The NCAA Tournament is here, prepare yourself for 16 games of awesome basketball. There will be upsets, buzzer-beaters, blowouts, and everything in between. I will break down the games by order of their occurrence, so let’s dive into some previews for the games.
#11 Michigan vs #6 Colorado State 12:15 ET on CBS
What better way to start the Tournament than with what could be the best game of the first round. David Roddy and the Rams received the sixth seed after finishing second in the Mountain West and while Roddy’s versatility will be a problem, Isaiah Stevens and Chandler Jacobs will make the difference. Michigan infamously skirted the Archie Miller rule all season but found a way to win enough games to get in. This high-powered offense, with Hunter Dickinson leading them, has underachieved thus far but could make a run to redeem the season. The Wolverines will be without DaVante Jones, who has been good at the point, so they will need someone to step up in his place. This will come down to which team makes perimeter shots and how Colorado State defends Dickinson inside. I will say the Rams will do a good enough job on Dickinson and make more shots than Michigan.
Pick: Colorado State 77 Michigan 74
#13 South Dakota State vs #4 Providence 12:40 ET on TruTV
In a game that is destined to go down to the final minute, South Dakota State will face Providence. The Friars have been College Basketball’s luckiest team, with them winning what feels like every single close game. Nate Watson is a force inside, Al Durham and Jared Bynum make every shot in the clutch, plus this team plays tough defense. South Dakota State will offset that defense by scoring on what feels like every possession, Douglas Wilson and Baylor Scheierman make up an elite backcourt duo, while there’s scoring throughout the lineup. This game will be a popular upset pick and the line will be close. At the end of the day, I’ll go with the team that wins these types of games.
Pick: Providence 76 South Dakota State 74
#9 Memphis vs #8 Boise State 1:45 ET on TNT
The 8-9 game, the games that are destined to be close, will see a talented Memphis team against the Mountain West Champion Boise State Broncos. The Broncos have won games being tough, scrappy, and winning with defense, Abu Kigab and Emmanuel Akot bring the size and athleticism, while Marcus Shaver hits the big shots. Memphis has been the rollercoaster of all rollercoasters, they started slow, then rallied to beat Houston twice and make the NCAA Tournament behind a dominant frontcourt of Jalen Duren and DeAndre Williams. The key to the game will be the turnover battle, if Memphis avoids them and can even force some to get out in transition they will win. My pick is the Tigers, as they should be able to just overwhelm Boise State size-wise.
Pick: Memphis 67 Boise State 59
#16 Norfolk State vs #1 Baylor 2 ET on TBS
Let’s not belabor the point here, only one 16 has ever beaten a 1, so the odds are unlikely, but Norfolk State has previously beaten a Big 12 team as a 15 seed, so it’s not impossible. The Spartans won the MEAC by multiple games and Joe Bryant completed his season-winning League Player of the year. Despite injuries piling up, Baylor won the Big 12 regular season and earned another one seed, while the Bears are missing star power, they defend tough and have well-defined roles. The Bears should win a low-scoring game rather handily and advance to the Second Round.
Pick: Baylor 74 Norfolk State 48
#14 Longwood vs #3 Tennessee 2:45 ET on CBS
The 3-14 matchup is one that traditionally doesn’t bring many upsets, but does occasionally bring some, with this one being one that could be of significance. Longwood has never made the NCAA Tournament but Griff Aldrich’s team toughed out the Big South Tournament and got to the NCAA Tournament. Their opponent Tennessee also made history, winning their first SEC title since 1979, the Volunteers will defend their socks off, play tough defense and use their great backcourt duo of Kennedy Chandler and Santiago Vescovi for scoring. This will be a game that will be closer than many think, while the Vols will get the necessary stops to win this game, teams that win Conference Championships tend to start slow in the NCAA Tournament so expect this to not be a blowout.
Pick: Tennessee 67 Longwood 55
#12 Richmond vs #5 Iowa 3:10 ET on TruTV
The 12-5 matchup features two teams that won four games in four days to win their conference tournaments could bring a potential upset. The Spiders were underwhelming during the regular season but got hot at the right time, Jacob Gilyard will get his share of steals, while the Spiders have the ability to match size-wise. Iowa is the king of the Big Ten thanks to a great run aided largely by Keegan Murray, who is right in the National Player of the year race. This game looks to be one of the higher level games with great offensive execution but the question comes down to which team makes the key shots. I will roll with the Hawkeyes in a high-scoring affair as they look to avoid a Big Ten Tournament hangover.
Pick: Iowa 77 Richmond 71
#16 Georgia State vs #1 Gonzaga 4:15 ET on TNT
The number one overall seed Gonzaga Bulldogs will start their quest for a National Championship going against an under-seeded Georgia State team. The Bulldogs have all you could want, an incredible frontcourt duo of Holmgren and Timme, plus a great backcourt, this should be a team capable of winning it all. Georgia State is a 14 seed given a 16 seed, early injuries caused early struggles but once they got healthy, they rolled through the Sun Belt, if only they got properly seeded. This game will be a route, Gonzaga just has too much offensive talent and while Georgia State will score, it simply can’t keep up.
Pick: Gonzaga 96 Georgia State 65
#9 Marquette vs #8 North Carolina 4:30 ET on TBS
A matchup of two Head Coaches taking over their programs will see an explosive offense of North Carolina go against a scrappy Marquette team. The Tar Heels haven’t been what they usually are, they’ve struggled and lost key games but have played better down the stretch thanks to Armando Bacot’s dominance inside, and perimeter shooting. Marquette wins games turning their opponents over, defending tough, and getting just enough baskets from Justin Lewis and Darryl Morsell. The key to the game will be the Heels avoiding turnovers and playing a grind-it-out game. I’m rolling with North Carolina to do just that and win somewhat handily as Marquette won’t be able to keep up.
Pick: North Carolina 77 Marquette 66
#12 New Mexico State vs #5 UConn Huskies 6:50 ET on TNT
The 12-5 matchup sees the transfer-laden New Mexico State Aggies go up against an athletic UConn team. The Aggies are back in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five years, thanks to a veteran group and WAC Player of the year Teddy Allen. UConn has ridden great defense, size, and timely shot-making by RJ Cole to the tone of a third-place finish in the Big East, but the question becomes are they capable of making a Tournament run. This is one of the less attractive 5-12 matchups, the Aggies win games ugly and UConn is the king of doing just that, so I don’t know the recipe for an upset.
Pick: UConn 73 New Mexico State 55
#15 St. Peter’s vs #2 Kentucky 7:10 ET on CBS
The 2-15 matchup traditionally favors the 2 seed, that said, anything can happen in March, so an upset could happen. St. Peter’s won the MAAC Championship for the first time since 2011 behind great defensive intensity and two great players in Daryl Banks and KC Ndefo. That said, Kentucky is the team to watch here, Oscar Tshiebwe is a rebounding machine, TyTy Washington and Sahvir Wheeler are good guards and Kellan Grady can make anything, this matchup won’t be close, so expect this to be a rout.
Pick: Kentucky 94 St. Peter’s 57
#12 Indiana vs #5 St. Mary’s 7:20 ET on TBS
Every year it feels like one of the first four teams pulls off an upset, but the question is whether Indiana is the team to do just that as they face a veteran St. Mary’s team. The Hoosiers have a star in Trayce Jackson-Davis, who pretty consistently scores around 20 a night, but the question lies with who can step up around him and that seems to be the determining factor for Indiana. For St. Mary’s, this team isn’t the most talented team, but they defend tough and have good guard play with Tommy Kuhse and Logan Johnson. There is certainly a realistic possibility where the Hoosiers dominate this game inside with Jackson-Davis, that said, I’m rolling with the Gaels veteran guard group to slow the pace and control the game en route to a comfortable win.
Pick: St. Mary’s 64 Indiana 56
#9 Creighton vs #8 San Diego State 7:27 ET on TruTV
This is one of the more fascinating matchups in the first round, as the offense-heavy Creighton Blue Jays go up against maybe the best defensive team in the sport, San Diego State Aztecs. The Blue Jays will try to play inside out with Ryan Kalkbrenner, while their guards will hope to get rolling offensively. San Diego State will make this game ugly, they defend tough, limit possessions, and have the size to match up with any team, this will be a difficult matchup for a team without their point guard. Look for this game to be low-scoring, played in the 50s but in the end, Matt Bradley and the Aztecs will pull it out.
Pick: San Diego State 59 Creighton 54
#13 Vermont vs #4 Arkansas 9:20 ET on TNT
Perhaps one of the bigger upset opportunities of the first round will take place right here as the Vermont Catamounts take on the Arkansas Razorbacks. Vermont had one of the most dominant Conference Tournament runs, winning each game by 30 or more, a duo of Ryan Davis and Ben Shungu can score at will and this team plays tough defense. Arkansas will match that with an elite scorer in JD Notae, who is one of the premier guards in the sport, an overwhelming big in Jaylin Williams, and shooters on the wing. The key will be whether Vermont can slow down not only Notae but keep someone else from stepping up as well. My prediction is that the Catamounts find a way to slow down the Razorbacks and they find a way to pull the upset.
Pick: Vermont 72 Arkansas 67
#10 San Francisco vs #7 Murray State 9:40 ET on CBS
While it legitimately stinks when the committee puts two of our mid-major pets to fight each other, it does make for a really entertaining, must-watch game. The Dons made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 behind a great duo of Jamaree Bouyea and Khalil Shabazz, as well as some solid front-court pieces, albeit without Massalski. Murray State earned its spot in the NCAA Tournament by way of going 30-2 on the season and of course winning the Ohio Valley Championship, KJ Williams is the best big man in this game, while Justice Hill and Tevin Brown are elite guards. This team will be as well played as any, both teams have good guard-play and defense, it comes down to which team makes plays in the clutch and for that, I trust Murray State slightly more.
Pick: Murray State 76 San Francisco 71
#13 Akron vs. #4 UCLA 9:50 ET on TBS
The MAC Championship Akron Zips are in the NCAA Tournament and hoping to knock off reigning Final Four participant UCLA. The Zips weren’t great all season but got hot just in time for the MAC Tournament and won behind 46% shooting from three. Their opponent UCLA hopes for much bigger, coming off a Final Four, they want to win it all. Johnny Juzang is the March superstar but Jaime Jaquez has been the key player down the stretch. With complimentary parts around them, this team can make a run to the Final Four. This is probably the 4-13 matchup that I’m least intrigued by, sure Akron could remain hot from deep and pull off the upset but there’s a greater likelihood this is a late-night snoozer that people turn off early.
Pick: UCLA 80 Akron 56
#16 Texas Southern vs #1 Kansas 9:57 ET on TruTV
Coming off their first four win, Texas Southern will get another moment in the sun, but this time going up against the top-seeded Jayhawks, who will hope to add another National Championship. The Tigers have pretty good talent, Brison Gresham is an elite rebounder, while they have eight players who have scored 6 points a game or more this season. That said, Kansas will be the story of the game, Ochai Agbaji is a First-Team All-American for a reason, he will get his points, plus with additional scoring from Wilson, Braun, McCormack, and maybe Remy Martin, this team will likely use this as a game to help get minutes for reserves.
Pick: Kansas 94 Texas Southern 67