The First Round Match-Ups
(1) Villanova vs (16) Lafayette
A fun regional match-up with some history behind it. Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon played at Villanova and appeared to be in disbelief when seeing his Leopards match-up with the Wildcats on the CBS selection broadcast.
As for their chances? Lafayette shoots the three exceptionally well, which isn’t enough to win the game, but they’ll at least hit a few in a row, cut the lead to under 5, and force Jay Wright to use a timeout. That’s something.
Prediction: Villanova easily, but less than comfortably.
(8) NC State vs (9) LSU
LSU will control the inside. NC State is much better on the perimeter. Guards win in the tournament.
Prediction: NC State wins ugly.
(5) Northern Iowa vs (12) Wyoming
One of the most intriguing first round games for sure. Wyoming comes in hot, and really has been very good all season when healthy.
This game could boil down to Larry Nance Jr. vs Seth Tuttle. Tuttle is better and so is his supporting cast.
Prediction: Northern Iowa is too good for the Cowboys.
(4) Louisville vs (13) UC Irvine
Louisville is a much better team and should take care of business. The more important question: will Montrezl Harrell dunk on 7’6 human beanstalk Mamadou Ndiaye? It’s all anyone really wants from this game.
Prediction: Louisville wins, and yes, Montrezl Harrell yams on the giant.
(6) Providence vs (11) Boise State/Dayton
As I mentioned with Ole Miss, teams playing in the First Four have been successful moving forward. For Dayton, it’s as if they scheduled a home scrimmage to tune-up before the Providence game. The stakes are obviously much higher, but I see no reason the Flyers can’t beat Boise State and Providence.
Well, except that Providence is pretty darn good. Kris Dunn and LaDonte Henton are no pushovers.
Prediction: Providence would beat Boise State, but Dayton would give them trouble. In one of the best games of the weekend, Dayton steals one.
(3) Oklahoma vs (14) Albany
Hopefully by now you’ve heard Albany guard Peter Hooley’s story. The junior missed nearly a month of action returning to Australia to be with his ailing mother, who sadly lost her fight with cancer. He returned to the States and hit the game-winning 3-pointer to send the Great Danes to the tournament.
We all know crazy things happen in this tournament. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Hooley had his “One Shining Moment” against the Sooners.
Prediction: Looking just at basketball, Oklahoma is the better team and should win.
(7) Michigan State vs (10) Georgia
Everyone is already looking forward to Michigan State playing Virginia.
Georgia is no cakewalk. They gave Kentucky all they could handle. And besides, Michigan State hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm. Tom Izzo is a great coach, but Mateen Cleaves, Draymond Green, and Adriean Payne aint walking through that door.
Prediction: OK, so Sparty still wins, but don’t be surprised when this is close. Or if Georgia steals it.
(2) Virginia vs (15) Belmont
hey remember when virginia was by far the second best team in the country for almost all of the season? remember how the only loss they had with their entire team healthy was to duke? remember how their recent “struggles” came on the road/a neutral court against top 20 teams and virginia didn’t have or were still bringing back one of their two best players?
yeah i remember that too.
Prediction: WHY ISN’T EVERYONE TALKING ABOUT TWO OF THE THREE BEST TEAMS BEING IN THE SAME REGION?
Darrun Hilliard (Villanova)
This region is sparsely populated by great players. Villanova and Virginia are both well-balanced teams. Buddy Hield and Seth Tuttle are very good, but the East lacks the true star power that the other three regions have.
Let me then use this space to address something. It’s INSANE that Darrun Hilliard did not win Big East Player of the Year. When he was asked about it by the Fox Sports 1 postgame crew after the Big East title game, he said all of the right things, though I definitely saw a smidge of frustration coming from him. That was just my interpretation, but it’s also totally valid for him to feel that way.
The award was shared by Providence’s Kris Dunn and Hilliard’s teammate, Ryan Archidiancono. Dunn had a great year, but Villanova ran through the conference. Nothing Dunn, or any non-Villanova player did was really better than what Hilliard brought to the best team in the league.
As for Archidiacono, voting him over Hillard makes no sense to me. Hilliard was unanimous first team All-Big East. Archie was not. Here’s their stats, blindly:
Player A: 10.2 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.4 TO, 39.4/81.3/36.9 (FG%/FT%/3PT%)
Player B: 14.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.2 TO, 43.3/78.6/37.8 (FG%/FT%/3PT%)
Hilliard is Player B, because OF COURSE HE IS. What in that pile of numbers would make you vote for Archidiacono over Hilliard? A few more assists? 3.5 assists is fine, but it’s not knocking my socks off.
On the court, Arch isn’t some sort of ball dominant guard who runs the entire Wildcat offense. And on defense, Hilliard is CLEARLY the better player. Of the Villanova starters, Hilliard stands out distinctly as their most valuable. I’m not sure Archidiancono is even second and he may not even be third (Cases could be made for Daniel Ochefu and JayVaughn Pinkston).
I’m not necessarily upset at the decision, moreso I just can’t even fathom it.
There’s only one response. Ron?
Best Player Under the Radar
Seth Tuttle (Northern Iowa)
Tuttle, or Utters Overalls as I’ve been known to call him, is a wonder to watch. Not in a “Wow, look at that dunk” kind of way. He’s more of a “How does this slow guy have 24 and 11 right now?”. He’s incredible. It’s like watching a glacier grab a double-double.
Most ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Team
The Sooners beat Kansas, Butler, Baylor, West Virginia, and swept Texas. They got swept by Kansas State and lost to Creighton. Buddy Hield scores 17 points per game, but has put up shooting nights of 6-20, 3-12, 4-17, 4-13, 2-10, and 2-11.
Exclamation Point Coaches
Tony Bennett (Virginia)
Tony Bennett does three things well.
1. He instills his players with a patience on offense that is as good as anyone not named “Bo Ryan”. In regards to their slow pace, Grantland’s Mark Titus had the perfect thought on those who want to speed up the game:
I don’t want to sound incredibly elitist, but he’s right. If you don’t enjoy what UVA does, you must not truly love or understand the game. It’s the same reason I can’t watch a 4 hour Yankees-Red Sox game, but I have friends who would drool over that sort of thing.
2. He looks like someone who would play Carrie’s love interest on Sex and the City.
3. He teaches his “pack-line” defense and his team executes it brilliantly. Watch the Cavs. Really watch them on defense. Notice how they don’t cover passing lanes, but close out like madmen to take away open shots.
Tom Izzo (Michigan State)
Tom Izzo is one of the best coaches in the country. “March Tom Izzo” is a wizard who is not to be doubted or toyed with.
Question Mark Coaches
Mark Gottfried (NC State)
Career tournament record? 8-10. He’s made one Sweet Sixteen in the last ten years. I don’t know that any Wolfpack fan has faith in Gottfried.
Potential Future Round Games That Excite Me
Villanova vs Northern Iowa
Louisville vs Northern Iowa
Michigan State vs Virginia
Virginia vs Oklahoma
Oklahoma vs Michigan State
Villanova vs Virginia
Virginia vs Louisville
NBA Prospects To Watch
Malcolm Brodgon (Virginia) – Is there any doubt he finds his way onto the San Antonio Spurs bench and makes a big shot in 2017?
Montrezl Harrell (Louisville) – Every big man in the NBA is already shuddering in fear of Harrell dunking on their face.
Kris Dunn (Providence) – Dunn has become one of the hottest guards in this year’s draft. Scouts are talking about him as early as late lottery.
Will the pace difference in a potential UNI-Louisville game stop the space-time continuum?
Is Virginia still Virginia?
Albany Coach Will Brown looks a little bit like Nicolas Cage, but a lot like Andy Samberg’s SNL version of Nic Cage.
The picture doesn’t do it full justice. Just watch Albany play Oklahoma and try to not scream about stealing the Declaration of Independence.
Every time Buddy Hield shoots the ball, do what I do, and yell “BODDY” like Lars from Heavyweights.
1. Heavyweights is a seminal movie for anyone my age.
2. It totally holds up and is still worth watching, let alone quoting.
3. Ben Stiller’s performance as Tony Perkis is excellent. His performance as Tony Perkis Sr. (“Papa”) is transcendent.
4. Buddy Hield shoots it a lot. That doesn’t stop me.
Three Teams Most Likely to Cut Down the Nets at the Carrier Dome
Villanova – One of the best team’s in America and probably the most balanced.
Virginia – Still the 2nd best team in this tournament if you ask me.
Northern Iowa – Gun to my head, if I need to pick one non-Nova, non-UVA team to win the region, it’s UNI. They are just so sound, and that’s what wins in this tournament. Flash is great, but flash is inconsistent. Tuttle is fully capable of going 20 and 10 for four straight games as the Panthers win each game by scoring in the 60s.
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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