March Madness Preview
Our favorite college basketball month is upon us, and everyone is racking their brains at who they should pick when filling out their bracket. Whether you like to analyze the stats behind the teams, pick based off of team’s mascots or simply throw darts at a wall to make your decisions, coming out strong in the first few days is very important. I can’t predict the future, but I tell you why I like the following seven teams in the upcoming tournament.
#12 Princeton: 23-6 (14-0 conference)
First Matchup: vs. Notre Dame 25-9 (12-6)
Everyone remember last year’s representative from the Ivy League? Fifth seed Yale knocked off #12 Baylor 79-75 last season. The year before that? Number four North Carolina narrowly escaped Harvard 67-65 in the 2015 bracket. Princeton likes to attack from beyond the arc, nearly averaging the same number of three-pointers per game as free throws. There’s no guarantee Princeton can pull off an upset against a relatively strong Notre Dame unit, but as winners of their past 19 games, the Tigers are definitely a team not to be looked over.
#12 Middle Tennessee State University 30-4 (17-1)
First Matchup: vs. Minnesota 24-9 (11-7)
The Blue Raiders are back in the tournament, fresh off a major upset of #2 Michigan State as a #15 last season. Winners in 20 of their last 21 games, Middle Tennessee has a dangerous trio of Giddy Potts, Reggie Upshaw and Arkansas transfer Jacorey Williams that average a combined 47 points per game. Minnesota is having a strong season coming off an 8 win year in 2016, but we’ve seen a #12 beat a #5 in all but four years since 1985. In the past five years, #12 seeds have the same number of wins as the #5 seeds.
#11 Rhode Island 24-9 (13-5)
First Matchup: vs. Creighton 26-9 (10-8)
The Rams are participating in their first NCAA tournament since 1999, clinching a spot after making a run to win the A10 title. They’re riding an eight-game winning streak into the tournament and have compiled a 3-1 record against top 25 teams this year. Rhode Island has played well defensively, led by six foot seven Hassan Martin averaging 2.5+ blocks per game. Creighton made a run for the Big East title but hold a mere 7-8 record since losing point guard Maurice Watson to a season-ending injury.
#10 Wichita State 30-4 (17-1)
First Matchup: vs. Dayton 24-7 (15-3)
Last year the Shockers were ranked as a low #11 seed, and they went on to knock off Vanderbilt and a #6 Arizona. It wouldn’t be much of an upset if they beat Dayton, odd makers have Wichita favored by -6.5 as of Monday morning. One of the top three-point shooting teams in the country; the only concern with them is they’ve only played one game this season against a top 25 team, which they lost. Another interesting note would be that the Shockers could play Kentucky in the round of 32, assuming both make it out of the first round. Don’t count the Shockers out, they’ve won nine games in the past four tournaments, tied for fourth most wins in that span.
#5 Iowa State 23-10 (12-6)
First Matchup: vs. Nevada 28-6 (14-4)
Apparently, Iowa State beating Nevada wouldn’t be considered an upset because the Cyclones are the higher seed. The intriguing matchup would be if Iowa State is able to make it until the Sweet 16, they could potentially end up playing #1 seed Kansas. Keep in mind, the Cyclones knocked off Kansas 92-89 in Kansas back in February, snapping the Jayhawks 54 home game winning streak. There’s no certainty that this matchup ends up happening, both teams would have to win two games to make it to that point, but it’s always good to look ahead and dream.
#13 East Tennessee State University 27-7 (14-4)
First Matchup: vs. Florida 24-8 (14-4)
This one would definitely shake up a few brackets if the Buccaneers could surprise the Gators in the first round. The Bucs have won 13 of their last 15 and are bringing the 7th oldest squad into the tournament. It’s the first time they’ve gone dancing since 2010, and they’re led in scoring by senior TJ Cromer with 19.1 points per game. On the flip side, the Gators suffered three losses to unranked Vanderbilt and lack presence in the paint with 6’10 John Egbunu out for the season with an injury. If East Tennessee can force turnovers and crash the boards on the Gators, they could give Florida a run for their money early in the tournament.
#14 New Mexico State University 28-5 (11-3)
First Matchup: vs. Baylor 25-7 (12-6)
This one might be a stretch because NMSU is 0-8 in their past eight tournaments and haven’t won a matchup since 1993 but the Aggies are led by senior guard Ian Baker averaging 16.7 ppg and play stellar defense, ranked top 5 nationwide in blocks and top20 in offensive rebounds percentage. On the other hand, Baylor has lost six of their past 11 games including a recent one against Kansas State. Baylor is the heavy favorite to win, but a #14 has beaten a #3 in five straight seasons, including Stephen F Austin eliminating West Virginia early last tournament.
Any one of the teams above could possibly make a run in the tournament or flame out in the first round. The truth is: we really don’t know, and that’s what makes March Madness so enjoyable and so frustrating at the same time. You’ve got a 1 in 9.2 quintillion shot at picking every matchup correctly. As once said in the Hunger Games series, “May the odds be ever in your favor!”