This is arguably the best regular season Syracuse side ever, these guys score are among the best in the nation in scoring (81+ ppg) and shooting (52%), and they hold opponents to 40% shooting. Problem is this is not a particularly deep side, foul shooting is an issue, and they don’t crash the boards especially well. So the things you need to do at tourney time they don’t do, and that is going to matter in a not-so-easy region. Hard to argue with their seeding, but no team has ever won an NCAA Tournament after having been eliminated from their conference tournament in the quarters. Vermont’s last visit to the tournament they won their first-round game against – wait for it – SYRACUSE. Plus, they know how to win on the road. As much as I would like to see an upset, Vermont isn’t that lucky this time. But when the shooting goes out – and mark my words, it will – better rebounding teams like Pittsburgh, Kansas State, Xavier, Brigham Young, and Florida State are likely to be waiting.
Don’t be fooled by the seedings: Gonzaga and Florida State is not the matchup you think it is. Kudos to Mark Few for building an Top 20 program in Spokane, but this team has not been able to get out of the Sweet 16 since 1998 and I’m tired of waiting on them to do so. One of the best shooting teams in the nation at 50% but very susceptible to physical, inside play, Few has good athletes but no elite ones. Florida State has an inside presence that can carry them far, which explains why they never rely on 3-point shooting. Plus, the starters all average more than 10 ppg, so if one goes cold there’s somebody else to step up. Add to that Few’s bitching and moaning about having to go to Buffalo to play a subregional and you have the makings of a Seminole uprising.
UPSET SPECIAL #2: One of the harder subregions to call, because Butler is hot right now, winning 20 in a row. The Bulldogs average 46% shooting and does mostly everything well, but they can’t shoot treys (34%), so they might want to keep in basic if they want to go far. UTEP is probably the wrong kind of opponent for Butler in the first round, just the kind of turnover-inducing, defense-intensive team (39% opposition shooting, 32% opposition 3-pointers) Butler loses to early. Judging by the number of NBA scouts that have been attending Butler games this year there may be some NBA talent in Indianapolis, but outside of last year there usually is a 5-12 upset or two in every NCAA Tournament. I’m betting this is one of them.
Vanderbilt doesn’t do anything especially well, they just do everything consistently, plus they don’t beat themselves. They do shoot 48% from the field and 73% from the charity stripe, so they don’t take bad shots and they perform the simplest tasks. 30-4 Murray State does way, way, way too many things really well. There isn’t a deeper, more balanced team in the field. The Racers (I love that nickname) are third in the country in shooting (50%), one of the best in the country in crashing the boards (plus-6), and they bring the defensive heat (11 steals). Problem is, Murray State had one of the weakest schedules in the NCAA. Let’s not kid ourselves, even at 30-4 if they hadn’t won their conference tournament the Racers would have gotten nowhere near the NCAA’s. Murray State’s last tournament win was in 1988; don’t count on this one being their next.
Anybody who knows me knows I’m never sold on Xavier. Not the world’s toughest schedule but they do score points (80 ppg) and hold teams to below 30% from 3-point range. Despite their run in the Big Ten tournament the only thing remarkable about Minnesota’s run to the tourney were their personal losses. Sure they beat Purdue but the Boilermakers have had injury crises down the stretch. Not the world’s best matchup but look for the Musketeers to at least win this one…
…Because Pittsburgh is nobody’s bitch. Sure they lost a ton of talent from the team that went to the Elite 8 last year but Jamie Dixon knows how to find tough, physical and athletic grinders who will also create opportunities on the offensive end. The Panthers don’t do anything especially well but they are a young team that isn’t afraid to take people on. It isn’t pretty but it is very effective. Oakland of Michigan turns the ball over way too much, panic when they fall behind, and are pathetic shooters from outside. Given their strength of schedule – or lack thereof – a 14-seed is being kind. Pittsburgh in a walk to the Sweet 16. They aren’t back yet, but the Panthers will be sometime in the next year or two.
Gawd I hate Billy Donovan! Exactly who the hell did he fuck to even get into the tournament and get gifted a 10-seed? Florida shouldn’t be anywhere near this tournament. Brigham Young – the best team in the country in scoring margin (19) and free throw percentage (79%), and third in scoring (84) — is going to wipe up the floor with the Gators. Quite frankly, I would ordinarily take BYU to go to the Sweet 16…
…If Kansas State wasn’t going to be waiting for them in the Round of 32. Not the world’s most talented squad but these guys play with a ferocity that I just love. Even against the best teams in the country the Wildcats may not have won but they sure kept it close and made their opponents realize they were in a street fight. Two things that kill them, though; they get turnover-prone, and they are horrid at the free throw line – and those are two things that can kill you. Not much to impress you about North Texas State, but they are scrappy and they find ways to win close games. Just like any underdog they stress ball security and three-point shooting. One of the more interesting 2-15 matchups this year, K-State is going to have to bury them early; you don’t want to let a team this scrappy hang around. That said, the K-State/BYU matchup in the second round will be entertaining as hell. Take K-State to get to the Sweet 16.