NCAA Tournament Preview
The big dance is about to get underway and WLTL's Sam Viniard will be breaking it all down for us throughout the tournament. Read his preview of the games here and be sure to tune in Tuesday nights at 7pm for NCAA tournament talk and more on the Tuesday Night Power Hour, only on WLTL 88.1 FM!
The number 1 overall seed was a little bit of a shocker for people around the country. Nate Oats and the Crimson Tide with a convincing win over Texas A&M in the SEC championship grab the top seed playing either Southeast Missouri St. or Texas A&M (Corpus Christie). Bama should be the obvious pick with SEC freshman of the year, Brandon Miller and their potent offense. The first two rounds will also be played in Birmingham giving them a home court advantage until the Sweet 16.
Maryland vs. West Virginia is a very interesting game. Statistically speaking the 9 seed holds a slight advantage with a 76-72 all time record vs. the 8 seed. West Virginia also averages 76.3 PPG compared to Maryland’s 70.4. 8 vs. 9 is always a coin toss for brackets but I will be taking West Virginia in the round of 64.
5 San Diego St. vs. 12 Charleston is another entertaining matchup. Charleston has had one of the best offenses all year averaging over 80 points per game but their strength of schedule has been extremely lacking. Coming out of the Colonial Athletic Association, they’ve only faced one AP top 25 opponent and lost. They will be tested early in the tournament and it won’t get any easier if they win. 5 vs. 12 is always one of the most popular upset picks and last year two 12 seeds pulled off the upset.
Furman is another highly potent offense averaging 82.1 but has a very similar track record to Charleston. Furman hasn’t faced any AP top 25 teams so Virginia is going to be a tough first round matchup for an untested Furman team. Virginia only gives up about 60 per game so it will be very interesting to see how the Furman offense reacts to the tough, battle-tested Virginia defense.
Creighton didn’t get the seed they were looking for, so kind of a tough draw at the 6 seed facing NC State. The Wolfpack’s defense has been extremely inconsistent throughout the year so that will really decide how their first round matchup plays out. However, 11 seeds have 3 out of 4 matchups every year since 2019 and 14 out of 24 matchups since 2014, a very popular upset pick.
Baylor should be a first round lock against the Gauchos from UC-Santa Barbara. UCSB played zero AP top 25 teams and ranked the 124th hardest strength of schedule whereas Baylor played in arguably the toughest conference in the country and managed a 22-10 record.
Another matchup where seeds don’t necessarily tell the entire story is Missouri vs. Utah St. Mizzou finished their season strong with a loss to #1 seeded Alabama in the semifinals of the SEC tournament. They aren’t great against Top 10 teams making a second round win unlikely but I would definitely expect them to beat Utah St. in the round of 64.
The last matchup in the South region is #2 Arizona vs. the 15 seed, Princeton. Arizona only had one loss to a Top 25 team all year and capped off their regular season by beating UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship. Princeton had a very weak schedule and will be traveling all the way across the country for this game in Sacramento meaning this would be a very risky upset pick in your brackets.
Purdue, the weakest 1 seed in the tournament, in my opinion will breeze through the first round, however after their first round matchup, I see them having major struggles against a team like Memphis or Duke. I do not see them making a deep run into this tournament, continuing with the Big 10’s lack of NCAA tournament success.
Memphis had a couple impressive games, only losing to Alabama by 3 points, knocking off Texas A&M and beating Auburn by 9 while also beating Houston in their first matchup of the year. Although 8 vs. 9 is historically the toughest matchup to pick, I think Memphis will be the heavy favorite in this game and I also see them with a second round upset over Purdue.
Duke is a team that I could see busting a lot of brackets this year. They aren’t going to blow you out by scoring 100 points but they will wear you out on offense and have proven this against multiple Top 25 teams. They are also one of the best rebounding teams in the country so this is not an instance where I like the 12 seed upsetting the 5 seed.
Tennessee should have a pretty easy matchup against the Ragin Cajuns but they aren’t great offensively, so if Louisiana finds a way to get hot early in this matchup, they could easily keep this close. Whoever wins, is going to have an extremely difficult matchup against Duke in the second round.
Kentucky vs. Providence is an upset pick that not a lot of people are talking about. It’s not too risky because I don’t see either team beating K-State in the second round, but it could be the difference in a bracket challenge. I think Providence matches up pretty well against Kentucky with the exception of Oscar Tshiebwe in the middle for the wildcats. Neither team has been great against ranked teams, they had very similar conference records, and identical regular season records. I would expect this first round matchup to be extremely close.
Kansas State is going to roll right by Montana St. in the first round and I think they will also roll right by the winner of Kentucky/Providence giving them a pretty easy road to the Sweet 16.
Michigan St. vs. USC is about as 50/50 as it gets in my opinion. It’s going to be extremely low scoring and overall a pretty boring game but I think Michigan St. comes out on top and advances to the round of 32.
Marquette will be uncontested in the first two rounds. They will blow out Vermont and the winner of Michigan St./USC giving them a clear path to the Sweet 16 and avenging Shaka Smart’s previous tour
With the 1 seed in the midwest region, Houston will be facing Northern Kentucky. I think Houston is another 1 seed, like Purdue, that will be an earlier exit than most expect due to the absence of Marcus Sasser. I do think however, they will blow right by the Norse and advance easily to the round of 32.
Iowa vs. Auburn is another instance where I think the 9 seed will take the W. Iowa has been a very mediocre team and the Big 10 is historically bad in the tournament so I will be picking Auburn but I think it is going to be an extremely close game. Both teams have very similar track records but I think Auburn’s experience against the difficult SEC will pay off for them early in this tournament.
As I’ve mentioned already, the 5 vs. 12 is one of the most popular upset picks and for good reason. A 12 seed has beat a 5 seed in 32 of the last 37 tournaments. I don't, however, think Drake is going to be able to get it done against Miami. My 5 vs. 12 upset is Charleston over San Diego St. I would go with the safe pick: Miami, in this first round matchup.
Indiana vs. Kent St. in my opinion won’t be a very close game. I think Indiana has been pretty solid this year led by All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis and they also have the Big 10 Freshamn of the year in Jalen Hood-Schifino. The Hoosiers also went 5-2 against Top 25 opponents this year, so I will be taking Indiana with a pretty easy (in my opinion) first round pick.
Iowa St. is another very solid overall team and they’ve got one of the best defenses in the country. The Cyclones also have a proven track record with a win over Kansas, a win over Kansas State, two wins over TCU, and three wins over Baylor. I think this is another easy pick for your bracket challenge.
3 vs. 14 is also a pretty simple pick if you ask me. Xzavier should be a lock over Kennessaw St. They’ve got a pretty solid strength of schedule facing 11 Top 25 teams and winning 6 of those games while also averaging over 80 PPG. Don’t overthink this one.
Texas A&M vs. Penn St. is going to be the best game of the first round in my opinion. Texas A&M finished out their season losing to Bama in the SEC championship while Penn St. finished up with a loss to Purdue in the Big 10 championship. Both teams are very solid and have the possibility to throw a wrench in your bracket. I think Texas A&M is the better team, only losing one game to an AP Top 25 team playing one of the most difficult schedules in the country. 7 Seeds have one 60.5% of the games in the 7 vs. 10 Matchup and this one I think is going to follow the trend.
The last game in the Midwest Region is another one you shouldn’t overthink. Texas is going to beat Colgate easily. They are coming into this game hot and have the potential to make a very deep run into march. And if they make it to the final four, they would have some serious home court advantage with those games being played in Houston.
Kansas snagged the 1 seed in the west region and they will be facing off against Howard. Kansas has arguably been the best team in the country all year long and this isn’t going to change in the first round. UMBC remains the only team to upset a 1 seed in the history of March Madness and it will remain that way this year.
Arkansas vs. Illinois is another really difficult 8 vs. 9 matchup. These teams are very similar in the amount of points they give up and the points they score per game. Illinois was better against Top 25 teams but if Illinois goes cold shooting, their entire offense shuts down. They lack leadership and talent in the paint making them a very tough team to pick in the tournament along with their spotty track record in March.
St. Mary’s was a very solid team all year wrapping up their season with a loss to Gonzaga in the WCC championship. They’re matchup up against VCU and I don’t think this will be much of a contest. VCU didn’t play a whole lot of competition this year while St. Mary’s wracked up 5 wins over tournament teams in the regular season.
UCONN is a legit team, leading the nation in offensive rebounds and blowing out the country’s number one team: Alabama, by 15 points. They also have wins over Marquette, Creighton, Iowa St. and Providence making them the heavy favorite for their first round game against Iona. Pitino’s squad on the other hand, hasn’t lost since January but I see that streak coming to an end early in March.
TCU is still awaiting the winner of Nevada and Arizona St. to determine who they will play in the first round but I think they will breeze right through the first round. The Horned Frogs are coming into March with 13 games against ranked opponents in the toughest conference in college basketball this year.
Gonzaga, although being slightly underwhelming this year, will have no problem beating Grand Canyon in the first round. I also think their road to the Sweet 16 isn’t very difficult until they run into a team like UCLA possibly.
Northwestern solidified their spot as my sleeper pick in March. I think they have a serious shot to win multiple games in March and complete a huge upset in the second round.
The final game in the Round of 64 is UCLA vs. UNC-Asheville. This is another instance where there will absolutely not be an upset. UCLA is returning Jaime Jauquez Jr. and Tiger Campbell for their third NCAA tournament. They’ve got a lot of experience and a lot of talent making them one of the best teams in this year’s tournament and an easy pick in the first round.