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NCAA March Madness a quick look at the round of 64

By Nate Burns - 7 years ago in More Sports News

NCAA March Madness is here!

The 2017 NCAA tournament starts tomorrow! We hope you’re as excited as we are. It would be exhausting to preview every game in the round of 64, so here are a few of Thursday’s matchups that intrigue us.

#9 Virginia Tech vs #8 Wisconsin

This is Virginia Tech’s first tournament appearance since 2007. They run an efficient, yet odd offense that ranks ninth nationally in 3pt percentage (40.9) and 18th in 2pt percentage (54.8). They have four players that averaged double digit points this season, yet strangely, their two highest scoring players don’t even start. Seniors, Zach DeLay and Seth Allen combined for nearly 30 points per game off the bench. Head coach, Buzz Williams has steadily improved the program since his arrival in 2014. The team may not have any tournament experience but Williams has shown that he can conjure March magic, most recently as Marquette’s coach.

The Badgers were a top-10 team for the first three months of the season but then hit a cold streak. They rallied for the Big Ten conference tournament and managed to make it to the championship game where they lost 71-56 to Michigan. Wisconsin’s trademark is their defense. They ranked 11th nationally in defensive efficiency. They are not good shooters, but they are experienced in tournament play. This is the team’s 19th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. They have made the Sweet 16 the last three years and five of the last six years, and they have won more NCAA tournament games (11) over the last three years, than any other team.

My take-
I think experience wins out. VT can do some good things offensively but the Badgers can play well enough on defense to slow down a Hokies team that lost a major inside presence in Chris Clark, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in February. I think Wisconsin will win this game by single digits. The winner will likely play #1 seed Villanova.

#10 VCU vs #7 Saint Mary’s

The Saint Mary’s Gaels put together a 28-4 season and finished the regular season ranked 21 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and 19th by the Associated Press. Three of their four losses were to top seeded Gonzaga. Yet with this success comes the fact the Gaels only have two wins against RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) Top 50 teams (Nevada and Dayton). They were 8-4 against top-100 teams and 15-0 against teams top-150 and higher. Saint Mary’s was the second best defensive team in the nation during the regular season, holding opponents to 56.5 points per game. They are second nationally in rebounding margin (9.3 per game) and fourth in fewest total fouls (14.8 per game). This is their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2013.

VCU has a deep team and aggressive style of play. This season they suited nine players who played in 30+ games and averaged double-digit minutes. This is a deep team. VCU had a 19-game win streak this year, was 3-3 over the last six games, and reached the conference tournament finals. The Rams are 28-8 and have one of the nation’s best scoring margins (8.6) and they have an aggressive defense that forced just over 15 turnovers per game in the regular season. This is VCU’s seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. This is the third consecutive year the Rams have been given a No. 10 seed.

My take– St. Mary’s has a quality team that hasn’t had much quality competition and that is going to be a factor. VCU has been in a slump lately, but they’ve been here before and I think their aggressive style is going to be too much for St. Mary’s to handle. VCU wins in single digits.

#5 Minnesota vs #12 Middle Tennessee

Middle Tennessee made the tournament last year as a 15 seed, and pulled a first round surprise upset over perennial powerhouse Michigan State; a 2 seed. MT returns to the tournament as an even better, more experienced team, and added a transfer from Arkansas, JaCorey Williams, who is the teams leading scorer and rebounder. The Blue Raiders have an effective outside game as well, shooting 37% from 3 point range as a team.

Minnesota won 24 games this year, after losing 23 the year before. They are led by Big 10 coach of the year, Richard Pitino, son of HOF coach Rick Pitino. They are a good defensive team, leading the nation with 6.8 blocks a game. They also have the Big 10 defensive player of the year, Reggie Lynch, who had 111 blocks this year; a Golden Gopher record. Unfortunately, they lost 3pt specialist, Akeem Springs and his almost 10 points a game, for the rest of the year in the Big 10 tourney.

My Take– If you could call a potential upset a lock, this would be one. Middle Tennessee is a strong team with tournament experience, while this is Pitino’s first trip to the Dance. The Gophers are grossly overrated at a 5 seed, and MT is the best 12 seed. Historically, we’ve seen a lot of upsets in the 12vs5 matchup, and this looks like another. The winner of this game gets the winner of Winthrop/Butler. Don’t be surprised if Middle Tennessee makes the sweet 16.

#8 Miami vs #9 Michigan St.

Miami finished seventh in the ACC and had wins over Virginia, UNC and Duke, which were key for getting into the tournament. The Hurricanes are led by guard, Davon Reed, who averages 15.0 points per game. Miami is making its third NCAA Tournament appearance under coach Jim Larranaga, who guided the Hurricanes to the Sweet 16 in their two previous March Madness excursions. Last season, Miami advanced through the first weekend before losing to eventual national champion Villanova.

Michigan State finished fifth in the Big Ten, and recorded wins over Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Spartans are led by Miles Bridges, who averages 16.7 points per game. The team is making its 20th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. The Spartans finished in a four-way tie for fifth in the Big Ten standings, but they’re still a team that nobody wants to see in March. Michigan State advanced at least to the Sweet 16 every year from 2012 to 2015 and earned a Final Four berth in 2015.

My Take– Due to injuries the Spartans only have two players averaging double-digits in points, and their third highest scorer is only at 6.7 points per game. Miami features the stronger defense and I can’t see the Spartans doing enough offensively in this game.

#8 Northwestern vs #9 Vanderbilt

This is one of the best stories in college basketball – the program’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament following the best season in the school’s history. Sans, the ugly Big Ten semifinal loss to Wisconsin, it’s a better team than many are giving them credit for. Northwestern is an aggressive team and they are great at blocking shots, coming up with big rebounds, and playing with high energy. Northwestern received the No. 8 seed with big wins over Wisconsin, Michigan, Maryland, and Wake Forest in non-conference play. There are a couple of players to watch here. Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law have played at a high level this season. Standing 6’5″ and weighing 210 pounds, Lindsey scores an average of 14.2 points per game. The 6’7″ Law averages 12.4 points per game from the forward spot.

The #9 seed Vanderbilt Commodores have the dubious distinction of being the first team ever selected for the NCAA Tournament with 15 losses on the season. Vanderbilt helped its cause by beating the ranked Florida teams, three times during the season, including a win over the Gators on Friday in the SEC Tournament. They’re not deep, and they rely on the three way too much, but the Commodores could be dangerous. From his days at Valparaiso, head coach, Bryce Drew, knows a little about stepping up with big performances in March. If they hope to advance in the tournament, they can’t get into shootouts. When the outside shot is going down, they can hang around with anyone, but their defense doesn’t force enough mistakes and they don’t move the ball around well enough. Keep it close, though, and they’ll win it with a 3 or on the free throw line.

My take– Thanks for the heartwarming story, Northwestern, now go home.


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