It’s Day One of March Madness, and we’re ready! With the help of Dr. Senkbeil, we’re prepping you for the games to look out for, who his projected winner is, and why. (Projected winner marked with “w”.)
NOTRE DAME – 7 vs. PRINCETON (W)
The Ivy representative is always frustrating, and Princeton will not be an easy out. The Tigers play at one of the slowest paces ranking 336/351 teams. They are better on defense than offense (OE 86, DE 46) but adequate enough in both areas. Notre Dame plays much better defense this year compared to previous years (16,58) and they don’t play at a fast tempo, either. Their offense is very efficient as always. The Irish should win this game, but I don’t think the score gets too high. I am also leaning towards a close game that the Irish eventually win at the free throw line late when Princeton is forced to foul. The line sounds right but I would lean Princeton to stay within 7.
VIRGINIA -7.5 vs. UNCW (w)
The Seahawks are back and still flying high at fast tempo 69/351 and very efficient offense (18th). The problem is that defense is optional for the Seahawks (189th). They like running shootouts. The problem here is that UVA is their exact foil. The Cavs are dead last in tempo (351) and play a nostalgic pack line defense ranked #1 in efficiency (Yes, I love defense and coach youth ball with this strategy so I have some bias here). This will be a contrast of styles to see who dictates tempo. This should be a thrilling game and 7.5 sounds high even though it started at 8.5. Lots of bandwagon upset momentum for UNCW. I think UVA narrowly wins, but 7.5? I bet it drops even more.
BUTLER (w) -11 vs. WINTHROP
Butler’s siblings are Notre Dame and Iowa State. This is a solid but not spectacular team (17,49) that plays at a slow pace (295). Winthrop does not look good on paper (138,110) with a tempo of (45). Up-tempo and inefficient is no way to go through life son. They have a dynamic player in 5’5 guard Keon Johnson and they won at Illinois this year. Butler usually plays guards tough, hence the wins over Villanova. If you beat Nova TWICE, I think you cover here.
WEST VIRGINIA (w) -14 vs. BUCKNELL
Huggins’ WVU teams are physical and this one forces turnovers at a higher rate than any other team. I love this team (Yes, I love defense). WVU is one of the strongest statistical teams in the field (28,5) and play fairly fast (79) tempo. They lack a go to superstar for crunch time which could be a factor in later rounds. Bucknell is extremely balanced (87,88) 86 tempo. Do they have enough athleticism to keep this close? Can they take care of the ball enough? I don’t think so.
FLORIDA -10.5 vs. ETSU (w)
ETSU is another trendy upset pick. Do they have enough firepower to score on Florida’s 4th ranked defense? Florida, (31,4 and 119 tempo) is a very good team (West Virginia’s statistical twin) that lost a little edge when big man Egbunu went down with an injury. ETSU (109,44, and 70 tempo) is also a defensive team that won’t shy away from tempo. They must take care of the ball and while they force many turnovers they also have a tendency to cough it up as well. Florida wins and the line sounds right, but I think ETSU loses by about 8 or 9.
MTSU (w) -1 vs. MINNESOTA
MTSU is underseeded and talented (55,47) and like to slow it down (314). Last year’s 15 over 2 giant killer has all of its players back and added Jacorey Williams from Arkansas. They occasionally go through scoring lapses and have not played a difficult schedule, but have a win over UNCW. Their players are athletic and they pass the eye test of a good team. Minnesota is defensive minded (81,18) and not shy with tempo (97). They have had an inconsistent season but finished strong. They have struggled against disciplined and physical half court teams with size like Wisconsin. MTSU is not small. Blue Raiders win by 4.
VANDERBILT -1 vs. NORTHWESTERN (w)
These teams are even. Vandy (48,41) and NW (58,35) both have similar slower tempo. Vandy somehow managed to lose 15 games, but won some huge games and was more consistent late in the season. I will go with the feel good story of NW in their first ever tournament but this is a coin flip.
MARYLAND -2 vs. XAVIER (w)
How did Maryland (39, 64) tempo 222 get a 6 seed? Their offense is pretty good with Melo Trimble. Ironically, Xavier (33,74) tempo 219 is their closest statistical match and they are an 11 seed. Xavier is slightly better so I am comfortable going Musketeers and getting 2 points.
SAINT MARYS (w) -4 vs. VCU
I have always loved the rams but Saint Marys is really good and overlooked. The Australian junior national team in disguise is loaded at (15,26) and a snail tempo of 350. Slow and ruthlessly efficient, they can sometimes run into trouble against a small fast team due to their slow tempo if their shots are off. VCU is more defensive (72,36) and has not played a team like this all year. VCU either forces turnovers and keeps this close.
PURDUE – 9.5 vs. VERMONT (w)
Purdue is huge but does not play that slow at 115. Their efficiency numbers are impressive at (24,16) making them most similar to Florida State. Lots of rebounds! Vermont plays slow but is balanced (66,61) and smart. They are most statistically similar to Middle Tennessee but not as athletic and not quite as good. They are one of the hottest teams in the tournament. I am leaning toward them covering the 9.5 but I don’t think they are athletic and quick enough to beat Purdue like Little Rock was last year. Boilers win.
FLORIDA STATE (w) -12 vs. FGCU
3 vs. 14, but interesting enough.
This is not the FGCU from a few years ago. These guys play slower at a tempo of 299 and a defense of 172. OUCH, but a decent offense. They are athletic and this an in-state matchup providing plenty of motivation. Florida State (25,24) is possibly the most physically imposing team in the tournament but sometimes cannot focus. They have the talent to play with and beat anybody. If they want this game they will win BIGLY. Do they care enough? Is 12 points too much? I think talented and focused FSU shows up and they chop away.
WISCONSIN -5.5 vs. VA TECH (w)
Wisconsin is always slow (333), organized, and efficient in at least 1 area. This year they are (40,8) and made the big ten final. Their nearest neighbor is Cincinnati. Va Tech is offense, defense optional (21, 125). Their nearest neighbor is Arkansas. So if this game was Cinncy vs Arkansas would you still feel the same. Yes, but 5.5? That line is about right. Virginia is similar to Wisconsin and the Hokies split with the Cavs although the first meeting was a bad loss. I will take the points but Wisconsin wins a close game.
IOWA STATE (w) -6 vs. NEVADA
The Cyclones are red hot but they have a history of burning out too soon in the tourney. Their point guard is amazing and the team is stronger on offense (13,43). They are most similar statistically to SMU, who is an impressive team. Nevada is good on offense (34,101) and not so good on defense. This seems like a double digit win for ISU if Nevada tries to play straight up and push the tempo. That should not work against this team.