Ah, the best time of the year. The drama of Thursday and Friday is only matched in magnitude by the anticipation in the days leading up. Every single game, player, and possibility needs to combed through diligently, so we can all succeed in our brackets or embrace the beautiful chaos of March Madness.
To make the whole thing easier to swallow, we’ll break the bracket into its four regions. From there, we’ll step beyond the arc and try to hit some threes, highlighting trios of the bests and biggests in each set of 16 teams.
We’ll start down South, with the tournament’s top overall seed.
Three Most Interesting First Round Games
(4) Cal vs (13) Hawaii
A really fun one. California has all of the talent in the world, especially Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, both future lottery picks. Early in the season, they played very inconsistently, losing a few games they never should have. Since February 6 though, Cal is 8-2, with their losses coming at Arizona and to Utah in the conference tournament.
Regardless of which Cal team shows up, Hawaii will be ready. The Bows are no joke, with a tough defense, efficient pick-and-pop offense, and some serious athletes. They’ll at least give Cal everything they can handle.
(6) Arizona vs (11) Wichita State/Vanderbilt
There’s been a lot of discussion since the bracket was released about the kinds of metrics and barometers the selection committee uses. They’ve always been partial to the incredibly flawed RPI system and have rejected newer formulas like KenPom. That’s clear here, with Arizona (16th in KenPom) awaiting the winner of Wichita State (12th in KenPom) and Vanderbilt (27th in KenPom).
These are three really good teams, each having pros, good coaches, and elite level skills. No matter who wins in the First Four, Arizona can expect a fight.
(7) Iowa vs (10) Temple
Were these two teams seasons to be depicted graphically, they’d be mirror images. Iowa is in flat-out free fall, having lost 6 of 8, including a stinker to Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament. Meanwhile, Temple has won 11 of their last 14, launching themselves into the NCAA Tournament.
Is Temple’s rise complete? This is, after all, a team who lost to East Carolina. And is Iowa’s collapse over? Or are they capable of losing to a team whom lost to East Carolina?
Three Best Players
Perry Ellis (Kansas)
Mr. Ellis would like to kindly speak to the members of the media and public who question if Kansas has a star on their roster. Last time he checked, he averaged 17.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in Big XII play, while shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 43.9 percent from outside the arc.
Go ahead and say what you want about Ellis. He’ll be over here leading the best team in America in scoring,
Chris Horton (Austin Peay)
Dear Kansas Big Men,
Thought you were going to have an easy game against a 16 seed? Meet Chris Horton. He leads the nation in offensive rebounds. And he led his conference in total rebounds, blocks (for the 4th straight season), and scoring.
Start the ice bath now. You’ll need it.
A concerned citizen.
Jaylen Brown (Cal)
A tough third choice, and while Brown may not be one of the three best college players in this region, he’s certainly the most talented guy in the bunch. If he wants to stake his claim on being a top three pick in the draft, this tournament gives him the perfect chance to do so. His measurables are still going to be great come draft night, but he can really impress by showing the poise, ball skills, and consistent shot making to lead Cal to the Sweet Sixteen.
Honorable Mention (in no order): Ryan Anderson (Arizona), Jarrod Uthoff (Iowa), Melo Trimble (Maryland), Fred VanVleet (Wichita State), Wade Baldwin (Vanderbilt), Stefan Jankovic (Hawaii), Josh Scott (Colorado), Josh Hart (Villanova)
Three Stats That Make You Say “Huh.”
- Kansas played the 2nd toughest schedule in the nation…and were 30-4.
- Hawaii shoots free throws at the sixth highest rate in America….Cal’s opponents score 23 percent of their points from the stripe (60th most nationally, 2nd most in the Pac-12).
- Jarrod Uthoff made more than 55 threes and blocked more than 75 shots…the first player to do so since Shane Battier in 2000-2001.
Three Teams Who Could Make the Final Four
Kansas: The most consistent team in all the land. Bill Self has upperclassmen he can trust, a bench full of options, and Perry Ellis to rely on. If Kansas does make their run, look for Devonte’ Graham to have a huge month. His defense and shot making have both been part of the recipe for making this Kansas team they best they can be.
Villanova: If Daniel Ochefu is healthy, and if Jalen Brunson isn’t seatbelted to the bench like he was against Seton Hall, and if Kris Jenkins continues to shoot the lights out, the Wildcats can do it. That’s a lot of ifs.
Arizona: Gabe York is a fiesty senior guard. Allonzo Trier is a future NBA player, ready for his big moment. Ryan Anderson is the closest thing to Tim Duncan in college basketball. There’s a lot to like there.
Three Really Bold Predictions
The winner of Vanderbilt-Wichita State reaches the Elite Eight.
UNC-Asheville loses to Villanova by single digits.
Hawaii and South Dakota State play for a chance to reach the Sweet Sixteen.
Header image via Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org, Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.