Predicting Every NCAA Tournament Game- Play in Round

Posted: 03/18/2014 by levcohen in Basketball, NCAA

Because it’s super fun, I’m going to be picking every single game in the NCAA tournament. Unlike in brackets, though, I’ll be picking them round-to-round. I’ll still get embarrassed, but at least I won’t be stuck with picking, say, Louisville to win it all and then the Cardinals subsequently losing in the first round (or second round, as they call it now. Those pesky play in games). Still, these games are nearly impossible to pick, which is why Warren Buffett won’t likely pay out his promised billion dollars to a perfect bracket. But I’m going to try, and since the first “play in” games are tonight, I’ll pick that round today.

16 Albany (18-14) vs. 16 Mount St. Mary’s (16-16)
Spread: Albany favored by 2
Well, I don’t know much about either team. Scratch that, I don’t know anything about these teams. They both entered their conference tournaments as #4 seeds in their bracket but both went all the way through their tourneys (by the way, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: giving an auto bid to conference tourney champions rather than regular season champions is absurd. Instead of ensuring the best teams possible are in, the field gets watered down. See: Albany and Mount St. Mary’s). Albany’s best win is against Vermont. They’ve played one RPI top 100 team, losing to Pittsburgh by 12 (not too bad, actually). Their best player, Peter Hooley, is a redshirt sophomore who averages 16 points, including more than two threes, per game. This is a bad offensive team (66 ppg, 287th in college basketball) and a solid defensive team (63.8 points allowed, 39th). They play very slowly.
Mount St. Mary’s have a RPI at 192, ten spots below Albany. Their style contrasts Albany’s greatly, as they play very fast paced and offensively minded. They shoot a lot of threes, and are terrible defensively. They have a little more experience against tournament teams, but unfortunately haven’t come close to beating one. They lost by 31 to second seeded Villanova, by 32 to 10th seeded BYU, and 33 to fourth seeded Michigan State. To be fair, all three were road games. Their best win was over American University. MSM average 10 more points than Albany, but are a dreadful 334th (out of 349) defensively, giving up 78 points per game and not forcing many turnovers. They also don’t rebound much. MSM has a pair of players averaging over 17 points per game named Rashad Whack and Julian Norfleet, and they average more than four threes per game together.
This game will be a clash of styles, and I think Albany ends up winning because MSM is that bad defensively.

12 NC State (21-13) vs 12 Xavier (21-12)
Spread: Xavier favored by 4
Now to some more familiar teams. Every year there is a shocking decision made by the selection committee. This year, it was including a NC State team that has a very mediocre resume. I think the decision must have been influenced by T.J. Warren, the ACC player of the year and one of the best players in the country. Warren averages 25 points on 53% shooting, and adds seven boards and nearly two steals per game. He’s a fun player to watch, and he deserves to play in the tournament. If he goes cold, though, NC State is in trouble. The problem for Xavier is that he never goes cold. Warren is terrific, and has topped 40 points twice in the past few weeks. Their win over Syracuse in the tournament was huge, and they have also beaten Pitt and Tennessee on the road, which bodes well. Their point differential (+1.3) is unimpressive and State has lost to teams like North Carolina Central and Miami at home. They are just 11-13 against top 150 teams, which is probably one of the worst marks among at large teams (not that I’d do the research). If Warren is hot, they have a chance.
I think Xavier is favored only because this game is in Dayton, so they’ll have a home court advantage. On the court, they have lost nine of their last 17 games. With an RPI of 48, they are slightly ahead of NC State, and they have wins against two top five seeds (Creighton and Cincinnati), something NC State can’t claim. While they have nine wins against the top 100, only one of those has been on the road. Their point differential (+3.3) is slightly better than their opposition, as they rank in the top half of college basketball (albeit not in the top 100 in either) both offensively and defensively. Their best player, Semaj Christon, isn’t an outside threat but is a great dribble driver, and draws a lot of fouls. If he can get Warren in foul trouble, the Musketeers will win this game.
I don’t think either of these teams is all that good, so I’ll pick the team with the best player. North Carolina State wins, and semi-validates the committee’s selection of them, even though that isn’t how it should work.

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