As mentioned previously, here’s the East Region preview. Coming up tomorrow will be the Midwest and West region previews, along with some other NCAA Tournament tidbits and, with any luck, a post on Wednesday to help you navigate the tough parts of your bracket.
(1) Syracuse vs. (16) UNC-Asheville – Thursday, March 15, 3 PM ET, TruTV
I like the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs a lot, considering I’ve had the chance to see them play a few times this year. However, it’s a sad fact to face: they have no chance of winning this game, mostly because they don’t have the height to exploit Syracuse’s Achilles heel in poor rebounding. Maybe next year?
Prediction: Syracuse 71, UNC-Asheville 50
(8) Kansas State vs. (9) Southern Miss – Thursday, March 15, 12:30 PM ET, TruTV
A game that would’ve been so much better a month ago. While Kansas State has found their stride late in the season, Southern Miss is firing on no cylinders and looking absolutely awful in the process. They barely scraped their way into the field and haven’t played a true “good” game since beating Memphis in early February. Frank Martin’s Wildcats will be on the Golden Eagles early and often. This one could get ugly.
Prediction: Kansas State 76, Southern Miss 64
(5) Vanderbilt vs. (12) Harvard – Thursday, March 15, 4:30 PM ET, TNT
NERDS! But really, this should be a pretty great and entertaining game. Vanderbilt offers John Jenkins, one of the best pure shooters in America, to go along a solid group of NBA talent in Festus Ezeli and Jeffery Taylor. Harvard doesn’t have the flashy name power, but when they control the tempo of the game (snail’s pace, for those who don’t know), they can beat anyone – ask 3 seed Florida State, who put up a grand total of 41 on Harvard’s defense. Just like last year (and the year before that, and the year before that, and you get the point), though, Vanderbilt turns the ball over too much and doesn’t force enough turnovers to make up for it. I’ll give Harvard the slight edge.
Prediction: Harvard 66, Vanderbilt 62
(4) Wisconsin vs. (13) Montana – Thursday, March 15, 2 PM ET, TNT
For whatever reason, this seems to be a chic upset pick, so I’ll destroy that notion with three facts. 1. Wisconsin’s turnover percentage is the second-lowest in the nation. Good luck rattling them, as Belmont found out the hard way last year. 2. Montana relies on the three-pointer to get their offense running. Wisconsin forces their opponents to shoot the eighth-lowest rate in America from deep. 3. Montana is a very poor rebounding team (in the lower third of all teams), failing to exploit Wisconsin’s sometimes iffy rebounding skills. I’ll take Wisconsin every day in a game like this.
Prediction: Wisconsin 61, Montana 46
(6) Cincinnati vs. (11) Texas – Friday, March 16, 12 PM ET, CBS
A game being played a bit out of place in Nashville, Tenn. features an interesting storyline: how far can these Bearcats go after rebounding from an all-out brawl with Xavier back in December to go to the Big East final after an outstanding conference season? They have deep potential, but they need to get past a somewhat underrated Texas team first. Texas isn’t known for great shooting – their effective field goal percentage of 48.1% is 181st in the country – but they’re solid at taking care of the ball, picking up offensive rebounds, and getting to the free throw line. It’ll be close, but if Cincinnati sticks to their game plan from the last couple months, they should squeak by.
Prediction: Cincinnati 65, Texas 64
(3) Florida State vs. (14) Saint Bonaventure – Friday, March 16, 2:30 PM ET, CBS
Admit it – you don’t know what the heck a “Saint Bonaventure” is, other than it loosely translates into Saint Good Adventure, which must mean they’re in for a fun ride. And that they could be – Florida State is utterly awful at controlling the basketball, turning it over an alarming 23.7% of the time, 324th in the nation. The Bonnies may rely a bit too much on their outstanding center Andrew Nicholson, but they’ve got a shot in this one. However, they don’t force enough turnovers to make this a potential upset.
Prediction: Florida State 67, St. Bonaventure 62
(7) Gonzaga vs. (10) West Virginia – Thursday, March 15, 7:15 PM ET, TNT
A very unjust move by the selection committee, as a 2,500 mile flight for Gonzaga is countered by a 60-minute bus ride for West Virginia. That should never happen to the higher-seeded team. You might not be able to blame the committee, though, because this has all the signs of the 10 seed coming out on top. The Zags lack offensive punch and backcourt scoring (<76 points per game and 39% of points from backcourt), a typical sign of a 7-seed victim. West Virginia will put an early dagger into Mark Few’s dreams on Thursday evening.
Prediction: West Virginia 68, Gonzaga 64
(2) Ohio State vs. (15) Loyola (Maryland) – Thursday, March 15, 9:45 PM ET, TNT
Jared Sullinger and the nation’s best defense versus a team that is terrible at shooting the ball and made the MAAC Championship dreadful? I’ll pass. Bucks win, and easily.
Prediction: Ohio State 76, Loyola (MD) 55
That’s all for today. Coming up tomorrow: the West and South regions, and a tip sheet of useful info on Wednesday.