2017 NCAA Viewing Guide: Round 1
So I was sick a good bit of last week - turns out I missed ... well, not much, actually. (Mind you, I was watching TV and such, just not actively writing a lot.) Purdue didn't drop to a 5 seed. Gonzaga didn't drop to a 2. The selection committee didn't make too many crazy decisions - no huge bubble mistake (USC was an odd inclusion, but only Illinois State really stood out as an omission, and you can't just leave the spot empty), the usual mid-major weirdness (Wichita State as a 10?), and with Northwestern safely in the field, one more good trivia question goes down the drain.
To the televisions! (And other online devices.) All lines per kenpom.
7:27 PM Thursday: 4 Purdue (-8) vs 13 Vermont, truTV
The Catamounts like to drag out possessions and work for shots, although oddly they're in the bottom third of the country in assists per made FG; they don't shoot threes or free throws particularly well, and they're not very tall. If the selection committee wanted to erase the memories of last year's debacle, this was a great choice of opponent for the Boilers. Vermont's success depends largely on factors that apply within America East and not very much outside it; the Good Guys should have a comfortable first-half lead and steadily open it up as the evening rolls along.
UPDATE: Boiled Sports' exclusive preview is now available. Read and enjoy.
4:00 PM Thursday: 5 Minnesota (-2) vs 12 Middle Tennessee, TNT
Yeah, so maybe this wasn't a great draw for the Gophers. Congratulations! You're seeded higher than you deserve, so you get a stronger 12-seed as a result. MTSU didn't play much of anyone and has three bad losses on their resume, but they did crush Vanderbilt by 23 at home in December. The Blue Raiders are another plodding team that relies on two-point shooting and doesn't draw fouls; they do foul on the other end quite a bit (37.9 FTA/FGA, well above the DI average of 35.4), which means Minnesota is likely to spend even more time at the line ... and in a low-tempo game, those free throws are even more important, especially for a poor-shooting team like the Gophers.
If Middle Tennessee can keep the Gophers off the glass, there's a chance they could hang around, and if their defensive pressure can create some easy baskets - the Blue Raiders have a defensive TO% above 20 - Minnesota might not make it to Saturday.
4:30 PM Thursday: 8 Northwestern vs 9 Vanderbilt (-1), TBS
Congratulations! You made your first tournament ever, and now you're one-point underdogs to a team that needed two sheets of paper for the Quality Loss category on their resume. (The Commodores lost 9 games to kenpom top-50 teams.) If you win the Battle of the Brains, your reward is arguably the softest 1 seed in the tournament, so there's that.
Vanderbilt shoots a ton of threes - 48.6% of their shots, highest among tournament teams by far (South Dakota State is second at 46.0%; Michigan is the second-highest power-conference school at 45.1%). Oddly, they probably don't shoot enough of them; they're shooting .483 from two, which suggests more mid-range shots than a three-point team should be taking, especially if you also shoot .776 from the line. Anyway, what's likely here is that Northwestern gets a small lead from open looks inside, Vanderbilt hits a three or two to catch up, and the pattern repeats itself. If the 'Cats can't get to the line (they shoot .751; there won't be a lot of missed FTs in this game), they could struggle to keep up, especially against yet another plodding team.
6:50 PM Thursday: 6 Maryland vs 11 Xavier (-1), TNT
I'll see your quality losses and raise you one: the Musketeers have 10 top-50 losses, but unlike Vanderbilt, they have no bad losses (their worst was a two-point loss at #72 Colorado). The move to the Big East has done wonders for Xavier, even if it didn't help their seed any ... although you could argue that they're better off playing Maryland than, say, 7-seeds Michigan or Saint Mary's.
Just as in previous years, Xavier generates points by crashing the boards (35.2% OReb, 26th in DI), drawing fouls (41.2 FTA/FGA, 39th), and, uh, missing free throws? Their .688 from the line is a big dropoff from the .730 they posted the last two seasons, which may explain why they're in the double-digit seeds instead of significantly higher.
Fortunately for Maryland, the Terrapins are somewhat equipped to deal with that inside game. If Justin Jackson or Kevin Huerter get some open looks from 3 (Xavier allows 39.2 3PA/FGA), the Musketeers could find themselves down big with no way to get back into the game. For as much as Vegas thinks this is an even matchup, I'm just not sure it's as close as it might seem. Someone's going to have to keep Xavier in the game.
9:40 PM Thursday: 8 Wisconsin (-5) vs 9 Virginia Tech, CBS
Fortunately for most of the nation, the creature that is Wisconsin's dysfunctional offense has been shuffled off to the late-night stage in Buffalo to face a Virginia Tech team with the kind of defense that might make them look good. Unfortunately for Badgers fans, the Hokies have one of the best collections of outside shooters in basketball (.403 from three), so Wisconsin must keep them off the perimeter in order to have a chance in this game.
Yeah, that sounds kind of alarmist, but the thing is that when you run a low-tempo offense and don't shoot well (.508/.355/.644), you can't build a safe lead. The one thing that favors Wisconsin is that VT does not keep opponents off the offensive boards (29.9% OReb, 211th); those second-chance opportunities may keep Virginia Tech from building a halftime lead.
Ohio State ran up 83 on Wisconsin partly by nailing open threes (10-16). Iowa didn't shoot as well (9 for 19) but didn't need to; even Northwestern found outside success (7 for 17), as did the Good Guys (7 for 15). It won't have escaped Buzz Williams' notice that Wisconsin dropped from 10-1 to 12-6 in large part due to something the Hokies do well. Neither team is equipped to deal with Villanova, but Virginia Tech would at least make it look more interesting.
12:15 PM Friday: 7 Michigan (-1) vs 10 Oklahoma State, CBS
Woe to those of you who didn't plan well and have to work Friday, because the best game of the day is likely the noon matchup from Indianapolis. Like Michigan, Oklahoma State spent the early part of the season looking nothing like a tournament team; while they didn't finish like the Wolverines did (dropping three straight, including their conference tournament opener against Iowa State), in between they won 10 of 11, with their lone loss a three-pointer at home to Baylor.
The Cowboys have the most efficient offense in the country despite shooting .403 from three and yet taking a less-than-average number of threes; they get their money's worth by crashing the glass (38.0% OReb, 6th) and hitting all the free throws (.787, 5th). They don't really draw that many fouls, though ... almost like a team that still hasn't found the perfect mix on offense yet.
On defense, well ... yeah. Their defense is straight out of the Huggy Bear School of Fouling: 45.6 FTA/FGA, which is 334th (only South Carolina is worse among tournament teams; for reference, Villanova is 1st at 21.8, and Purdue is 2nd at 22.7). Michigan is right behind OSU at the line (.775, 10th), so it won't matter that Michigan's offense doesn't tend to draw fouls (30.5 FTA/FGA) - the Cowboys will commit them anyway.
It's hard to see Michigan's new-found defense crumbling ... but red-hot outside shooting can help you out of pretty much any hole you dig for yourselves. Will it be enough to get OSU to a second-round date with Louisville, or will the conference tournament champs get the rematch of the 2013 championship they clearly desire? A complete team seems like a better pick than a one-sided group to me.
9:20 PM Friday: 9 Michigan State vs 8 Miami FL (-1), TNT
In yet another nod to the fans, this matchup of good defenses and moribund offenses was pushed to the 9:20 slot so that most everyone will be too drunk to remember having to watch it. The Spartans shoot pretty well (except at the line, .664), but also turn it over a lot; the Hurricanes don't shoot very well and also turn it over a lot. Fun times!
Here's a fun game: drink every time someone turns the ball over. Don't say I didn't warn you.