(1) Florida Gators vs. (16) Albany Great Danes
Florida, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, comes in off a nail-biting win over the Kentucky Wildcats in the SEC tournament final. The Gators have won 26 straight and possess one of the best defenses in the country. They’re a senior-heavy bunch, led by SEC player of the year Scottie Wilbekin running the point and bruiser Patric Young down low. It’s going to take something monumental for Albany to upset them. Oh, and the fact 16-seeds are 0-116 against 1-seeds all time. Albany won the play-in game in Dayton on Tuesday night for a chance to play the Gators.
(8) Colorado Buffaloes vs. (9) Pittsburgh Panthers
This is one of the more intriguing second round games in the South region. After losing their best player and leader, Spencer Dinwiddie, the Buffs struggled. They went 9-9 in their final 18 games, and have struggled to score, scoring fewer than 70 points in 13 of those games and under 60 in eight. Askia Booker has stepped up in Dinwiddie’s absence, scoring more than 20 points five times, but their inconsistencies from deep are worrisome.
On the other side, the Panthers are interesting. They’re a very good defensive team, allowing just 62.4 points per game on average, but have struggled in close games, with eight of their nine losses coming by seven points or fewer. They take care of the ball, and are one of the better offensive teams in the country despite their relatively slow pace. Lamar Patterson is their go-to guy, averaging 17.3 points per game, and is a vital part of their offense.
(5) Virginia Commonwealth University Rams vs. (12) Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
Former Cinderella VCU comes into the tournament as one of the top defensive teams in the country. According to Kenpom, the Rams are second in the country in adjusted defense, giving up 89.4 points per 100 possessions. They also play at a relatively quick pace, coming in 21st in the country at 70.6 possessions per 100 possessions. However, the Rams are inconsistent offensively, which could bring them problems.
As for SF Austin, they’re streaking, winners of 28 straight after losing two of their first five. They rank in the top 50 in adjusted offense, scoring 111.6 per 100 possessions, and top 100 in adjusted defense, allowing 100.8 points per 100 possessions. However, the Lumberjacks have a much slower paced offense, which could play into the hands of VCU and their tenacious full court trap defense. Overall, this should be one of the more interesting second round games in the South region.
(4) UCLA Bruins vs. (13) Tulsa Golden Hurricanes
The Bruins come in good form off their win in the Pac-12 tournament over the weekend. The Bruins bring matchup problems for almost everyone with their size across the board. Zach LaVine and Kyle Anderson present nightmares to opposing defenses due to their length and athleticism. They’re one of the top offensive teams in the country, and are solid defensively as well. They share the ball well, and force a lot of turnovers thanks in large part to guard Jordan Adams, who averages 2.7 steals per game.
The Danny Manning-led Golden Hurricanes come in playing some of their best basketball. They’re winners of their last 11 games, and have been locked in defensively, holding their last 16 opponents under 70 points. They’re average on both offense and defense, and rely heavily on two players—James Woodard and Rashad Smith—offensively. They lack general size, especially on the front line, and aren’t a great rebounding team, but they do get to the line relatively often.
(6) Ohio State Buckeyes vs. (11) Dayton Flyers
Big brother vs. little brother. The Buckeyes are somewhat sputtering, coming in with an 8-4 record in their last 12, and are looking to shake off a close loss to bitter rival Michigan in the Big Ten tournament. While they’re a very good defensive team, ranking fourth in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defense, they’re absolutely putrid on offense. They have two players scoring in double figures—LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr.—and struggle as a team shooting from deep, shooting just 32.6 percent. Senior Aaron Craft is one of the peskiest on-ball defenders in the country, and is one of the best at picking pockets, averaging 2.9 steals per game.
As for the Flyers, they come in playing some good basketball, going 10-3 in their last 13 with the three losses all coming at the hands of Saint Joseph’s. They’re an extremely deep team—nine players average 12.9 minutes per game or more—and are a good three-point shooting team, sporting a 38 percent three-point shooting percentage. They’re efficient offensively, boasting a 47 percent field-goal percentage, and average defensively.
(3) Syracuse Orange vs. (14) Western Michigan Broncos
Needless to say, the Orange come into the tournament sputtering some. After winning their first 25 games, Syracuse has gone the other way, losing five of their last seven games coming into the tournament. They come with a balanced scoring effort, led by senior C.J. Fair’s 16.7 points per game. Fair, freshman Tyler Ennis, sharp shooter Trevor Cooney, and big man Jerami Grant combine for 53.8 points per game, which is 78.8 percent of ‘Cuse’s overall offensive output. Their strong suit is their defense, which ranks ninth in the country in points per game, and 18th in points given up per 100 possessions, thanks in large part to their stingy 2-3 zone. Their defense is strong enough to win them games, but they’ve got question marks offensively, especially once you get past their “big four” of Fair, Ennis, Cooney, and Grant.
Getting into the tournament for the first time since 2004, the Broncos have their work cut out for them. They’re led by two seniors, guard David Brown and big man Shayne Whittington, who average 19.4 and 16.3 points per game, respectively. They’re average on both ends of the floor, and play at a semi-slow pace. They aren’t good at taking care of the ball, averaging 14.1 turnovers per game, but are able to get to the free-throw line at a good rate, averaging 26.1 attempts per game. They’re up against a tall task in the 2-3 zone that the Orange deploy, which could hurt their ability to drive the ball consistently.
(7) New Mexico Lobos vs. (10) Stanford Cardinal
The Lobos come in with some momentum after their win in the Mountain West Conference tournament over San Diego State. They’ve got a go-to scorer both down low, Cameron Bairstow, and outside, Kendall Williams, along with two seven-foot big men, Obij Aget and Alex Kirk, who can cause problems down low. They’re consistent, ranking 38th in both adjusted offense and adjusted defense on kenpom.com. They’re not a great three-point shooting team, but are good from the free-throw line and rebound the ball exceptionally well. Their size will give them an advantage over most teams, and the trio of Bairstow, Williams, and Kirk will have to be contained if you hope to beat them.
Getting in as an at-large team, the Cardinal bring forth an interesting matchup for the Lobos. They’re led by Chasson Randle, who leads four players in double figures scoring with 18.7 per game. They’ve got the size to match-up with New Mexico with four guys measuring 6’10” or taller, and three more at 6’8” or 6’9”. They don’t play overly fast, and are good and smart offensively, shooting 46 percent from the field and 37 from three. Stanford is average defensively, ranking 60th in adjusted defense on kenpom, and don’t force many turnovers per game. They’re an interesting matchup for the Lobos, thanks in large part to their size, but will have their hands full.
(2) Kansas Jayhawks vs. (15) Eastern Kentucky Colonels
Lots and lots of Andrew Wiggins. With Joel Embiid out, the Jayhawks have seen their defense struggle some, which could cause some problems going forward. They rank extremely well in adjusted offense, and 45th defensively on kenpom.com, while playing at the 81st fastest pace in the country. They’re deep and extremely efficient shooting the ball inside the arc, out-shooting teams 56 to 44 percent this season. They’ve got to cut down on their turnovers, 13.2 per game, but other than that, the Jayhawks could be in for a deep run.
The Colonels are facing an uphill battle. They’re extremely undersized, with no one taller than 6’8”, and are a poor rebounding team, thanks in large part to their lack of size. They’re led by strong guard play, with their top five scorers all being guards. They play an efficient brand of basketball, one that sees them not take many mid-range jumpers, but more high percentage twos and threes. They shoot the ball well from deep, 38.6 percent as a team, and 56.2 percent on their two-point shots. One thing that could help the Colonels keep the game close and interesting is their ability to force turnovers, sporting a forced turnover rate of 24.2 and steal percent of 11.9.
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