Butler Preview Crossroads Classic – 2018

The Butler Bulldogs take the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse today against the Indiana Hoosiers.  Tip off is slated for 3:45pm, following the conclusion of the Notre Dame vs. Purdue game.

Indiana, 2017-2018 Record:16-15; series record Indiana leads 21-7 Last meeting: December 17, 2016, Butler 83 – Indiana 78

Background:

The Hoosiers (8-2) enter this contest on a three-game win streak with wins over Northwestern, Penn State, and Louisville.  They’ve won those games by a combined five points.  The two losses on the season so far were by one point at Arkansas and at Duke by twenty-one points.  Indiana is led by Senior Juwan Morgan and electric Freshman Romeo Langford.

The Bulldogs will likely have a different look to their squad on Saturday.  Duke transfer, Jordan Tucker will suit up for his first game in a Butler uniform.  The former Duke player has completed his mandatory period of sitting out a year.

Sitting behind a large pool of talent, only playing in a couple games, and not receiving much playing time was the necessary push to find a new home.  In an article written by David Woods for the IndyStar, Tucker noted, “I kinda questioned myself as far as confidence-wise. Me leaving Duke was more of like me going to find myself somewhere rather than staying.”  Tucker has sought growth in more than just basketball development, focusing on maturing, especially in his habit of responsibility.  As he grows, his teammates will continue to grow and evolve with Tucker on the court.  Although Tucker has been with the team for nearly a year and has practiced with the Bulldogs, adding him into a competitive game environment will likely create growing pains.  With those growing pains, we will hopefully see more often the brighter spots and added value Tucker brings to this Bulldog squad.

Finally, if Butler is going to red-shirt any players, we will likely know after this game.  I’m guessing that if Markeese Hastings and Bryce Golden don’t play, they won’t play in a game until next season.  I observed both of them in the team’s warm ups prior to the contest against Brown.  In that warm up, Golden was consistently making 3-pointers.  At one point, I counted that he was 16-20 shooting from beyond the arc, something Bulldog fans can be excited about!

Players to Watch:

The Hoosiers have a two-headed monster in Senior Forward, Juwan Morgan and Freshman Guard, Romeo Langford with an able supporting crew.  Both Morgan and Langford go-to scorers in the paint.  Freshman Guard, Rob Phinisee, continues to impress as he helps create scoring opportunities for this Hoosiers.

For the Bulldogs, Jordan Tucker joins the Bulldogs on the floor today.  Tucker will likely play a smaller number of minutes today unless there’s a match up that benefits Butler.  Sean McDermott will need his spot up three-pointers to fall to help the Bulldogs in today’s contest. He will likely be the difference in this game.

Keys to the Game:

3-pointers  – Live and die by the three-point shot.  Indiana ranks near the bottom in 3-point shots attempted per game and are an above average shooting team from beyond the arc.  Looking closer at the Hoosier three-point numbers, the man to watch out for is Aljami Durham.  Durham has improved his shot over the summer and currently averages 43% for season beyond the three-point arc.

When playing high-level opponents, Kamar Baldwin is shooting just 1-14 from behind the 3-point  line.  He’s a major focus on opponent scouting lists, but Baldwin should be able to knock down a few more with the open opportunities has.  If the Bulldogs can make nine or more threes, they will be in a good spot to win at the end.

Free throws – The disparity in free throw percentage between both teams is vast.  Butler shoots nearly 76% at the charity stripe compared to Indiana’s sub 64% accuracy.  It will be in the Bulldogs best interest to attack the rim and finish strong.

Sharing the ball – In Butler’s two losses, they had 10 assists against Dayton and only 4 against Saint Louis.  In their seven wins on the season, the Bulldogs have averaged 17 assists per game with a game high of 27 against Northern Illinois.  Butler can’t rely on pick-and-roll sets at the top of the key and expect isolation plays to work today.  It may work against inferior opponents, but the Hoosiers match up well.

Turnovers – In their last two games, Butler has turned the ball over only 7 times, or about 10% of their possessions.  It is important for Butler to take care of the ball as they have done well for a majority of the games they have played this season.  Indiana averages turnovers on more than 20% of their possessions each game.

Prediction:

With Indiana’s ability to get into the lane and shoot effectively near the rim, I expect Butler to pack the paint and try some zone during the game if they are getting beat off the dribble.  If Butler continues to have active hands on defense to create turnovers and they share the ball well, Butler will end up the victor in this contest.  However, if the Bulldogs fail to slow down the tandem of Juwan Morgan and Romeo Langford, they will be in for a long day.  As basketball is a game of runs, I think this will be a close game throughout.  I have the Bulldogs winning 77 – 74.

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ACC/Big Ten Challenge Predictions

This year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge looks to result in some memorable games.  Below are the match ups listed for each game.  The team that is italicized is who I predict to win each of the match ups.

Monday, November 26th

Minnesota at Boston College

Nebraska at Clemson

Tuesday, November 27th

Indiana at Duke

Michigan State at Louisville

NC State at Wisconsin

Illinois at Notre Dame

Pittsburgh at Iowa

Virginia Tech at Penn State

Wednesday, November 28th

Purdue at Florida State

Georgia Tech at Northwestern

Rutgers at Miami

North Carolina at Michigan

Syracuse at Ohio State

Virginia at Maryland

Prediction: ACC beats Big Ten 9-5

NCAA Bracket Prediction – Thanksgiving Edition

I hope to provide a little easy reading  to your Thanksgiving Day!  I’ve updated my field of 68 as well as introduced my Top 25 and 5.  I share what my top 25 college basketball teams are at this date and include the next 5 that are knocking on the door to take another team’s spot.  You can find my blog along with numerous others at The Bracket Project

NCAA Field Projection – November 22, 2018

The 1s: Kansas, Virginia, Gonzaga, Duke

The 2s: Nevada, North Carolina, Auburn, Tennessee

The 3s: Michigan, Florida State, Syracuse, Michigan State

The 4s: Kansas State, Oregon, Kentucky, Villanova

The 5s: Indiana, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Clemson

The 6s: Purdue, Mississippi State, TCU, Buffalo

The 7s: Wisconsin, West Virginia, UCLA, Florida

The 8s: Marquette, Cincinnati, LSU, Texas

The 9s: St. John’s, Miami FL, Texas Tech, Maryland

The 10s: Butler, Washington, Xavier, NC State

The 11s: Iowa State, Georgetown, Central Florida, Arizona, Houston, USC

The 12s: Saint Louis, Western Kentucky, Loyola – Chicago, South Dakota State

The 13s: Belmont, Southern Illinois, Vermont, Penn

The 14s: South Dakota State, Northeastern, New Mexico State, Montana

The 15s: Lipscomb, Rider, Georgia State, Northern Kentucky

The 16s: Radford, Lehigh, St. Francis (PA), Stephen F. Austin, Bethune-Cookman, Grambling State

 

Top 25 and 5

  1. Duke
  2. Kansas
  3. Virginia
  4. Gonzaga
  5. Tennessee
  6. Nevada
  7. North Carolina
  8. Villanova
  9. Auburn
  10. Kentucky
  11. Michigan State
  12. Kansas State
  13. Oregon
  14. Florida State
  15. Syracuse
  16. Virginia Tech
  17. Mississippi State
  18. Michigan
  19. Clemson
  20. UCLA
  21. TCU
  22. LSU
  23. Purdue
  24. Marquette
  25. Buffalo
  26. West Virginia
  27. Indiana
  28. Ohio State
  29. Wisconsin
  30. Washington

Butler Basketball 2018-2019 Season Preview – Part II

The benefit of watching a few games and perusing box scores allows me to better understand the make up of Butler’s opponents.  When developing projections of what to look for game to game or share a prediction, it’s easier with a larger sample size.  For example, prior to Mississippi visiting Hinkle Fieldhouse, their team had only played one game.  At that point, the Rebels led the nation in turnovers forced, about one in five trips down the floor would end in a turnover for the opposing offense.  That game was against Western Michigan, a team that coughs up the ball nearly one in four trips down the floor when they are on offense.  As teams play more games, the averages begin to show themselves and projecting results can become easier to justify.

During their first three games of the season, the Butler Bulldogs have shown moments of brilliance and head-scratching plays that make you wonder “What is going on?”

Brief Recap

Bulldog fans have witnessed the growth center, Joey Brunk.  The Bulldogs created opportunities to score points off turnovers.  The ever compelling idea that head coach LaVall Jordan mentioned about playing at a quicker tempo eludes the Bulldogs from time to time, however.  According to Kenpom.com, Butler plays below the national average pace, holding onto the ball longer than 66% of the body of college basketball teams.

Game 4:  Dayton, 2017-2018 Record: 14-17; series record Butler leads 11-10 Last meeting: March 14, 2013.

Current Kenpom Rating: 102

The Dayton Flyers look to rebound from an uneven season last year.  Anthony Grant leads a Dayton squad that returns four of their top five scorers from last season.

Players to Watch

Senior Josh Cunningham will be a significant influence for the Flyers as he was one of the most effective shooters in the country last year, ranking fifth in field goal percentage while averaging over 15 points and 8 rebounds per game.

Other key returners that will provide significant impact for the Flyers are junior Trey Landers, and sophomores Jalen Crutcher and Jordan Davis.  These three compliment Josh Cunningham well and will spread the floor.  These three have played significant time in each of their first three games this season.  Josh Cunningham has only played in one game.

One other player to mention is Ryan Mikesell.  He’s been effective in his shooting in the small sample size of this season.  Mikesell is 50% from 3-point range and has been to the free throw line frequently.

Expected Result:

Although we are still early in the season, we begin to see trends for teams.  Dayton looks like their group has a decent defense to go with an average offense.  Butler looks like the opposite, having a decent offense along with an okay defense.

Dayton is shooting just over 60 percent on 2-point shots compared to 29% on 3-point shots.  Basing game prep off of these numbers, look for Dayton to work the ball inside for layups or to draw fouls.  A closer look at Butler’s 3-point defense causes concern, however, even against a Dayton team that currently shoots below 30% from beyond the arc.  Butler is allowing nearly 39% shooting against opponents from 3-point range.  The Bulldogs will continue to improve in this area and the number should decline, but that remains an area for concern on the defensive end.

When comparing second chances, Dayton does not allow many opportunities for opponents to grab offensive rebounds.  Even though they protect their own rim well from second chance opportunities, the Flyers struggle in their own right to grab offensive boards.

For Butler to win, they will need to pack the paint and force Dayton to make shots from beyond 15 feet.  From a fan’s perspective, limiting unnecessary turnovers, the cross-court passes, is a desire to see growth in.  Patience and maturity is required for that in addition to the coaching staff holding the players accountable.

Prediction:  I think Butler gets off to a slow start but wins this game by single digits.  I think the Dawgs win 76-68 and meet Virginia in the semi-final round.

Game 7: Saint Louis, 2017-2018 Record: 17-16; series record St. Louis leads 12-18 Last meeting: December 2, 2017, Butler 75 – St. Louis 45

Kenpom Rating: 74

Background:

Remember last year’s drubbing of the Billikens inside a warm, cozy Hinkle Fieldhouse?  File that fond memory away for now.  Saint Louis has an impressive and formidable team this year.  They did last year too, but last year’s result was the product of unfortunate timing.  With transfers eligible to play and a healthy group, the Billikens are an expected favorite to finish atop the Atlantic 10 Conference and make the NCAA tournament.  Depending on match ups come March, this may be a team you pick through to the Sweet Sixteen.  St. Louis currently sits at 4-1, beating Seton Hall by two on the Pirate’s home floor and recently losing to Pittsburgh today at the Barclay Center by 2 points.

Players to watch:

Jordan Goodwin is a great distributor of the basketball and sets his teammates up for easy buckets.  He draws fouls and gets numerous trips to the free throw line, along with Tramaine Isabell.  Both of them are tough and will fight through contact to get to the basket.

               Javon Bess rarely leaves the game and averages about four 3-point attempts per game.  Though he’s second on the team in 3-point attempts this season, Bess is shooting at 33% from beyond the arc.

               Finally, freshman big man, Carte’Are Gordon is the Billikens shot blocker and interior post.  His matchup with both Nate Fowler and Joey Brunk will be interesting to follow.  The Bulldog big men will be smart to utilize pump fakes while on the low block to encourage Gordon into going for blocks and hope they turn into fouls.

Expected Outcome:

The Billikens play at a slow pace, ranking outside the top 300 in their tempo.  That can be attributed to their desire to find an efficient shot like a layup.  St. Louis scores over half of their points on 2-point baskets.  Although the Billikens do a great job attacking the basketball and drawing fouls, they lack in their free throw percentage.  At the current date of this write up, St. Louis is shooting an abysmal 60% from the free throw line.  That’s not the only weak shooting percentage the Billikens own.  Just as their A-10 rival Dayton had a poor 3-point shooting percentage, St. Louis shoots from beyond the arc at a clip of 28%.

As far as match ups go, playing a team on their home court is tough.  The Billikens have a stout defense.  Butler will do well to share the ball in this game and not rely heavily on dancing around a big at the top of the key.  Drawing fouls will allow Butler, an effective free throw shooting team, opportunities to score where they have shown areas of struggle in the early portion of the season (namely 3-point shooting).

Result:  I think the Bulldogs squeak out a close win at St. Louis, 66-62.

Field of 68 Projections – November 10, 2018

Time to drop my first projection of what the seeding looks like come Selection Sunday.  Thanks to The Bracket Project for sharing From the Rafters blog.  This has been a fun outlet to share my passion for college basketball with like-minded fans.  I stumbled upon The Bracket Matrix back in 2010 and have since enjoyed viewing and analyzing the pool of data!  I recommend devoting time to perusing the site!  Link to The Bracket Project

NCAA Field Projection – November 10, 2018

The 1s: Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Gonzaga

The 2s: Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Nevada

The 3s: Villanova, Michigan State, Auburn, Kansas State

The 4s: West Virginia, Oregon, Syracuse, Michigan

The 5s: Florida State, Mississippi State, Virginia Tech, Clemson

The 6s: Purdue, Florida, TCU, LSU

The 7s: Washington, Marquette, UCLA, Indiana

The 8s: Cincinnati, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Butler

The 9s: St. John’s, Miami FL, Texas Tech, Xavier

The 10s: Texas, Central Florida, Maryland, NC State

The 11s: Iowa State, Providence, Loyola – Chicago, Arizona, Houston, USC

The 12s: Saint Louis, Western Kentucky, Buffalo, South Dakota State

The 13s: Northeastern, Harvard, New Mexico State, Montana

The 14s: UNC-Grennsboro, Georgia State, Vermont, Stephen F. Austin

The 15s: Belmont, Rider, UC Irvine, Wright State

The 16s: Lipscomb, Lehigh, St. Francis (PA), Radford, Texas Southern, Bethune-Cookman

Bracket Reveal and Bracket Predictions

One of the best days of the year in sport has greeted us!  I have had to do a lot of front end work knowing that I would be away from home!  I am currently sitting with close friends in the middle of a ski trip in Colorado!

I can’t believe this is already my third year walking through each of the matchups and sharing my predictions.  I read through last years write up I did and found a couple things I want to grow in.  Here are a couple changes this year that you will see.  First, I will give more background on the teams body of work.  You can expect to see the recency of a team is on for their last 8 games coming into the tournament.  This includes how they fared in their respective conference tournaments.

After the First Four matchups and Round of 64 games, I will give my thoughts on who will win each matchup based on statistical trends, what I’ve observed through watching teams play, and my gut.  I’ve always done this, but I’m expanding my scope of (hopefully) valuable information to consider.  2 years ago, I was 40-23.  I did not select a single Final Four team nor champion correctly.  Last year, I didn’t fare as well, going 38-25.  (That does not include correctly picking three of the four play-in games).  However, I did pick two Final Four teams and one team, Gonzaga, that made it to the National Championship.  Overall, that puts me at 78-48 (62%) for the last two NCAA tournaments.

We have finally arrived at a favorite time of the year for myself and other college basketball fans.  The bracket has been revealed and now it’s time to get the ink and project the results for the field of 68!  Just as I did last year, I will walk through my predictions of who will win matchups every round.  I will also include possible matchups that would be a lot of fun to watch.  So, are there any sleepers in this field?  Who has the easiest path?  Hopefully this helps you when you sit down to fill out your bracket!  My record predicting each game last year was 40-23 where I incorrectly guessed the entire Final Four and Championship games.  Take my insight with a grain of salt, I guess, but it’s always fun to attempt to predict the unpredictable!

Before listing my decisions for each matchup, I will review some helpful tips when selecting your bracket.

Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 19 of the 32 champions have been a 1 seed.  I’m not sure how much influence this actually has, but 7 of the last 10 have come from the top seed line.  Of course we love the upsets.  They make the tournament exciting and surprising.  However, a 1 seed has never lost to a 16 seed.  It’s rare for all four 1 seeds to reach the final four though.  It has happened once, in 2008.  On five occasions, 3 number 1 seeds have made it to the final weekend.

Take into account the more recent games (usually the last 8-10 games played).  A team can get better or worse over the course of a season. Recency is a factor in helping predict how a team will play in the NCAA tournament.  Vermont had a 15 game winning streak snapped in mid-February.

Pay attention to how many times a coach has been to the tournament and their results.

Here’s something to consider.  Previous winners have had a Kenpom defensive efficiency at or below 90.9.  Only 7 teams possess that going into the tournament.  One of the teams, Georgia Tech, is playing in the NIT.  The other 6 teams are: Virginia, Gonzaga, Florida, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Louisville.  Historically, teams have a top 3 offensive efficiency.  None of the 6 teams listed have that.  The closest is Gonzaga, which may be inflated due to their conference opponents being quite weak for the most part.

A note about seeding because I was surprised by where some teams fell.  What caught my eye was how Big East teams were seeded.  Due to the number of times teams meet during the season, rules or expectations have been put in place so those two opponents don’t meet again until a certain point in the bracket if they both continue to win.  For example, Butler and Villanova are in the region of the bracket.  They’ve already played each other three times this season, twice during conference play and the third coming during the Big East Tournament.  Because of those 3 meetings, they would not be allowed to play each other until the Elite 8.  Butler was slotted to be a 9 seed, yet found themselves a line lower.  The same goes for Providence, the Big East Tournament runner-up.  Due to them being in the same region as Xavier, the Friars who were to be a 9 seed were dropped a line to the 10.  If teams played each other twice, they could meet in the Sweet Sixteen; once, they would meet as early as the Round of 32 (that makes sense because Butler could potentially play Purdue in Detroit if both teams win their opening game).

First Four

Tuesday, March 13th

Game 1: LIU-Brooklyn vs. Radford – LIU Brooklyn experienced an average year and put together a nice run through their conference tournament, beating number 1 seed and favorite Wagner to reach the First Four games in Dayton.  They have 6 losses by 6 or fewer points. 3 guys make up a majority of the minutes played.  Radford went 0-3 this season against teams already in the tournament.  They are my pick to win this game and move on to play Villanova.

Game 2: St. Bonaventure vs. UCLA – The Bonnies have a tough ask playing against UCLA in an opening game.  Fortunately, they have one of the most experienced units in college basketball, something that can push them to move onto the second round.  UCLA likes to move the ball quickly, getting easy baskets in transition.  If they want to win this game, they are going to have to make shots.  Their youth has led to an up and down year, losing to Colorado a couple times during the regular season.  I’m going Bonnies here.

Wednesday, March 14th

Game 3: Texas Southern vs. North Carolina Central – After losing their first 13 games of the season, the former IU and UAB coach, Mike Davis, has his Tigers back in one of the First Four games for the second consecutive season.  They will play against North Carolina Central, a team that also made it back to back years in playing a First Four game.  My choice is Texas Southern, however, they are prone to a lot of turnovers.  If that happens, that could spell trouble.

Game 4: Syracuse vs. Arizona State – After a hot start to the season and a top 5 ranking, Arizona State fell off in a major way.  Bobby Hurley’s squad has the chops to knock off Syracuse, a team that probably should not have made the tournament.  The Orange are an abysmal shooting team.  Their length and zone are typically what keeps them in games.  The Sun Devils win this one, but it’s much closer because of Syracuse’s defense.

South Region

Round of 64

1 vs. 16 – Virginia vs. UMBC – The Retrievers make an appearance in the NCAA tournament only to be matched with the superior Cavaliers.  Virginia, a heavy favorite, will force turnovers and play a slow game.  I won’t be surprised if they break 70 points in this game though, something they did infrequently during the season.

8 vs. 9 – Creighton vs. Kansas State – Creighton, when they move the ball well, can beat any team in the country.  Their ball movement opens up passing lanes and has earned them the fourth best 2-point percentage in the country according to Kenpom.  Kansas State has an average interior defense and are awful from the 3-point line, the only thing that will make this a game.  Bluejays move on.

5 vs. 12 – Kentucky vs. Davidson – The Wildcats have a tough date with Davidson, a team that upset A10 favorites and stole a bid in the process of making the tournament.  Kentucky’s ability to guard the 3-point line well spells trouble for the Wildcats.  Davidson does not attempt many free throws per game nor do they gather many offensive rebounds.  The one thing on their side is their ability to score in an efficient way.  Because they shoot the ball so well, they have a great opportunity to stun what some consider a heavy favored Kentucky team.  I’m going with the uset and picking Davidson.

4 vs. 13 – Arizona vs. Buffalo – Buffalo is one of the fastest teams in the country, spending less than half the time with the ball on offense.  Because of this, they are able to put up a lot of shots and a lot of points.  Arizona will be a tough out, however, because of Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier.  With Arizona’s odd spotlight in the FBI probe, can they push out the noise and focus on winning games?  Once a team that was a heavy favorite to win the title, the Wildcats will have a tough road ahead if they’d like to see that expectation come to fruition.  I’m going with Arizona in this game.

6 vs. 11- Miami (FL.) vs. Loyola Chicago – Porter Moser has finally done it.  He has put together an impressive roster that is made up of a wide spectrum of players’ experience. The Ramblers demonstrated how the transfer market can be a benefit to a team.  Marques Townes (Fairleigh Dickinson) and Clayton Custer (Iowa State) have helped lead Loyola to their first NCAA tournament appearance in decades.  Loyola moves the ball so well and they shoot 40% from the 3-point line.  They are riding a 10 game winning streak into the match-up against Miami.  The Hurricanes are average 3-point shooters and take care of the ball well.  They are a slower paced team which plays in their favor if they are finding good shots.  They lack experience though and I see Loyola taking this game.

3 vs. 14 – Tennessee vs. Wright State – The Volunteers only play a 7 man rotation, something to consider when fouls become important.  The Volunteers boast a strong offense and defense, with their focus on defense being their calling card.  Their 2-point shooting is not great, mainly because they don’t have a tall line up.  That means they settle for jump shots or runners rather than layups.  Wright State is going to have a difficult time with this Volunteer team.  The Raiders are turnover prone and not great shooting the ball.  This game shouldn’t be close – Tennessee moves on.

7 vs. 10 – Nevada vs. Texas – Texas has subscribed to a slow, grind-out games this season and it hasn’t really paid off in their favor.  Essentially alternating wins and losses for a majority of the season, the Longhorns enter the tournament looking for a win against a strong and efficient Nevada Wolfpack team. Nevada’s defense can be iffy from time to time, but teams need offense to put up points and win games.  Nevada is a strong 7-seed and I see them moving on past the Longhorns.

2 vs. 15 – Cincinnati vs. Georgia State – Slow, laborious, tactful.  The Cincinnati Bearcats boast an impressive defense-minded team.  They create turnovers and force teams into taking contested shots.  This Georgia State team is not the same one that upset Baylor a few years ago.  Take Cincinnati in this game.

Round of 32

1 vs. 8 – Virginia vs. Creighton – Slow vs. fast pace.  Virginia plays the slow tempo in the land and Creighton plays one of the fastest.  The Cavaliers are deadly from beyond the arc, yet average from two.  Creighton crashes the boards on defense, making it difficult for teams to grab offensive rebounds.  The Bluejays losing Martin Krampelj really hurt the teams multidimensional offensive attack.  I think Creighton has a great chance to upset Virginia early.  They have to speed up Virginia to make it happen, and I think it will.  Bluejays stun Virginia and move on.

5 vs. 4 – Kentucky vs. Arizona – This will be a great match up if it does end up happening.  Kentucky is stringing wins together and Arizona boasts coachable talent.  As good as Arizona is, they have questionable losses and Deandre Ayton can fall away quietly in a game.  If he isn’t involved, the Wildcats become more one dimensional.  I think Kentucky has the ability to make that happen.  Wildcats move on.

11 vs. 3 – Loyola Chicago vs. Tennessee – Tennessee plays a 7 man rotation, something that can spell trouble if fouls begin to pile up.  Loyola will look to continue moving the ball to get open threes which they hit at a high clip.  I’m picking the Ramblers to ramble on (I really wanted to say that).

7 vs. 2 – Nevada vs. Cincinnati – Nevada’s solid shooting against Cincinnati’s sound defense should be a great game.  One thing that the Bearcats have lacked in other years is the ability to score.  They have that this year, but not at as an efficient rate as Nevada.  I have the Wolfpack in this game.

Sweet 16

8 vs. 5 – Creighton vs. Kentucky – They Wildcats are making a great run at the right time and I fear Creighton will get into a race up and down the floor, something they are generally good at.  This Kentucky team is good at that too and I foresee the Wildcats winning that race – UK moves on.

11 vs. 7 – Loyola Chicago vs. Nevada – What a fun mid-major matchup if it happens!  I think the Rambler’s have a great shot at winning this game if these two teams do meet.  The Wolfpack can put up points, but they aren’t stellar on defense.  I do think Nevada moves on though.

Elite 8

5 vs. 7 – Kentucky vs. Nevada – Kentucky should handle Nevada easily in this game.  There is a large mismatch on the defensive end that the Wolfpack can’t overcome.  Wildcats move on.

West Region

Round of 64

1 vs. 16 – Xavier vs. Texas Southern – The Musketeers have put together a strong season, getting quality play from every player.  It seems like the identity of playing with a chip on their shoulder continues to be their calling card.  They play an emotional style of basketball, getting in the heads of their opponents.  Xavier won’t have a difficult time with their opponent and moves on.

8 vs. 9 – Missouri vs. Florida State – Missouri, after having lost future NBA pick Michael Porter Jr. for most of the season, had their best player ready to go in the SEC tournament.  He fared well, but what’s more impressive is what Missouri did this season without Porter.  Florida State casts a shadow upon itself with lazy play from time to time which leaves them susceptible to turnovers, poor defense, and game mismanagement.  Look for the Missouri Tigers to move on.

5 vs. 12 – Ohio State vs. South Dakota State – After a less than stellar start, Chris Holtmann and his Buckeyes bring an unexpected and impressive season into the NCAA tournament.  They have a difficult opponent in South Dakota State, however.  Most people that follow college basketball will look to Mike Daum, a stellar basketball player in his own right who averages more than 20 points per game.  One who gets overlooked is his freshman guard teammate, David Jenkins.  The Jackrabbits shoot the three ball well, and they shoot it frequently.  If they hit double-digit threes in this game, I smell upset.  I do think Ohio State gameplans well and sees them to the next round.

4 vs. 13 – Gonzaga vs. UNC-Greensboro – Gonzaga has quietly put together a strong season again under Mark Few.  Thanks should go out to St. Mary’s for drawing most of the attention for a very solid Gonzaga team.  History is on their side having a few players back from their run to the NCAA championship last year before falling to the North Carolina Tar Heels.

6 vs. 11 -Houston vs. San Diego State – Houston plays a great brand of basetball…most of the time.  If they continue to move the ball well against a just better than average San Diego State team, Houston should wind up playing a game this weekend.  Houston moves on.

3 vs. 14 – Michigan vs. Montana – It’s going to be a tall task for the Grizz to out Michigan of the tournament.  The Wolverines won the Big Ten Conference Tournament Championship and should continue a deep run in NCAA’s.  I expect a hard fought game by Montana, but Michigan pulls away in the end.

7 vs. 10 – Texas A&M vs. Providence – Texas A&M had a great start but fell off quickly through the season.  Providence, the Big East tournament runner up that pushed Villanova to overtime is laden with seniors, a calling card to a deep tournament run.  I’m going with the Friars in this game.

2 vs. 15 – North Carolina vs. Lipscomb – North Carolina begins its defense of last year’s National Championship with an easy opening game.  The Tar Heels should win by double-digits.

Round of 32

1 vs. 8 – Xavier vs. Missouri – The Musketeers will hand the Tigers well.  Xavier’s weakness is their inability to put games away against inferior opponents.  Xavier moves on.

5 vs. 4 – Ohio State vs. Gonzaga – Ohio State’s overachieving season comes to an end as they play against Gonzaga.  The Bulldogs quietly obtained a 4 seed and with Mark Few at the helm, Gonzaga should move on.

6 vs. 3 – Houston vs. Michigan – Michigan matches up well against Houston.  I think Mo Wagner’s ability to spread the floor and shoot from distance helps Michigan move on.

10 vs. 2 – Providence vs. North Carolina – Although Providence can shoot well, they can go cold quickly and force unnecessary shots.  North Carolina’s length will cause trouble for Providence.  UNC moves on.

Sweet 16

1 vs. 4 – Xavier vs. Gonzaga – I think Gonzaga actually has a better front court this year than last year.  Xavier is a weak 1 seed, ranking 14th in kenpom’s ratings.  Their defense is not elite which is why I have the Bulldogs moving on.

3 vs. 2 – Michigan vs. North Carolina – This will be a fun game as both teams can put up points and shoot the ball well.  I think Michigan continues to make shots down the stretch that ultimately sees them through to the next round.

Elite 8

4 vs. 3 – Gonzaga vs. Michigan – Michigan’s defense will keep them in this game.  They will need to share the ball to get open looks and crash the boards against a Gonzaga team that is well grounded in the fundamentals of the game.  My take is Michigan in this game.

East Region

Round of 64

1 vs. 16 -Villanova vs. Radford – Villanova is dangerous.  Having both Phil Booth and Eric Paschall back playing are key for the Wildcats to have a deep tournament run.  Jalen Brunson helps guide Villanova with an unbelievable feel for the game.  This game will not be close.  Villanova moves on.

8 vs. 9 – Virginia Tech vs. Alabama – Funny enough, Virginia Tech went up one seed line in the same exact portion of the bracket from last year.  They run into a hot Alabama team coming off a small flurry of a run in the SEC tournament.  I believe Alabama has one more win in them before being squelched in the next round.

5 vs. 12 – West Virginia vs. Murray State – With two time Big 12 defensive player of the year, West Virginia seems to matchup nicely with Murray State.  The Hokies finished second to Kansas in the Big 12 Conference tournament.

4 vs. 13 – Wichita State vs. Marshall – It looks as if the Shockers move to the AAC has paid off as they were appropriately seeded for the first time in the last three years.  Wichita State should hand Marshall easily and move on to play against West Virginia.

6 vs. 11 – Florida vs. St. Bonaventure – Florida has had an up and down season.  Losing at home to Loyola Chicago early in the season was a wake up call for the Gators.  I think the sporadic play of missing a lot of shots dooms the Gators and sees the Bonnies move on.

3 vs. 14 – Texas Tech vs. Stephen F. Austin – The Red Raiders have a great defense to go along with a pretty good offense.  I think Stephen F. Austin is in trouble unless they shoot better than 60% from 3, with an emphasis on making a lot of 3s.  Red Raiders move on.

7 vs. 10 – Arkansas vs. Butler – This game pits two teams that are lackluster in consistency.  Arkansas can string wins together, but they can also go cold quickly.  They shoot the ball very well from the 3-point line, just over a 40% clip.  The Razorbacks will have to make 3’s to keep this one close.  They give up a lot of offensive rebounds, something the Bulldogs will have to take advantage of.  Arkansas is an older team, led by seniors.  That usually spells success for a team that makes a deep tournament run.

2 vs. 15 – Purdue vs. CSFullerton – The Boilermakers have had a successful and odd year.  After a string of 2 losses early, they rattled off 19 consecutive wins before dropping 3 straight.  The Boilermakers have all the pieces to make a run, now it’s up to the coach to prepare them well to allow them to.

Round of 32

1 vs. 9 – Villanova vs. Alabama – As electifying as Collin Sexton is with the ball for Alabama, the Crimson Tide lack experience.  Villanova may be challenged for the first 25-30 minutes, but should pull away from a young Alabama team that is going to be good next year if everyone they expect to return, does.

5 vs. 4 – West Virginia vs. Wichita State – In what should be a great game, the Shockers and Mountaineers will play a passionate, smash-mouth style of basketball.  Wichita State plays the inside-out game well and can be difficult to guard.  West Virginia’s Jevon Carter is a two time Big 12 defensive player of the year.  I think the way his attitude goes is the way the Mountaineers go.  They played a close game with the Jayhawks in the Big 12 Tournament title game until eventually losing by double-digits.  I think the Shockers move on.

11 vs. 3 – St. Bonaventure vs. Texas Tech – This is the end of the line for the Bonnies. Although both teams have decent offenses, Texas Tech’s defense is much better.  The Red Raiders are my pick in this game.

10 vs. 2 – Butler vs. Purdue – Butler is a dangerous 10 seed.  These two teams will be familiar with each other as they played earlier this season in mid-December.  Purdue won that game convincingly by 15.  Purdue looks like a team that has all of the parts for a deep run.  They will need to make sure that Carsen Edwards, Isaac Haas, and Matt Haarms are playing at a high level to see that deep run through.  Butler plays a closer game, but ultimately loses.  I think their kryptonite is their ball movement.  The Bulldogs, in their great wins, moved the ball well.  Even if their typical personnel ended up shooting the ball, they didn’t have to create space.  Purdue moves on.

Sweet 16

1 vs. 4 -Villanova vs. Wichita State – The Wildcats will have a tough match-up against the Shockers, a team that resembles Villanova’s style of play in some ways.  Both teams don’t get too rattled and are confident in their game plan.  I think Villanova makes more shots than Wichita State which sees them move on.

3 vs. 2 – Texas Tech vs. Purdue – Purdue is one of the most complete teams in the country which is why I think they won’t have too difficult of a time getting to this point in the tournament.  The one thing that can spell trouble is if they go cold from the 3-point line.  Texas Tech, when they play well, can compete with any team in the country.  They’re lack of consistency has me wary of them though.  Boilermakers move on.

Elite 8

1 vs. 2 – Villanova vs. Purdue – Two very complete teams, if this game should happen, it will be highly competitive.  I think Purdue’s ability to utilize their bigs down low and spread the floor will allow for the Boilermakers to take and make some open looks from 3.  I have the Boilermakers moving on.

Midwest Region

Round of 64

1 vs. 16 – Kansas vs. Penn – Kansas was on the ropes this season, having lost multiple times at home, a rare occurrence under Bill Self.  Now having won 13 straight Big 12 titles, Kansas has another opportunity to make a deep run.  They have been historically weak in the NCAA which causes concern for people wanting to pick Kansas to make a run through to second or third weekend.  To this point, if a 16 seed ever had a chance to beat a 1 seed, it’s this game.  Penn has a slow, efficient team that has a good chance to scare Kansas.  I still think the Jayhawks win this game.

8 vs. 9 – Seton Hall vs. NC State – Seton Hall, a roster filled with seniority, has not performed in the way I thought they would.  They are a strong team, but their seeding supports the idea that they can play well or poorly in a given game.  With the Wolfpack as an opening opponent, the Pirate’s must like their chances to secure an opportunity to play Kansas.  NC State has had great wins and questionable losses, making them a difficult team to project.

5 vs. 12 – Clemson vs. New Mexico State – The Tigers have had a stellar season and enter the tournament against a very strong New Mexico State team.  Clemson will be without a key player though which puts them on upset watch.  My analytical mind tells me to go with New Mexico State, yet my gut says Clemson.  Tigers move on.

4 vs. 13 – Auburn vs. Charleston – Bruce Pearl, after having lost 2 players and an assistant coach to the FBI probe that broke before the season began, has led his team to a surprising seeding.  Their opportunistic style of play makes them fun to watch.  Charleston, making the tournament for the first time in years, has a difficult match up.  I think Auburn wins this game and moves on even without one of their best players.

6 vs. 11 – TCU  vs. Arizona State – The Horned Frogs had consistently been in the top 25 for an early portion of the season. A few losses here and there saw Jamie Dixon’s team fall out of the national spotlight, but they haven’t fallen too far. The conundrum that is Arizona State is their ability to shoot the ball well in this one. Dixon generally has sound defensive teams.

3 vs. 14 – Michigan State vs. Bucknell – The Spartans begin their tournament run against the Patriot league champions, Bucknell. Michigan State’s coach, Tom Izzo, was surprised by the return of a projected NBA pick last season.  The Spartans should have little trouble handling Bucknell.

7 vs. 10 – Rhode Island vs. Oklahoma – Rhode Island, after a strong conference showing, lost to Davidson in the A10 title game.  For the past two years, the Rams have been an under the radar team to keep tabs on.  Their opponent, Oklahoma, is the first team to make the tournament after finishing the season on a 2-8 record over 10 games leading up to the tournament.  Oklahoma is electrifying when Trae Young is on, but beyond Young’s small supporting cast, the Sooners aren’t much of an opponent.  If young takes a high volume of shots, I expect Rhode Island to move on without question.  Hopefully the committee doesn’t make a similar mistake next year by allowing an undeserving team into the tournament.

2 vs. 15 – Duke vs. Iona – The Blue Devils, riddled with talent and a coach that has vast amounts of experience in the NCAA tournament begin with a difficult opponent in Iona.  Ultimately, I think Duke pulls away and wins big, but the continued development of the Blue Devil’s defense will see their season end abruptly or soldier on to the second weekend.

Round of 32

1 vs. 8 – Kansas vs. Seton Hall – I think Delgado and company don’t have what it takes to hang with Kansas in this so the Jayhawks move on.  It should be close early, but the Pirates are susceptible to poor shot selection.

5 vs. 4 – Clemson vs. Auburn – If both teams get here, it will be more impressive because they are both missing key players.  I think Auburn continues its run to the next round.

11 vs. 3 – Syracuse vs. Michigan State – Michigan State has only beat two opponents that are in the field this season.  Syracuse, by virtue of winning in the First Four and taking out an overseeded TCU team matchups up well, but the Spartans ability to stretch the zone defense sees them win.  Sparty moves on.

7 vs. 2 – Rhode Island vs. Duke – Unfortunately the Rams drew on the side of Duke and if they get past them, they meet Michigan State.  This is a difficult region to come out of on top.  It’s likely that whoever wins this region ends up as champion.  The Blue Devils, once abysmal on defense, especially in transition, grew over the season and have been become a stout defensive team.  Blue Devils move on.

Sweet 16

1 vs. 4 – Kansas vs. Auburn – Auburn’s run is cut short by a weak one-seeded Kansas team.  This will probably be the Jayhawks last win of the season in my opinion.

3 vs. 2 – Michigan State vs. Duke – In what should be a great game, I see Duke pulling away at the end, namely because of the ability to make shots.

Elite 8

1 vs. 2 – Kansas vs. Duke – Kansas’s defense is weaker than Duke’s.  The Jayhawks are also not as efficient and don’t share the ball as well.  Blue Devil’s move on.

Final Four

5 vs. 3 – Kentucky vs. Michigan – With Kentucky’s great run to the Final Four, Michigan looks to maintain it’s hot winning streak that sees them through to the championship game.

2 vs. 2 – Purdue vs. Duke – If this game happens, it will be a fun one because of the matchups of the bigs.  I think Duke’s bigs are more athletic and will draw out Purdue’s bigs.  Blue Devils move on.

Championship

3 vs. 2 Michigan vs. Duke – Again, a fun game that looms in the distance.  With the bigs of both teams and Michigan’s guards being able to draw multiple defenders and find the open man, there is a complimentary style of play that will provide for a lot of points.  I’m going with Duke as national champion this season.

 

 

Field of 68 Projection – March 10, 2018

The 1s: Virginia, Villanova, Kansas, Xavier

The 2s: North Carolina, Duke, Cincinnati, Purdue

The 3s: Tennessee, Michigan State, Michigan, Auburn

The 4s: West Virginia, Wichita State, Texas Tech, Arizona

The 5s: Gonzaga, Clemson, Kentucky, Ohio State

The 6s: Houston, Florida, Arkansas, Miami (FLA)

The 7s: TCU, Texas A&M, Seton Hall, Rhode Island

The 8s: Nevada, Virginia Tech, Missouri, Providence

The 9s: Creighton, Butler, Kansas State, Alabama

The 10s: St. Bonaventure, North Carolina State, Florida State, USC

The 11s: Oklahoma, UCLA, Texas, St. Mary’s (CA), Louisville, Loyola-Chicago

The 12s: New Mexico State, Western Kentucky, San Diego State, South Dakota State

The 13s: Buffalo, Murray State, UNC-Greensboro, College of Charleston

The 14s: Montana, Bucknell, Wright State, Georgia State

The 15s: Pennsylvania, Lipscomb, Maryland-Baltimore County

The 16s: UC Irvine, Radford, Southeastern Louisiana, LIU-Brooklyn, Texas Southern, North Carolina Central

Conference Tournaments

Conference tournaments begin this week and for the first time, I will spend time predicting each conference tournament game to be played!  I won’t go too deep into explanation for some tournaments as I’ve never seen some of the teams play.  Generally in earlier tournaments, I will generally pick the favorite (higher seeded team) to win.

Atlantic Sun

Quarterfinals

8 USC Upstate at 1 Florida Gulf Coast – FGCU

6 Kennesaw State at 3 Jacksonville – Kennesaw State

5 North Florida at 4 NJIT – NJIT

7 Stetson at 2 Lipscomb – Lipscomb

Semifinals

6 Kennesaw State at 2 Lipscomb – Lipscomb

4 NJIT at 1 Florida Gulf Coast – FGCU

Final

2 Lipscomb at 1 Florida Gulf Coast – FGCU

 

Ohio Valley

I love the Ohio Valley Conference tournament because it’s four straight days that begin with 4 teams vying to play the next day.  Every game is played at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana.

First Round

5 Tennessee Tech vs. 8 SIUE – Tennessee Tech

6 Tennessee State vs. 7 Eastern Illinois – Tennessee State

Quarter Final

5 Tennessee Tech vs. 4 Jacksonville State – Jacksonville State

3 Austin Peay vs. 6 Tennessee State – Austin Peay

Semi Final

4 Jacksonville State vs. 1 Murray State – Murray State

3 Austin Peay vs. 2 Belmont – Belmont

Final

1 Murray State vs 2 Belmont – Murray State

 

 

***This page will be updated over the next week***

Big East Perspective

With two weeks remaining before the NCAA tournament bracket is released, the Big East still remains up for grabs and there is a logjam in the middle of the conference with seeding up for grabs for the Big East tournament.  The tournament begins Wednesday, March 7th and concludes Saturday, March 10th.    A couple observations to consider regarding every team entering the conference tournament are a team’s offensive and defensive efficiencies.  The Big East does not possess an overall strong defense.  7 of the 10 Big East teams are outside the top 50 in defensive efficiency in Kenpom’s ratings.  That’s not a good sign if a team wishes to make the Final Four or Championship game.  However, the deficiency in defense for the conference as a whole has not been much of a problem because of how highly efficient the offenses are.  6 Big East teams rank in the top 25 in Kenpom’s ratings.  This helps explain the trends seen this year during conference play, with high scoring games.  Here’s a quick look around the conference and possible outcomes of seeding for the tournament.

  1. Xavier 25-4 (13-3)  The Musketeers have arguably the easiest close to the regular season which means they are close to locking up their first Big East title.  As conferences gear up for the post season, teams refocus and look to string some wins together in the hopes of reserving a spot in the field of 68.  The Musketeers have no problems with offense, yet they rank 72nd in defensive efficiency according the kenpom.
  2. Villanova 26-3 (12-4)  Another road loss, this time at Creighton, has likely relegated the Wildcats to a second seed going into the Big East Tournament.  For the first time in the new look Big East, Villanova will be seeded something other than 1.  Second is nothing to be concerned about as the Wildcats continue to produce and compete at a high level.  It comes down to matchups during this part of the season and playing to your strengths, something Villanova does well.
  3. Seton Hall 20-9 (9-7)  The Pirates won a unique game at Providence this past week, playing the game over two days at two venues.  Due to unseasonable temperatures out east, condensation formed during the game, postponing play until Thursday morning.  Seton Hall has an odd resume to this point in the season, having won three straight games after dropping four consecutive before that.  The Pirates close with two home games, playing host to Villanova and Butler.  Closing out 10-8 in conference will be deemed a success.
  4. Creighton 20-9 (9-7)  The Bluejays found life and beat Villanova in overtime for a much needed win.  With games against DePaul and Marquette, the Bluejays have an opportunity to steal the 3 seed by going 11-7.  Creighton seems like they can go cold, however, and that does not bode well for a team looking to build consistency heading into the conference tournament.
  5. Butler 19-10 (9-7)  The Bulldogs rank second in both offensive and defensive efficiency according to kenpom.  That bodes well heading into March.  Butler has shown that they can play well against high level opponents, but then go to the opposite end of the spectrum and look lost against an opponent they should beat.  Will Butler win their first Big East tournament game?  The Bulldogs have potential to run the table in the conference tournament or lay an egg and go out after their first game.  Inconsistency has been the issue for Butler over this season.  If they can string together some consistent games, the Bulldogs will be dangerous.
  6. Providence 18-11 (9-7)  The Friars play Xavier and St. John’s to conclude the season, where they will most likely go 1-1 and finish the conference season at 10-8.  The Friars, at this point, are likely in the tournament.  A win in the Big East tournament will help.
  7. Marquette 16-12 (7-9)  The Golden Eagles are highly efficient on offense and essentially choose to not defend.  They have the widest gap between offensive and defensive efficiencies according to kenpom.
  8. Georgetown 15-12 (5-11)  The Hoyas seemed to have figured out a flow and style that work for them.  They can be dangerous in the tournament depending on matchups.
  9. DePaul 11-17 (4-12)  DePaul has shown promise this season and hope to continue to build a program that challenges the top half of the conference in the coming years.
  10. St. Johns 14-15 (3-13)  The Johnnies surprised me this conference season by starting 0-11, then rattling off 4 consecutive wins including against Duke and at Villanova.  They’ve been disappointing, but their identity changed when the injury bug hit them.  With their recent burst of winning, will the Red Storm challenge in the conference tournament and steal a game or two?

Field of 68 Projection – February 24, 2018

The 1s: Virginia, Villanova, Xavier, Kansas

The 2s:Duke, UNC, Michigan State, Auburn

The 3s: Purdue, Arizona, Texas Tech, Cincinnati

The 4s: Wichita State, Tennessee, West Virginia, Gonzaga

The 5s: Ohio State, Kentucky, Clemson, Michigan

The 6s: FSU, Virginia Tech, Houston, Rhode Island

The 7s: Arizona State, Butler, NC State, Missouri

The 8s: Alabama, Miami (FL), Seton Hall, Arkansas

The 9s:Creighton, Florida, Texas A&M, TCU

The 10s: Nevada, Oklahoma, Providence, Kansas State

The 11s: Saint Mary’s (CA), Middle Tennessee, LSU, Texas, Baylor, Washington

The 12s: New Mexico State, Loyola Chicago, Louisiana, St. Bonaventure

The 13s: East Tennessee State, Vermont, Murray State, South Dakota State

The 14s: Bucknell, College of Charleston, Rider, Buffalo

The 15s: Montana, UC-Irvine, Northern Kentucky, Wagner

The 16s: Southern, Savannah State, Nicholls, Florida Gulf Coast, Penn, UNC-Asheville

 

 

Next update: Tuesday, February 27