Predicting Every NCAA Tournament Game- Play in Round

Posted: 03/19/2014 by levcohen in Basketball, NCAA

Time to pick part II of the play in round. I’m 2-0 so far, as both Albany and NC State advanced. The Albany-Mount St Mary’s game was actually quite interesting, with 21-2 runs for both teams to start the game. It was a true clash of styles, and Albany won it in the end. I was impressed with DJ Evans, a height-challenged guard who scored 22 points and had nine rebounds. In the end, it was the cold shooting of MSM’s top two players (Rashad Whack shot 4-17 including 2-10 from three point range. Jordan Norfleet shot 3-14 including 1-9 from three) that was the deciding factor in this game. Albany has no chance against Florida, because they really aren’t a great basketball team and made some silly mistakes. The North Carolina State-Xavier game was never really in question. NC State looked really good, and has a great shot of upsetting Saint Louis in the round of 64. Xavier finished their season poorly, losing 10 of their last 18. Now let’s look at today’s games.

16 Cal Poly (13-19) vs 16 Texas Southern (19-14):
Spread: Cal Poly favored by 3.5
Cal Poly went just 6-10 in the Big West but ended up stealing a bid with a record six games below .500 by winning their conference tournament. This is after they came into the tournament ranked just seventh out of nine Big West teams. They had won just three of their 13 games heading into the tournament. They have an RPI of 212, and their best win came against UC Santa Barbara, who they beat twice, including once in the tournament. Not including the tournament, Cal Poly had just two wins against the RPI top 200: one against UCSB and one against Hawaii. They do have some experience against tourney teams, losing to a one seed (Arizona), a seven seed (Oregon), a nine seed (Pittsburgh), and a 10 seed (Stanford) by an average of 16.5 points. Given that all four games were on the road, that’s not terrible. The Mustangs are terrible offensively (327th in college basketball at 63.2 points per game) and are shooting just 41% for the season. They do much better defensively, ranking 36th in the country with a 63.4 points against average. Their leading scorer, a forward named Chris Eversley, averages just 13.6 points per game, and the Mustangs have just two players averaging in double figures and just four players averaging more than five points per game, which is frightening.

Texas Southern didn’t have a great regular season, either. Their RPI is 245, and they don’t have a single respectable win. Their best wins were against Southern University and Temple, both outside the top 150, and they lost their two games against legitimate tournament teams (Stanford and Tulsa) by at least 25 points each. It’s interesting to note that Texas Southern fared worse in their game against Stanford than Cal Poly did, but both lost by large margins. To get to the NCAA tourney, Texas Southern beat three teams with an average RPI of 301. It was an easy path, as the SWAC is one of the worst conferences in D-1, and had a bunch of schools ineligible for the tournament this year. This could be another clash of styles. The Tigers average 76.2 points per game, just outside the top 50 in college basketball, and shoot 46% from the field. Defensively, they aren’t good, allowing 73.7 points per game. They, at least, have Aaric Murray. Murray was a top recruit for La Salle, and had real NBA potential. But he left or was kicked out of La Salle and subsequently West Virginia, subsequently got his act together, and now averages 21 points, eight rebounds, and nearly three blocks per game.
In another clash of styles, I’ll pick the mini upset, with Murray leading Texas Southern to victory against Cal Poly in a game featuring perhaps the two worst teams in the field of 68.

11 Iowa (20-12) vs 11 Tennessee (21-12)
Spread: Iowa favored by 1.5
This is a match-up between two teams who are very talented but underperformed at points of the regular season. The winner will probably be favored against a slumping Massachusetts team in the round of 64. Iowa is a special case for a couple of reasons. The first has nothing to do with basketball. Fran McCaffery, the Hawkeyes’ coach, left the team on Tuesday night to be with his son, who had surgery this morning to remove a thyroid tumor. McCaffery is flying to Dayton and will coach this game, and this will likely have an impact on the game. The Hawkeyes could well rally for their coach and play a terrific game, but McCaffery’s mind will likely be at least partially with his son and not fully on the game. The Hawkeyes need to bounce back both for their coach and because, after being considered a final four sleeper for much of the season, they slumped badly and nearly missed the tournament. They lost six of their last seven games, and only two of those losses were against tournament teams. Before that, though, they had five wins against the RPI top 50, including a win over second seeded Michigan and a road win over sixth seeded Ohio State. But their best win outside of the Big 10 was against UTEP, and their non conference strength of schedule was 183. The sad thing is that Iowa was so close to a few wins that would have boosted them well above needing to play in Dayton before the actual tournament starts. They lost by five to Villanova, three to Iowa State, a combined nine in two games against Wisconsin, eight in Michigan, and two against Michigan State. They were so close to getting a huge win against a top four seed, but failed each time. Their biggest loss ALL SEASON was by 10 in Michigan State, which is amazing given the fact that they lost 12 games total. This team is terrific offensively, averaging 82 points per game (10th in college basketball). They have an adjusted 120.1 points per 100 possessions, which ranks fourth in the country. They are also a great rebounding team, a top-15 team in terms of assists per game, and one that is good at forcing turnovers defensively (they have a soft defense, though). They don’t shoot a lot of threes, but do grab 38.1 percent of available offensive rebounds. They have a point differential of +11.9 this season. Their top scorer, Roy Devyn Marble (what a name that is), averages a shade over 17 points per game. They have a big man named Aaron White who averages 13 points and seven rebounds per game and just happens to shoot 59% from the field and 81% from the line. You can see that this is a good team. They just lost close game after close game.

Tennessee is similar in a lot of ways, with the biggest being their inability to close out big wins. They lost by nine to Florida in the regular season and led the Gators in the conference tournament for most of the game before falling apart down the stretch and losing by seven. Win either game, and they are a single digit seed. They lost by nine at Wichita State, who happen to be the most talked about team in the nation. They failed to add a valuable top-50 road win in losses at Xavier (by four), at Kentucky (by eight), and at Missouri (by five). They also lost to Texas A&M. Twice. It’s hard to take a team that lost to A&M twice seriously. So why are they in the tournament? It’s mostly their shocking 35 point December win over Virginia. I can’t explain it. I don’t know if anyone can. That’s their linchpin win, but they don’t have any other great wins. Unlike Iowa, though, it looks like Tennessee was getting hot at the right time. Before their close loss against Florida, their previous four games were a 38 point win over Vanderbilt, a 28 point win over Auburn, a 27 points win over Missouri, and a 15 point win over South Carolina. The Volunteers are a defensive minded team, as they are allowing just 61.1 points per game (16th lowest). They are tremendous on the offensive boards, which bodes well in the tournament, and are also a great perimeter-defending team. Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon are nightmares for opponents on the offensive boards, both shoot 53%, and average 18.5 combined rebounds per game.
This match-up has to be the most interesting of the four. These are the two best teams playing in the first four, and both have the potential to beat UMass and maybe shock Duke after that. Iowa is much better offensively, but Tennessee has done better lately. I like Iowa because I think they are the better team. They’ll be motivated for perhaps the first time in a while, and I think their offensive prowess is enough to win. Plus, when in doubt pick the team from the best conference in basketball rather than the one in the most disappointing. But I’ll probably regret this, because Iowa isn’t playing well at all.

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