The Most Important Individual Match-ups of the First Round of the NCAA Tournament

The week between Selection Sunday and the first NCAA Tournament games is a tornado of takes, ideas, and excitement. Who is in your Final Four? How many bracket contests are you doing? Where the hell is Morehead State? We’re here to help you with all of those dilemmas and the easiest way to do so is with rapid fire thoughts. Enough with the intro, let’s get to the goods!

VCU’s Bones Hyland vs. Oregon’s Chris Duarte

For my money, this is the best one-on-one showdown of the first round. If the other eight players want to vacate the court at any point to let these two go at it, I’d sign off on that.

Both are viewed as late first round to mid-second round NBA prospects. Both are their team’s best offensive player and best perimeter defender. Duarte is bigger, stronger, and 3.5 years Hyland’s senior. But Hyland is shiftier and not one to be outworked. Both are rabid dogs the second they step on the court.

I don’t have really anything of value to add here. I’m excited and I can’t express that in words.

Oklahoma’s Brady Manek vs. Missouri’s Jeremiah Tilmon

Styles make fights, right? This is quite the clash.

Tilmon is a bruiser on the block, looking to score with his back to the basket and on putbacks off the offensive glass. He has the 7th highest free throw rate in the nation, making a living at the line.

Manek is a Dollar Store Larry Bird, but longer and stiffer. He’s looking to pick and pop off every screen he sets, save for a choice few to keep his defender honest.

These two will cover one another. If Manek can bang on the block with Tilmon, the Sooners should be able to hold up defensively. If Tilmon can stick to Manek when he pops for 3s, the same goes for Mizzou.

But if either is able to take full advantage of the other, it could be the deciding factor in this game. Of the two coaches, Lon Kruger is more likely to hunt for this match-up. That man loves a mismatch.

LSU’s Trendon Watford vs. St. Bonaventure’s Osun Osunniyi

Another stylistic battle of big men that will have a major swing on an 8-9 game. This one is really only a factor when LSU has the ball. Osunniyi brings the majority of his value as a defender. He’s one of the nation’s premier rim protectors. He has multiple games with seven blocks this season.

Watford, on the other hand, is one of the most versatile bigs in the country. He’s taken over 50 shots from outside the arc this season and is fairly comfortable attacking off the bounce.

LSU’s Will Wade is going to need to use Watford’s versatility to pull Osunniyi away from the paint, to clear space for the LSU guards to maneuver. Watford also may be able to attack the offensive glass while Osunniyi chases blocked shots. That would be out of character for Watford, who has an offensive rebounding rate of just 5.8.

Georgia Tech’s Jose Alvarado vs. Loyola Chicago’s Cameron Krutwig

Yes, every other match-up above is two players you’d expect to guard one another on either end of the floor. Guards versus guards, bigs versus bigs.

This is certainly not the same thing.

Krutwig is 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds. Alvarado is 6-feet, 175 pounds. At any point, if one of these players guards the other, something has gone horribly wrong for one of them.

And yet, the cat and mouse game between these two players will ultimately decide the outcome of the Loyola-Georgia Tech game. Krutwig anchors the top ranked defense in the nation with his high basketball IQ, quick instincts, and vocal quarterbacking. He struggles, however, to move laterally and vertically. Quicker point guards like Wisconsin’s D’Mitrik Trice and the waterbugs in Richmond’s backcourt attacked Krutwig time after time in pick-and-roll action.

Loyola tends to respond by dropping Krutwig into the paint after a screen, but a point guard like Alvarado can thrive against drop coverage. Alvarado has the ball-handling to weave in and out of screens to really test Krutwig’s communication and coordination. He also has the jump shot to force Krutwig to step up, rather than dropping back.

If Alvarado can spend the game cooking off of screens from Krutwig’s man (likely ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright), he’ll either post big numbers for the Georgia Tech offense, pull Krutwig into foul trouble, or both. If Krutwig survives, or thrives, as a pick and roll defender, the Ramblers have the upper hand.

*******

Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, The Action Network, Rush The Court, Larry Brown Sports, RotoBaller, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. You can find every post from this blog on Twitter by following @PalestraBack.

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