Jordan Wood (37.3%), and Marcus Dockery (44.5) are all excellent shooters from three.
MNW: I was curious about Howard’s coach, Kenny Blakeney—is there a law stating that anyone who coaches within a 30-mile radius of DC must have a connection to DeMatha Prep? On top of that, dude counts in the coaching trees of Lefty Driesell, Mike Brey, and Tommy Amaker, took 7 years off to work for UnderArmour...I find this Beltway world fascinating and now suddenly think it is all a very large quagmire of some kind that ought to be sapped of its liquid.
I honestly thought Makur Makur was still at Howard. Jayhawks can name their score.
misdreavus79: Good luck my guy!
Kansas or Howard
This poll is closed
1 guy defeats 5
#1 Alabama Crimson Tide (29-5) v. #16 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders (24-10)
1:45 pm, CBS, Birmingham | Bama -24 | O/U 154
Alabama may have one of the worst PR teams in college sports (somehow still top half of the SEC?), but are a pretty good basketball team. They get their first 1 seed ever and are the top overall seed in the tournament. The Islanders face them fresh off a win in Dayton over SEMO.
Alabama has a very good defense, utilizing their athleticism and length to force teams into difficult shots. All-American Brandon Miller is a controversial player, but the best player on the Crimson Tide and can take over any game he plays in. Alabama’s weakness? They can fall in love with shooting the three and outside of Miller are not a good three point shooting team. This marks the Crimson Tide’s third straight tournament appearance and the sixth overall for head coach Nate Oats. Oats is yet to make an Elite 8.
The Islanders are down their best player but outlasted the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks in their First Four matchup. Jalen Jackson scored 22 points, but the team shot just 22.2% from three in that game. They will have to do better to pull the upset here. Tuesday’s win was the Islanders first NCAA tournament victory.
MNW: Yeah, there was nothing in that First Four game that gave me any confidence that the Islanders can pull it off. And those jerseys were ugly, man.
Thumpasaurus: I have money on Alabama winning it all, because that would make everyone that watches college basketball before March absolutely sick to their stomachs. Those kind of events often happen in sports.
misdreavus79: You know what would be cool right about now? Another 16-seed upset.
Alabama or Texas A&M-CC?
This poll is closed
#5 San Diego State Aztecs (27-6) v. #12 Charleston Cougars (31-3)
2:10 pm, TruTV, Orlando | SDSU -5 | O/U 141.5
San Diego State makes their third consecutive tournament with head coach Brian Dutcher (why didn’t Minnesota hire him?) and received their highest seed under him while Charleston makes their first tournament since 2018 and first under second year head coach Pat Kelsey.
San Diego State is going to play at a deliberate place. They focus on their smothering defense running teams off the three point line and on avoiding second chance opportunities for their opponents. On offense they take care of the basketball but they aren’t the type of team that wants to get in a shootout. This is a team loaded with experience. Eight seniors and one junior make up the rotation. Senior Jaedon LeDee is a former Ohio State Buckeye and comes off the bench for the Aztecs.
Cincinnati native Pat Kelsey’s teams play fast, crash the offensive glass, shoot a lot of threes, and are just fun to watch. The Cougars lost only three games all season. While they managed only a single win over a tournament team (their 74-72 victory over Kent State), this is a team that has experienced a lot of winning and they won’t be afraid of the moment. Pat Kelsey previously made the tournament twice in his nine seasons at Winthrop (and had won the 2020 Big South tournament) but has yet to win a tournament game. The Cougars have three senior starters, one of which (Ryan Larson) played on the 2019 Wofford team that won a tournament game. Charleston currently sports a 10 game win streak.
MNW: I’ve been reading that this is a popular upset pick, and while I’ve fallen victim to it in at least one bracket...man, there’s no substitute for the real deal when you’re playing San Diego State—they are long and just bully teams on defense and on the glass. Interestingly, though, Charleston boasts the third-best offensive rebounding rate in the country, and Croat F Ante Brzovic has some game inside.
Speaking of “how’d the Gophers let him get away?”, Charleston senior G Ryan Larson is a graduate of Cretin-Durham Hall in St. Paul.
misdreavus79: Oh man, I’d forgotten that these two teams were paired together. Should be a fun game, but sucks that mid-majors have to play each other.
San Diego State or Charleston?
This poll is closed
#2 Arizona Wildcats (28-6) v. #15 Princeton Tigers (21-8)
3:10 pm, TNT, Sacramento | Arizona -13.5 | O/U 153.5
Tommy Lloyd leads the Wildcats back to the tournament for a second straight year while Mitch Henderson takes Princeton to his second tournament in 11 seasons and first since 2017.
Arizona is one of the favorites in the tournament after winning the Pac 12 tournament championship over UCLA. They play fast, share the ball, and knock down their shots. The only thing preventing them from being the top offense in college basketball this year is their turnovers as they can get careless with the basketball. Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo are a formidable frontcourt duo while all the guards can light it up from outside. The Wildcats are a capable defense but don’t shutdown opponents and have a tendency to play down to their level of competition. If Princeton comes out hot, Arizona could find themselves in a hole but they are plenty capable of making a big run to erase any deficit quickly.
Like most mid-major teams in the field, Princeton is headlined by upperclassmen, as three of their starters are seniors and a fourth is a junior named Matt Allocco who is the star of the team. The Tigers schedule did not include any high major competition so they aren’t going to be used to the level of athleticism that Arizona brings to the table. Close losses to Hofstra (hey, Rutgers and Princeton are the same!) and Iona represent their top two non-Yale opponents. Princeton went 1-2 against Yale, winning the only one that mattered. Defensively, the biggest reason to not expect an upset is that Princeton does not generate turnovers. They rank bottom 20 in the country at creating turnovers making them unlikely to be able to exploit Arizona’s biggest weakness.
Thumpasaurus: There are three schools mentioned in “Oskee-Wow-Wow,” the more uptempo of the Illinois fight songs. Two of them are in the tournament. Wisconsin, however, is not.
MNW: Arizona bullies the Tigers inside and smothers the Princeton Offense on the perimeter. I still love you, Bill Carmody :(
misdreavus79: No way Princeton wins this, right?
Arizona or Princeton?
This poll is closed
Apex predator cats
#8 Arkansas Razorbacks (20-13) v. #9 Illinois Fighting Illini (20-12)
3:30 pm, TBS, Des Moines | Arkansas -2 | O/U 142
Eric Musselman leads Arkansas to a third straight NCAA appearance after Elite 8 runs the last two years and meets a Brad Underwood team also making their third consecutive NCAA appearance.
Fran’s apprentice Underwood is yet to make a Sweet 16 during his previous 6 tournaments.
Arkansas has been plagued with injuries all season with just 5 players being able to play more than 30 games. This has left them with little post depth as C Trevon Brazile is out for the season and PF Jalen Graham has been limited of late. The Razorbacks have had to rely on their defense this season as the offensive shooting hasn’t been there (31.7% from three). They want to play fast, but may not have the bodies to rotate guys in and keep everyone fresh doing so.
Back in December, I thought the Illini were the class of the Big Ten. Instead they muddled their way to being just part of the pack with inconsistency being their apparent goal for the season. Since January 13, Illinois won just 1 game against tournament competition, a home game against rival Northwestern. The Illini like to jack up three pointers (41.9% of all field goal attempts) but like Arkansas can’t make them (30.9%). They have a number of pieces that are capable of getting hot for a game (Shannon and Mayer are the two most likely candidates), but Illinois is just as capable of losing this one by 15 as they are of winning it.
MNW; That picture...man, Underwood is a whole vibe.
Thumpasaurus: These are two fundamentally very similar teams that both excel at getting to the hoop with athleticism and struggle to shoot threes. The biggest difference between them is that Arkansas actually knows that they’re bad at shooting threes, while Illinois continues to, as the kids might say, post through it.
I really have no idea what to make of this game. If Illinois just plays Arkansas’ game, they should win because they’re better at it. However, the interior defense for Illinois leaves much to be desired, and the temptation to jack up contested threes is just too much for them most games.
It’ll come down to the performance of Coleman Hawkins, who has really done solid work over the past month or so. The problems with this are three-fold:
- Hawkins is poised to succeed Javale McGee as the poster child for how ADHD affects an athlete’s performance
- He leads the team in assists largely because point guard has been such a problem this year
- He’s really had to step up in the paint on both ends of the court as Dain Dainja has all but disappeared.
I’m connected to a lot of “insiders” whose info is sometimes dubious, but it sounds like the vibes are more cursed now than at any time since before Clark left the team. This could be a 20 point Arkansas win.
misdreavus79: If Illinois is going to make it out of the first weekend, this is as good a chance as they’ll get.
Arkansas or Illinois
This poll is closed
#8 Iowa Hawkeyes (19-13) v. #9 Auburn Tigers (20-12)
5:50 pm, TNT, Birmingham | Auburn -1 | O/U 152
Everyone’s favorite angry coach makes his fifth consecutive tournament field and will attempt to make the first Sweet 16 of his 27 season career against everyone’s least favorite coach. That’s right it’s Iowa vs Illini fan’s most hated coach Bruce Pearl. The 8 seeded Iowa gets to play just down the road from Auburn’s campus which seems completely fair.
Fran McCaffery’s Iowa team has his usual really good offense (top 5 in the country) and his usual horrible, no good, very bad defense (outside of the top 150). Someone at Iowa should get Fran and Kirk to debate the merits of offense vs defense and stream the resulting brawl. Iowa has star power in Kris Murray, but no real dominant three point shooters. Their offense is so efficient because they do not turn the ball over. I’m not going to talk about the Hawkeyes defense other than to say it is bad. 16 seeded Northern Kentucky’s is better.
Auburn is the polar opposite of Iowa. The Tigers have a defensive focus and can’t shoot to save their lives (31.4% from three). They are susceptible to giving up offensive rebounds to their opponents so Iowa should be able to get some second chance points against them. Auburn has lost 8 of their last 12 games. I’m not going to talk about Bruce Pearl’s career accomplishments, because Bruce Pearl is a terrible person.
MNW: Last I saw Auburn, they were beating Northwestern in Cancun, 43-42.
They are going to try to bully Iowa, and Iowa fans are going to bitch and bitch and bitch the entire time. You cannot pay me to watch this.
Thumpasaurus: On one hand, one of these teams will win their first round game. On the other hand, one of these teams will lose their first round game. In that regard, this setup is a wash, but ultimately it eliminates the risk of both teams making a deep run, so I’d have to say it’s a big net positive for me.
misdreavus79: Ok so the total is at 152. Do they expect Iowa to drop 100 or something? Because Auburn isn’t exactly burning the nets this season.
Iowa or Auburn?
This poll is closed
Bruce Pearl is a terrible person
#5 Duke Blue Devils (26-8) v. #12 Oral Bob’s House of Learning (30-4)
6:10 pm, CBS, Orlando | Duke -6 | O/U 146
Duke makes their 2nd consecutive tournament and the first of head coach Jon Scheyer’s career. They face Oral Roberts, returning to the tournament for the first time since their 2021 run to the Sweet 16. Paul Mills - who coached them then - is still the coach and Oral Roberts has returned four starters from that 2021 team (although only three of them are starters this season).
In the immortal words of Pete Gillen: “Duke is Duke. They’re on TV more than Leave it to Beaver reruns.” We all hate them for it. The Blue Devils are a young team, with just three players in their rotation having tournament experience: Jeremy Roach and Jaylen Bates returned from last year’s Final Four run while Jacob Grandison played a few tournament games with Illinois. Duke rebounds well, led by 7 foot freshman Kyle Filipowski, but otherwise they are mostly a middle of the pack tournament team. Although they enter the NCAA tournament on a nine game winning streak against a weak ACC, we should note that Duke has not won a NCAA tournament game as a 5 seed or higher since 1987.
Oral Roberts won 30 games this season and that’s no mistake. Sure the conference schedule wasn’t the most difficult in the world and they lost their four games against tournament quality teams in the non-con, but they weren’t embarrassed in any of those outside of Houston. Oral Roberts has a really good offense. They don’t ever turn it over and have an absurd effective FG% that ranks among the nation’s best. 7’5” Connor Vanover gives them size to match up with Duke and five players are shooting better than 38% from three. Defensively, Vanover serves as a rim protector and the name of the game for Oral Roberts is to get opposing teams to shoot jump shots.
MNW: Incredible Ryan Young erasure here, BU. The game of Ry-M-C-A stifles Vanover inside. And then I just assume Duke does Duke things the rest of the time. Oral Bob’s beating the Blue Devils would be absolutely hilarious, though. Max Abmas (reminder, it is somehow pronounced “ACE-mas”) is damn fun to watch.
As a reminder: the namesake of this school, in 1987, told a television audience that if he did not raise $8 million by March, God would “call him home.” This is a very real and serious institution, and you should take it very seriously.
Thumpasaurus: A couple years ago Mouth Bob delivered in spectacular fashion. Max Abmas and his confusingly-pronounced name return for one last rodeo. I had ESPN on in the background long enough to hear a panel absolutely salivating over the concept of Scheyer winning a national championship in his first year at Duke and how that would both be an extra national title for Mick Krizilonski AND the Ultimate Cinderella Story. If you thought his retirement would mean Duke stopped being insufferable, shame on you.
Let’s go Mouth Bob.
misdreavus79: You know, it would be a real help to Purdue if Duke could just lose this game...
Duke or Oral Roberts?
This poll is closed
The devil went down to Durham
#2 Texas Longhorns (26-8) v. #15 Colgate Raiders (26-8)
6:25 pm, TBS, Des Moines | Texas -13.5 | O/U 148
Texas, fresh off stuffing Kansas in the trash can twice, makes their third consecutive NCAA tournament under their third head coach in that time-frame. They face Matt Langel’s Colgate program that has made the last four tournament fields.
After Chris Beard showed his true nature to the world (side note: wtf Mississippi? Are you trying to further prove the SEC has no morals?), Texas was left for dead by many commentators, myself included. But they’ve bounced back and finished the season as the best team in the best conference. Texas plays an aggressive, physical defense and has an up tempo offense. 50 year old former Gopher Marcus Carr is still around as the Longhorns starting PG and has been playing at a very high level. Texas has six seniors in the rotation, but Timmy Allen (a starting forward), is currently dealing with a day to day lower leg injury and missed the Big 12 tournament. Allen is expected to be available for Texas’s game against Colgate.
When we look for potential tournament upsets, teams with above average three point shooting are usually where we find them as that skill translates against athletic power conference favorites. That’s good news for Colgate as their three point percentage leads the nation at 40.9%. That percentage is boosted by national leader Oliver Lynch-Daniels’ 77 makes on 153 attempts (that’s over 50% for the Indiana graduates) and Texas better guard him if they know what’s good for them. Where the Raiders struggle is on defense. They do a good job preventing second chance points and avoid fouling, but don’t force difficult shots.
MNW: Matt Langel just keeps doing the damn thing up in Hamilton, man. If you are curious on how he created such an efficient offense, this is a really fun (and short) watch:
I’ll add that the Raiders are, despite being the best three-point shooting teams in the country, one of the worst free-throw shooting teams, at 65.7%. The Fightin’ Toothpaste has a win at Syracuse but struggled at Auburn. They’ll need those threes to be falling and Texas to be cold from the field.
Thumpasarus: Toothpaste has blown some shots at victory in recent years, but at first glance you think they won’t have one.
If they hang around long enough, however...Texas lost at Madison Square Garden to Illinois in a way that had me more confused than excited. It’s not impossible that Texas chokes.
misdreavus79: One can only dream, but there’s no way Texas loses this.
Texas or Colgate?
This poll is closed
#7 Northwestern Wildcats (21-11) v. #10 Boise State Broncos (24-9)
6:35 pm, TruTV, Sacramento | NU -1.5 | O/U 128
IT IS THE YEAR. I’m going to turn things over to MNW to talk about Northwestern since he rarely has this opportunity.
MNW: For an extended look, I wrote you a nice, long preview on how unexpected this whole thing has been:
For the great story and momentum that’s been behind the ‘Cats all season, Northwestern struggled down the stretch as Boo Buie and Chase Audige’s worst volume-chucker tendencies reared their ugly heads. The ‘Cats shoot a lot of threes and don’t shoot them particularly well, but if one of Buie and Audige along with guards Brooks Barnhizer or Ty Berry are hitting that night...watch out, I guess?
What I don’t like is the size matchup with Boise. The Broncos roll five-deep, all 6’7” or shorter, with Tyson Degenhart presenting a matchup challenge for the Wildcats’ big men; if the ‘Cats can’t set up their trapping defense and have to rely on their man-defense and ball rotations, this could get ugly, because Boise can shoot the three.
BoilerUp89: Like Northwestern, Boise State also has a strong defense and a mediocre offense. This is head coach Leon Rice’s 2nd consecutive appearance after Boise lost in the first round last season. Max Rice and Chibuzo Agbo are 40% three point shooters. Four of their five starters returned from last season’s team.
MNW: And that’s where the problems come in—Northwestern’s losses to Pitt and Penn State, in particular, should be instructive: if Boise rolls five-out and is hitting threes early, this could be a long day. But first to 60 could do it for the ‘Cats, and maybe a couple of them are due to get hot.
Thumpasaurus: Yeah, but you’re talking about Penn State, a team that hits contested threes off the dribble and blind circus layups in their sleep. I don’t think Boise State is on that level. Side note, is any Northwestern lead safe against this particular color combination?
misdreavus79: Like West Virginia and Maryland, 128 seems like a lot of points here. Both teams would have to reach 60 for that to happen, or one team would have to put on a blowout of epic proportions on the other. I see neither of those coming to fruition.
Northwestern or Boise State?
This poll is closed
IT IS THE YEAR! SAY IT MNW!
Blue turf monsters
#1 Houston Cougars (31-3) v. #16 Northern Kentucky Norse (22-12)
8:20 pm, TNT, Birmingham | UH -19.5 | O/U 122.5
Beloved head coach Kelvin Sampson has the Houston machine up and running at full steam. The Cougars face a Northern Kentucky team that is fast becoming a regular feature in the tournament field.
Houston lost just three games all year. While the AAC wasn’t the strongest its ever been and their non-conference victories over tournament teams only include Virginia and fellow non-P6 teams Saint Mary’s, Kent State, and Oral Roberts, Houston is a very dangerous team capable of making a deep run. The Cougars have a suffocating defense and couple that with an efficient offense that plays to their strengths. The one negative for Houston going into the tournament? All-American Marcus Sasser sustained a groin injury in the American Athletic Conference Tournament and his status for the NCAA tournament is unknown.
Northern Kentucky has only been eligible for the NCAA tournament six years, but this marks their third bid. They received a 16 seed after eking out a Horizon league tournament championship. The Norse are slow which combined with Houston’s lack of tempo will make this a painful game for all involved. They get lots of steals but still manage to not give up easy buckets. NKU has some shooting ability and the guy to keep an eye on is Marques Warrick. Warrick averages nearly 6 three point attempts a game and makes more than two of them. If he can up the number against Houston, the upset isn’t impossible. The Norse beat Cincinnati at Cincinnati by the same margin that Houston did.
Thumpasaurus: Houston is an under machine, but NKU is an under-the-radar under machine. This is the easiest under of my life.
MNW: This will be unwatchable. I’ll take the Coogs, 62-45. FIRE UP THE WOMP CHEER.
misdreavus79: Houston vs Iowa will be a doozy.
Houston or NKU?
This poll is closed
#4 Tennessee Volunteers (23-10) v. #13 Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (26-7)
8:40 pm, CBS, Orlando | Tennessee -11.5 | O/U 136.5
Everyone’s favorite fanbase faces the descendants of the Acadians. Tennessee stumbled down the stretch while Louisiana pulled off the upset in the Sun Belt tournament.
Tennessee has lost four of their last seven with the only win over a tournament team in that period coming against Arkansas. Starting point guard Zakai Zeigler tore his ACL in that Arkansas game and the Volunteers have not looked the same since. Tennessee has a great defense and has held opponents to an incredible 26.2% from three. Unfortunately for the Volunteers, their own three point shooting isn’t much better at 32.9% and they take a lot of threes to shoot themselves right out of games. Head coach Rick Barnes has made the last five tournaments, but hasn’t made an Elite 8 since 2008 when he was at Texas.
Long time head coach of Louisiana Bob Marlin makes just his second tournament appearance and his first since 2014. The Ragin’ Cajuns have a couple of deadeye shooters in their backcourt with Greg Williams and Kentrell Garnett while post players Terence Lewis and Jordan Brown can fill it up in the low post. Louisiana will need to avoid turnovers and probably change up their defensive strategy. They’ve spent all season running teams off the three point line, but Tennessee’s shooting is so weak that you want them taking those shots.
MNW: We’re due for another Rick Barnesing, aren’t we? I’m ready to watch a hilarious Tennessee collapse in Round 1, and the Cajuns are the team to do it.
Thumpasaurus: I’ve seen a lot of analysis saying that while Purdue should have a fairly easy path to the final four, watch out for Tennessee in the Sweet 16!
There is no way that both Purdue and Tennessee play each other in this tournament. This is perhaps the single thing I am most sure of in this tourney. Matt Painter AND Rick Barnes taking care of business in March?
misdreavus79: I think Tennessee is one of the popular upset picks in the early rounds, so of course they’ll make a run.
Tennessee or Louisiana?
This poll is closed
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#7 Texas A&M Aggies (25-9) v. #10 Penn State Nittany Lions (22-13)
8:55 pm, TBS, Des Moines | TAMU -3.5 | O/U 134.5
After playing themselves into the tournament last week, Penn State gets a matchup with fellow land grant school Texas A&M.
Buzz Williams takes Texas A&M to the tournament for the first time in his four years there and the first time since 2018. The Aggies rely on offensive rebounding and getting to the free throw line to make up for poor shooting and careless turnovers. Despite being an elite offensive rebounding team, the Aggies forget how to secure rebounds on the defensive end of the court and hack on defense. Starting PG Wade Taylor is their go to guy, dishing out plenty of assists, and taking 29% of the teams shots.
Penn State returns to the tournament for the first time since 2011 ending the Big Ten’s longest active drought. Although rumors about head coach Micah Shrewsberry departing for greener pastures are swirling, he’s still the coach for now and the Nittany Lions are filled with seniors that aren’t ready to see their college careers end. Penn State is a guard heavy team resulting in an extremely lopsided offense. They are 7th in the country in turnover rate and 12th in effective field percentage, but 3rd worst in free throw rate and 2nd worst at securing offensive rebounds. PG Jalen Pickett is an exciting watch and the exact type of player that people are talking about when they say guard play wins in March.
MNW: SWEATY POTATO TIME!
If Texas A&M changes its name to Illinois or Northwestern, the Nitty Kitties will be unstoppable. If not, though, the Aggies should be able to bully Penn State inside. Rooting for Jalen Pickett to go off, though.
Thumpasaurus: You’ve never seen a Final Four run as fun to watch as this one by Penn State is about to be. The shit they’re capable of on offense is absolutely unbelievable. They have three guys that can go for 20+ in any given game, and contesting their threes only makes them more accurate.
(I can only judge Penn State off of the games that I’ve watched
misdreauvs79: Penn State fans have not forgotten what you did to D.J. Newbill, Buzz. Other than that, just about everyone believes A&M to be a severely underseeded team, and a few others believe Penn State to be underseeded too.
If the Lions can replicate some of the defensive effort they gave in the Big Ten Tournament, and if they can shoot the way they have during the good times, they should be able to compete. If Penn State can’t find the bottom of the net from three, well, you saw the Rutgers games.
Texas A&M or Penn State?
This poll is closed
#2 UCLA Bruins (29-5) v. #15 UNC Asheville Bulldogs (27-7)
9:05 pm, TruTV, Sacramento | UCLA -17.5 | O/U 134.5
Our night wraps up with UCLA versus UNC Asheville. Do not cry that the night is ending. We get to do this again tomorrow!
UCLA has been playing really good basketball lately and took Arizona to the wire in the PAC 12 championship game even after losing Jaylen Clark to an Achilles injury. Starting center Adem Bona’s injury status is also unknown, but he is progressing from an injury suffered in their game against Oregon. Jaime Jaquez and Tyger Campbell lead the way for the Bruins, much like they did during UCLA’s Final Four run two years ago. David Singleton adds a lethal perimeter shooter and as usual Mick Cronin’s team has an elite defense. Cronin has not missed a tournament since 2010 and has not lost a first round game since 2019 (his final year at Cincinnati).
Asheville shot threes at a 38.8% this season and that’s the secret to their success. In 2023, they’ve lost just one game. Against high major competition in the non-conference though, the Bulldogs were blown out by Dayton and Arkansas. Asheville has six seniors in their rotation, but just two have NCAA tournament experience.
MNW: You stop and appreciate Drew Pember right goddamn now:
The 6’10” Tennessee transfer averages near a double-double, shoots it well from the line and the three-point arc, and will actually pose a test for the Bruins’ elite defense. While UCLA will win, assuming Pember stays out of foul trouble, it’ll be fun to watch him and G Tajion Jones trade haymakers with UCLA’s best.
misdreavus79: Even with injuries, UCLA should cruise through this one.
UCLA or UNC Asheville?
This poll is closed
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