March Madness First Round Predictions and Analysis -Midwest


#1 Kansas vs. #16 Texas A&M CC/Texas Southern

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#8 San Diego St vs. #9 Creighton – Mark Ruelle

This is a matchup that features two teams that reached their respective conference tournament finals before falling to the eventual champion. SDSU is one of the best defensive teams in the country and thrives on keeping games in the 50s. They are led by sharp-shooting guard Matt Bradley, who is doubling the next closest scorer on the team with over 17 points per game. The Aztecs held the opposition to 58 points per game on 38% shooting this season. They also force 14 turnovers per game and have kept the opposition under 200 3pt field goals for the season. Creighton fought through adversity down the stretch and reached the Big East Tournament final. The Bluejays lost starting point guard Ryan Nembhard for the season in late February and went just 1-2 to close the regular season without him. They found their stride in the Big East Tournament led by big man Ryan Kalkbrenner’s 16 points per game and 9 rebounds. Like SDSU, the Bluejays are driven by defense. They held the opposition to 58 points per game during the Big East tournament. They are turnover prone with over 14 per game, which could prove costly against the efficient Aztecs. Prediction: San Diego State -2.5

#5 Iowa vs. #12 Richmond – Mark Ruelle

Richmond comes in hot, with 4 straight wins in the A-10 tournament to earn a spot here. They are a veteran team that won’t get rattled in close games. The Spiders are led by senior graduate students Jacob Gilyard and Grant Golden. Gilyard is one of the quickest players in college basketball and is coming off an outstanding tournament including 26 points in the title game. Golden is the second all-time leading scorer in Richmond history. Forward Tyler Burton leads the team in scoring and rebounding. While Richmond is hot, Iowa comes in as one of the hottest teams in the country with wins in 9 of its last 10 games. They are led by All-American Keegan Murray and one of the best offenses in the country that is playing high-level basketball right now. The Hawkeyes have six players with 20+ 3pt field goals this season. The Hawkeyes will win this game but it’ll be close. Expect Gilyard to take advantage of the Hawkeyes’ guards. Prediction: Richmond +9

#4 Providence vs. #13 South Dakota St. – Mark Ruelle

Be afraid Providence, be very afraid. South Dakota State comes in as THE hottest team in America with 21 straight victories. The Jackrabbits have drilled 319 3pt field goals this season at a 44% clip. They like to feature Douglas Wilson in the paint and then kick the ball out to a variety of 3pt shooters led by Baylor Scheierman, who drilled 80 3pt field goals on the season at 47%. They are the second-highestscoring team in the country behind Gonzaga. S.Dakota State gives up a lot of 3s as well, at 309 this season but at only 35%. Providence won the regular-season Big East crown this year thanks to a stingy defense that held opponents to just 67 points per game. In addition, the Friars were tough on the 3pt shot, limiting opponents to 202 overall this season at 41%. The Friars feature five players that score in double figures and move the ball well on offense. The Friars have played extremely well this season, above expectations of most experts. This game, however, could be a problem. Prediction: South Dakota State +2.5

#6 LSU vs. #11 Iowa State – Mark Ruelle

This game will come down to the two defenses, both among the best in the country. LSU forces 18 turnovers per game, tops in the country. Iowa State is not far behind, forcing just under 17 turnovers per game. Both teams can be sloppy with the ball as well so this could be a game decided by which team is slightly more efficient. LSU’s head coach was just fired on Sunday amidst NCAA violations. How will the Tigers respond? Particularly with a team that features a number of young players that may depart rather than stay with a new, incoming coach. Meanwhile, the Cyclones have thrived under first-year head coach TJ Otzelberger. Iowa State has struggled at times offensively but Izaiah Brockington can be a big-time shot-makerin tight situations. Prediction: Iowa State +5

#3 Wisconsin vs. #14 Colgate – Mark Ruelle

Patriot League champion Colgate comes in with 15-straight wins. They average 76 points per game and love the 3pt shot, hitting 337 this season at a 40% clip. That kind of accuracy gives them a puncher’s chance against any team if they’re hot. They average 17 assists per game so the ball will move on the offensive end looking for open men. Wisconsin comes in off another strong season in the Big Ten. They were upended in the tournament by Michigan State on a night when All-American Johnny Davis just didn’t have it. The Badgers feature a strong perimeter defense, holding the opposition to under 200 3pt field goals this season at a 32% rate. Wisconsin is also exceptional at getting to the free-throw line, averaging 19 attempts per game. Davis and big man Tyler Wahl should have their way on the interior and shooters Brad Davison and Chucky Hepburn will expose Colgate’s weak perimeter defense. Prediction: Wisconsin -8.5

#7 USC vs. #10 Miami – Mark Ruelle

USC should be very comfortable traveling in this game as the Trojans were a combined 13-4 on the road or at neutral sites. USC is one of the better defensive teams in the country, holding opponents to just 38% shooting overall this season. They can be a little shaky on the perimeter, giving up 234 three-point field goals this season. They are led by the inside/outside tandem of Isaiah Mobley and Boogie Ellis. Mobley leads the team in scoring and rebounding and Ellis is second on the team in scoring and leads the Trojans with 55 3pt field goals. Miami may be able to exploit the perimeter defense of the Trojans, having hit 241 three-point field goals this season. Miami is led by Isaiah Wong’s 15.2 points per game. The Hurricanes have won some big games this season, including wins over Duke and North Carolina, but they will need to be shooting lights out to beat a Trojan team that should double the Hurricanes’ total on the glass. Prediction: USC -1

#2 Auburn vs. #15 Jacksonville State – Mark Ruelle

Like a number of the mid to low-level teams in the tournament, Jacksonville State thrives off of the 3pt shot. The Gamecocks made 280 three-point field goals this season at an impressive 39%. If Demaree King is able to get looks, 84 three-pointfield goals at 46%, watch out. The Gamecocks can be sloppy with the ball at over 13 turnovers per game. Auburn has had a bit of a rocky road over the course of the second half of the season following the ascension to #1 earlier in the year. Auburn has an outstanding offense led by Jabari Smith and likes to move at a fast pace. That kind of pace, however, might also suit Jacksonville State. The Tigers force 15 turnovers per game so they’ll get their share in this one. I think the Gamecocks will keep it tight with high-level 3pt shooting. Prediction: Jacksonville State +16.5

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