Villanova March Madness

March Madness on Sling: Duke & ‘Zona Are Dangerous 2 Seeds, Gonzaga Awaits Big Test

No two teams made bigger statements during the conference tournaments than the Arizona Wildcats and Duke Blue Devils, with wins over UCLA and North Carolina, respectively. But Villanova has stayed the course all season long in pursuit of a second consecutive title, and finished the season atop the national polls, in contrast to Kansas who got a top seed despite coughing one up to TCU in the Big 12 tourney. Let’s break down the regions, and then discuss bracket strategy.

West

The ‘Cats are a different team with Allonzo Trier back in the fold, following a 19-game PED suspension. Not only does Trier score a ton of points, he also creates the space to allow his teammates to score, as evidenced by their win over UCLA in the Pac-12 semis, when Trier dropped 20, and Lauri Markkanen poured in 29. Now they’re a 2 seed out West, and they’re on course to potentially face Gonzaga, the most untested 1 seed in ages, in the regional final.

East

Duke seems to have put all the midseason BS – trips, bad backs, locker room bans… – behind them, and are playing like the team that was ranked #1 in the pre-season. After it appeared that UNC had established their dominance over the Blue Devils, with a win in the regular season finale, the Blue Devils stormed through the ACC tourney, finishing with wins over Louisville, UNC and Notre Dame. Coach K’s biggest concern should be the relentless chippiness of Grayson Allen, who looks and plays like the villain in a John Hughes movie. At some point an opponent on the receiving end of one of Allen’s errant limbs may decide that Krzyzewski and the refs aren’t doing enough to rein him in, and take it upon themselves to do some extreme policing, ala Robert Parish/Bill Laimbeer. Waiting for Duke will likely be the defending national champs Villanova Wildcats, led by senior guard Josh Hart (19-7-3). ‘Nova was the best team in the Big East all season, and accordingly made mincemeat of the conference tourney. They’ve been the most consistent team all season long, and all 3 of their losses were against pretty good teams, they should mount a worthy defense of their crown.

Midwest

The Kansas Jayhawks were anointed a 1 seed despite a stunning upset loss to TCU in the Big 12 quarterfinals, 85-82. Powered by the best backcourt in the country, composed of Sporting News Player of the Year Frank Mason and freshman sensation Josh Jackson, the Jayhawks are poised to make a seventh consecutive run to the Sweet 16 and beyond. Louisville has a pretty easy path out of the bottom half of the region, thanks to a 6 seed, Creighton, without its point guard, and a 3 seed, Oregon, without its big man.

South

North Carolina got a rude awakening in the semis of the ACC tourney, falling to Duke 93-83, and bringing into question just how good they really are. But Roy Williams has taken UNC to the Sweet 16 the last six years in a row, and it’s not until the round of 8 that there’s any potential trouble, with Kentucky coming out of the bottom of the bracket – unless KU gets stunned by Wichita in the second round.

Now here are some important things to know while you fill out your bracket:

16’s beat 1’s 0% of the time
Go ahead, just fill all the 1’s in, there’s four easy points right there, the equivalent of getting 200 on your SATs for getting your name right.

15’s beat 2’s 6% of the time
This goes down or once every four years. It’s happened in three of the last five tournaments, so you should feel OK about just writing in all the #2’s.

14’s beat 3’s 16% of the time
Once a rarity, it’s happened in each of the last four tournaments, including twice in 2015. Is the recent increase a result of some shift in the game? Bad seeding by the committee? Small sample size? Who knows – it’s probably the latter. There are no good candidates to do it this year, but if you just feel like you have to pick one, the New Mexico State Aggies beat opponents by almost 12 ppg, and have a puncher’s chance of getting past Baylor, who’ve lost 6 of their last 11, and whose leading scorer dislocated his finger last week in an opening round loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 tourney – he should be fine, but maybe not? Oregon is another 3 seed dealing with an injury, as they lost big man Chris Boucher (12-6) to a torn ACL during the Pac-12 tournament, though his absence is unlikely to tilt the scales toward Iona, but remember this as you pick subsequent rounds.

13’s beat 4’s 20% of the time
Given that an upset happens just under once a year, this is where you can no longer responsibly take the chalk. East Tennessee State is probably the strongest of the 13’s, but Winthrop is playing Butler, the 4 that has struggled against the weakest competition of late, having lost 5 of 11. Florida could be vulnerable at 4 after the loss of center John Egbunu (8-7), but East Tennessee State doesn’t have a big with the skills to exploit this loss.

12’s beat 5’s 36% of the time
It happened twice in 2016, three times in 2014 and 2013, twice in 2012… it happens, like, all the time, and you should be prepared for it happening. So where to start? Princeton over Notre Dame. The Tigers have won 23 straight, allow a shooting percentage of 41.6%, and had fewer turnovers than any team in the land. The Fighting Irish, on the other hand, were just 4 and 8 against ranked opponents, so they’re not exactly a juggernaut, though they did make a nice run to the ACC finals.

11’s beat 6’s 36% of the time
Weird that it happens at the same rate as 12’s over 5’s, yeah? In just the last five tournaments it’s happened 10 times. Creighton should be relatively easy pickings, as 6 seeds go. They haven’t been the same team since point guard Maurice Watson (12.9 ppg, 8.5 apg) went down with a blown ACL, going 7-8 since then, while Rhode Island has won their last 8 in a row after overcoming a rash of mid-season injuries. With all due respect to the boss’ alma mater, if you want another 6 to pick against, you could do worse than Maryland, whose biggest win was either K-State or Michigan, and who’ve lost 4 of their last 10 – like all turtles, the Terps have a soft underbelly. They’ll be playing Xavier, who had a couple of wins over ranked teams, and played in a much tougher conference. They also dropped 6 in a row toward the end of the season, but hey…

10’s beat 7’s 39% of the time
Wichita State seems like a good bet to upend Dayton, even Vegas thinks so. Wichita State plays a fast-paced game fueled by an endless supply of fresh legs. They were 20th in the nation in scoring at 82.1 ppg, despite Markis McDuffle leading the team in scoring at just 11.8. Their bench is deep with 10 guys playing 10 or more minutes, but no one logging more than 26.2. And they get it done on D, as well, allowing just 62.4 ppg and an effective field goal percentage of just 43.8%, fourth-lowest in the land. Next on the list of upset suspects in these pairings is South Carolina, who’ve lost 6 of 9, despite 22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals a game from co-SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell. They face Marquette, who shoot the 3 better than any team in the country, hitting 43% from downtown, though SC defends the 3 better than most, allowing opponents to hit just 31.3% of the time.

9s beat #8’s 50% of the time
Flip a coin. No, seriously, Vanderbilt’s racked up some big wins late this season, as has Seton Hall.

Here’s this week’s lineup of games, all times ET:

First Four, Tuesday
16 New Orleans vs 16 Mount St Mary’s, 6:30pm on truTV
11 Kansas State vs 11 Wake Forest, 9pm on truTV

First Four, Wednesday
16 North Carolina Central vs 16 UC Davis, 6:30pm on truTV
11 USC vs 11 Providence, 9pm on truTV

First Round, Thursday
12 UNC Wilmington vs 5 Virginia, 12:30pm on truTV
13 Winthrop vs 4 Butler, 1:30pm on TNT
16 South Dakota State vs 1 Gonzaga, 2pm on TBS
13 East Tennessee State vs 4 Florida, 3pm on truTV
12 Middle Tennessee State vs 5 Minnesota, 4pm on TNT
9 Vanderbilt vs 8 Northwestern, 4:30pm on TBS 11 Xavier vs 6 Maryland, 6:50pm on TNT
10 VCU vs 7 Saint Mary’s, 7:20pm on TBS
13 Vermont vs 4 Purdue, 7:27 on truTV 14 FLorida Gulf Coast vs 3 Florida State, 9:20pm on TNT 15 North Dakota vs 2 Arizona, 9:50pm on TBS
12 Nevada vs 5 Iowa State, 9:57 on truTV

First Round, Friday
14 New Mexico State vs 3 Baylor, 12:40pm on truTV
9 Seton Hall vs 8 Arkansas, 1:30pm on TNT
14 Iona vs 3 Oregon, 2pm on TBS
TBD vs 6 SMU, 3:10pm on truTV
16 Texas Southern vs 1 North Carolina, 4pm on TNT
11 Rhode Island vs 6 Creighton, 4:30pm on TBS TBD vs 1 Kansas, 6:50pm on TNT
15 Troy vs 2 Duke, 7:20pm on TBS
TBD vs 6 Cincinnati, 7:27 on truTV 9 Michigan State vs 8 Miami, 9:20pm on TNT 10 Marquette vs 7 South Carolina, 9:50pm on TBS
14 Kent State vs 3 UCLA, 9:55 on truTV

Second Round, Saturday
TBA vs TBA, 6pm on TNT
TBA vs TBA, 7pm on TBS
TBA vs TBA, 8:30pm on TNT
TBA vs TBA, 9:30pm on TBS

Second Round, Sunday
TBA vs TBA, 6pm on TNT
TBA vs TBA, 7pm on TBS
TBA vs TBA, 7:30pm on truTV
TBA vs TBA, 8:30pm on TNT
TBA vs TBA, 9:30pm on TBS

Watch the March Madness on TNT, TBS and truTV by subscribing to Sling.

All stats courtesy ESPN and College Basketball Reference.

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