By Chad Horner
Yesterday, I posted my picks for the tournament games that will be played tomorrow; I’m back with my picks for Friday’s games.
Once again, I encourage you to join our Tournament Challenge group and compete against our writers and readers!
On to the picks. As with yesterday, games appear in the order that they will be played.
The Rebels are peaking at the right time, and their fast-paced style of play is something that the Badgers aren’t used to seeing in the Big 10. However, in four games against tournament teams this year with more than 66 possessions (the midpoint between the Rebels’ (71) and Badgers’ (62) averages), Wisconsin is 3-1, beating Michigan, Illinois, and Cal, and falling to Creighton. If Ole Miss manages to control the pace, which I don’t expect to happen, Wisconsin still has a good chance. I’m going with the Badgers here, but it’ll be closer than people expect.
Full disclosure: I am an avid NC State fan. However, this is a great matchup for the Wolfpack. The Owls have a mediocre defense, and I don’t see them stopping NC State from going for at least 75 or 80 points. The Pack’s two biggest weaknesses are forcing turnovers and preventing opponents from getting offensive rebounds; Temple doesn’t turn the ball over very much anyway, and they don’t do a good job of offensive rebounding. I don’t see them being able to take advantage of any of the holes in NC State’s game. The Wolfpack should win comfortably.
Since knocking off Marquette in overtime back in January, Cincinnati has played 7 games against the tournament teams from the Big East – they’re 1-6 in those games, with the one win coming at home against Villanova. There was a point in time this season when they were playing like an elite team, but that was a long time ago. Creighton – the best shooting team in the country – should be able to overcome the Bearcats tough defense.
Kansas State’s opponent, and my confidence in this pick, hinges on the outcome of tonight’s First Four matchup between Boise State and La Salle. I really like the Broncos’ chances of upsetting Kansas State. They’ve proven that they can beat, and compete, with top teams away from home – they defeated Creighton on the road, and lost on the road to Michigan State, UNLV, and San Diego State by a combined 9 points. I can’t trust La Salle as much, although they have beaten VCU on the road, and defeated Butler and Villanova at home as well. Either way, this is mainly a pick against a Kansas State team that I find incredibly overrated. Unlike whoever their opponent will be, they do not have a single impressive road win this season – yes, technically they defeated Florida on a neutral court, but the game was played in Kansas City. I feel very good about the Broncos’ chances of pulling off the upset, and pretty good about the Crusaders’ as well.
Colorado has two strengths that match up particularly well with weaknesses in the Illini. First, they have a strong shooting defense. When is the last time Illinois shot over 45.3% from the field? January 5th! Over two months ago! They’re also in the bottom 100 in the country in terms of defensive rebound rate, while Colorado is in the top 100 in offensive rebound rate. It’s a good matchup for the Buffaloes, and I expect them to advance.
Each of these teams has seen drastic improvement over the second half of the season, and both are coming into the tournament playing their best basketball of the year. Villanova relies on free throws for points more than any other team in the country, by a lot. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the Tar Heels don’t foul people! Without the points from free throws that they normally rely on, I expect Villanova to fall to North Carolina to win this one.
This has to be one of the least enticing matchups of the first round. It should be quite a defensive struggle. Although the Aztecs have a great defense, Oklahoma has proven they can beat a great defense, two of them actually: Kansas and OK State. I think it’ll be very close, but I’ll go with the Sooners here, more on a hunch than anything else.
Both teams have elite offenses according to Kenpom – Notre Dame 12th, Iowa St. 8th – but they do it in very different ways. Iowa State is 34th in the nation in adjusted tempo, Notre Dame is 320th. There aren’t any teams in the Big East who play at a pace faster than the Cyclones, except for DePaul, the worst team in the league. How did Notre Dame do against the Blue Demons of DePaul? They beat them twice. But both games went to overtime. I don’t think that bodes well for them here. The Cyclones will be able to control the pace, and that will allow them to be victorious.
At first glance, this seems like an obvious pick based off of the way the teams will match up inside – the Gophers are first in the country in offensive rebound rate, while the Bruins are 267th in the country in defensive rebound rate. Tons of second chances for Minnesota right!? Well, yes. Unfortunately that doesn’t always seem to matter. The Golden Gophers have played 3 teams this season – Florida State, Illinois, and Northwestern – who do a worse job than UCLA of preventing their opponents from getting offensive rebounds, and yet they are only 3-3 against these teams. So why pick them anyway? Well, all of that aside, they’ve just played better than UCLA has this season, and the Bruins just lost Jordan Adams, who has been their best offensive player (sorry Shabazz), for the rest of the year.