(1) Duke vs (16) Robert Morris/North Florida
Sure, go ahead in pencil the Dukies into the next round, but don’t forget that Florida’s northern regions are a vast hellscape of mystery. People who choose to attend college there are capable of anything.
Prediction: Duke in a romp.
(8) San Diego State vs (9) St. John’s
I don’t think the 2 week suspension of St. John’s center Chris Obekpa is being overblown at all. Replacing his 7 rebounds and 3 blocks per game is downright impossible. San Diego State won’t mess around.
Prediction: I’ll take the Aztecs.
(5) Utah vs (12) Stephen F. Austin
I was really bummed when I saw this match-up. Both deserved better seeds. I’ve written about SFA before and how dangerous I thought they could be. Utah is a quite the challenge for the Lumberjacks.
I try not to treat the KenPom rankings as Gospel, but the Utes ended the season at #8. I definitely don’t take my own Top Ten rankings as Gospel, and I recently had them as the 9th best team in the land. They are better than you’re average 5 seed.
I love you, Stephen F. Austin, but everyone can look elsewhere for their 12 over 5 upset.
Prediction: The Lumberjacks keep it interesting but Delon Wright refuses to lose.
(4) Georgetown vs (13) Eastern Washington
I’m not thinking that Eastern Washington will win this game, I’m getting it tattooed across my back in flame letters. EWU is winning this game.
Why? Well, Georgetown was certainly a tad overseeded at 4 (I would have preferred Utah or UNI over them), but that’s not the real reason.
This game takes place in Portland, Oregon at 9:57 PM ET. Here’s how far each team will need to travel:
“Congrats on the seed, Hoyas. Now hop on a plane, fly across the country, and play a team that’s rested, ready, and talented.”
Because the EWU Eagles are GOOD. They went on the road and beat Indiana. They are 3rd in the nation in points per game. Tyler Harvey is one of the most lethal shooters in America.
Prediction: It’s to the point that I’d be surprised if Georgetown wins.
(6) SMU vs (11) UCLA
It’s this year’s only first round Alphabet Soup Game! (Both teams are known by initials.)
UCLA has been everyone’s whipping boy, wondering how in the world they even got in the tournament. I’d bet someone in the committee room pointed to the Bruins 4-8 record against teams in the tournament. I’d also bet that person left out that two of those wins were over Coastal Carolina and UAB (The other two were both in the comfy confines of Pauley Pavilion). UCLA only won two road games all season.
Meanwhile, SMU is a scorching 24-4 since a rocky 2-3 start (which included losses at Gonzaga, at Indiana, and vs. Arkansas). The Mustangs are riding a bit under the radar.
Prediction: UCLA isn’t a pushover, but SMU wins.
(3) Iowa State vs (14) UAB
UAB is probably a little overseeded. I would have preferred teams who were more of a factor in their conference the whole season than a UAB team who snuck a bid with a record of 19-15.
Prediction: Iowa State is the comeback kids, so as long as they don’t toy with a huge deficit.
(7) Iowa vs (10) Davidson
The second this match-up popped up, I waved goodbye to Iowa. Bob McKillop’s offense is just too sharp and too potent to get slow down by a team like Iowa. Aaron White and Adam Woodbury are going to have to step out and guard, which I don’t think can.
Prediction: Davidson wins somewhat comfortably.
(2) Gonzaga vs (15) North Dakota State
I hate the argument that the Zags underachieve, but even I get wary looking at their place in the bracket every year. Davidson scares me, Iowa State terrifies me. North Dakota State does neither.
Prediction: If the Zags hadn’t lost to BYU a few weeks ago, this game might scare me, but that was a nice wake-up call. Kevin Pangos leads a blowout win.
Jahlil Okafor (Duke)
You’ve seen Okafor and you know what he can do. Two things to look for from him:
1. Defense. This is what will cement him as the first pick in the draft. Part of his lackluster defense probably stems from fear of foul trouble with a shallow Duke bench. If he avoids fouls, then we can see what he has to offer.
2. When Duke goes to him on the post, and they really, truly need a bucket, what does he do? His offensive game is very polished, but it often seems like when he really needs to score, he just bull rushes to the basket. That may continue to work in college. It won’t at the next level.
Best Player Under the Radar
Tyler Kalinowski (Davidson) and Tyler Harvey (Eastern Washington)
I touched on Harvey above. The man is a sniper. He’s averaging 22.9 points per game, including 4 games over 34 and a high of 42. He’s made 7 or more 3-pointers in 4 games this season.
Kalinowski does a little more than just shooting. He’s putting up 17 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal on average. That’s an AVERAGE night for him. Those numbers put him at the 9th best Offensive Efficiency Rating among players who use at least 20% of their team’s possessions.
Most ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Team
No, this is not just an excuse for me to write about the Zags. Does anyone have a feel for what this team will do?
Can they make the Final Four? Yes.
Can they head home this weekend? Yes.
The good: Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell are excellent senior guards. No one but Kentucky is as big as the Zags inside.
The bad: Relying on Kyle Wiltjer is terrifying proposition. About a month ago, he couldn’t even stay on the floor in a close game at St. Mary’s.
Exclamation Point Coaches
Fred Hoiberg (Iowa State) – The Cyclones exhibit so many of the tendencies you look for in a well coached team. They share the ball, they move on offense, and they never give up. Their recent string of comeback wins is no doubt in part to having The Mayor at the helm. His calm demeanor on the sidelines sets the tone for his team.
Bob McKillop (Davidson) – I already gushed about McKillop above, but he really doesn’t get enough credit for his work. In fact, everyone who remembers Steph Curry dragging a Davidson team through the tournament needs to remember that McKillop was able to continually find ways for Curry to score, with little help around him.
Coach K (Duke) – He’s pretty good.
Question Mark Coaches
Steve Lavin isn’t a questionable coach, I just want to ask him why the hell he’d wear a zip up sweatshirt under his suit jacket ON MULTIPLE OCCASIONS. This happened on purpose and I can’t believe we all just kept living our lives.
Potential Future Round Games That Excite Me
Duke vs Gonzaga
Duke vs Utah
SMU vs Iowa State
Davidson vs Gonzaga
Davidson vs Iowa State
Gonzaga vs Iowa State
Iowa State vs Duke
NBA Prospects To Watch
Jahlil Okafor (Duke) – The blurb above sums up the questions about his game. His seat on the throne as the inevitable first pick is already slipping away. He can snatch it back or let the slip keep going.
Jakob Poeltl (Utah) – As I’ve written about before, he’s a beast of a big inside for the Utes. Can’t help but to compare him to another foreign Utah center, Andrew Bogut (who was the top pick in the draft).
Justice Winslow (Duke) – A really interesting case heading into the draft. He’s not an abysmal shooter, but he’ll never make a living with his outside shot. His game is more about being a freight train on the fast break or after a quick first step. I don’t know if he’s a future All-Star, though he certainly has some relevant NBA moments in his future.
Domantas Sabonis (Gonzaga) – Arvydas’ son has come to America and made scouts and coaches drool over his perfect fundamentals in the post. I’ve never seen an 18 year old kid with the footwork, post moves, and touch like him. I’d bet he stays in Spokane another year, but look out once he really grows into his adult body. He’s going to be a monster.
Kevon Looney (UCLA)/Malik Pope (SDSU) – This could be your last chance to get a glimpse on these long, athletic freshmen who have skyrocketed up draft boards. Looney has been effective on the glass, averaging more than 9 rebounds, but his offensive game is still a work in progress. Pope is even more of an upside bet. He only plays 15 minutes a night, dropping 5 points on average. Regardless, scouts love his body and skills and he’s getting lottery buzz.
How soon will I weepingly post this picture of Mark Few fishing?
Will someone catch Duke sleeping?
Duke’s best is as good as anyone, including Kentucky. Their worst is an 18 point loss at home to a Miami team that isn’t even a #1 seed in the NIT. If they play their best for four straight games, they head to Indy. One hiccup and the Blue Devils head back to Durham.
There’s a real person whose first name is Sir’Dominic and this is what his hair looks like:
Call them “Stone Cold” Stephen F. Austin.
I don’t even like wrestling. This is probably way more fun if you do.
Eastern Washington has a Slamboni!
Five Teams Most Likely to Cut Down the Nets in Houston
Duke – Depth is their biggest weakness. Foul trouble or an injury could doom them.
Iowa State – The comebacks are nice, but some game they might dig too deep a hole
Gonzaga – I know in my brain that this is a very good team. It’s just been too long since I’ve seen them hit that next gear. Dominating their first two games before the potential match-up with Iowa State would be a reassuring start.
Utah – Like I mentioned above, Ken Pomeroy’s got them at the 8th best team in America. There’s no reason Delon Wright can’t lead this team to the Final Four.
Davidson – Just a sneaky feeling. If there’s a Cinderella run in this bracket, it’s these Wildcats.
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.
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