By Chad Horner
Over the next two nights, I’ll be posting my picks for each game in the first round of the tournament. For most of the matchups involving 4 seeds or higher, I felt that an explanation wasn’t necessarily needed.
Also, if you have a bracket already filled out, then join the Princeton Sports Analytics group on ESPN’s Tournament Challenge! See how you do against some of our other writers and readers.
Now, on to the picks. Games appear in the order in which they will be played.
Butler is incredibly overrated. Yes, they are one of only two teams in the field who has defeated 2 of the #1 seeds – Illinois being the other (they each beat both Indiana and Gonzaga) – but the metrics don’t back up their lofty seeding. They are an above average team, offensively and defensively, but they don’t do anything incredibly well – there isn’t one statistic, or player, that makes you say “Wow”. Bucknell, on the other hand, is fourth in the nation in effective field goal defense, and second in defensive rebound rate. They also have Mike Muscala. If you haven’t heard of Muscala, he’s almost definitely the best player you’ve never heard of. He is first in the country in defensive rebound rate, and also ranks in the top 100 in Kenpom’s Offensive Rating, turnover rate, block rate, and fouls drawn per 40 minutes. He does everything well, and it will be up to him to lead Bucknell to victory. They’re bigger than Butler, and come Thursday, I expect the Bison to be better than them too.
The Panthers play at a deliberate pace – 339th in the country in adjusted tempo. If they are able to control the tempo, the Shockers will be in trouble – they are 4-4 in games with 60 or less possessions (Pittsburgh’s season average). Wichita State is a strong team, but Pitt, regardless of their seed, is one of the best in the country – 7th in Kenpom, 10th in Sagarin, 15th in BPI. The Panthers should advance.