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NCAA Tournament Preview: Picking the First Round

Jason Thornbury

Thornbury is a senior editor at RotoWire. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he has also worked in sports television and radio, including co-hosting RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM.


No. 16 Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers/Albany Great Danes vs. No. 1 Florida Gators

Orlando, Fla.
Gametime: Thursday, 4:10 p.m.
Records: Mount St. Mary's 16-16/Albany 18-14; Florida 32-2
RPI: Mount St. Mary's 193/Albany 182; Florida 1
KenPom: St. Mary's 190/Albany 171; Florida 3
Spread: NA (Albany -2)
Matchup: The 16s get one game to compete and, for whoever survives, one game to watch in person what may be the nation's best team. Albany plays stiff defense, the Mount shoots the three. Either way, Florida uses it as a warm-up for the weekend.

No. 15 Eastern Kentucky Colonels vs. No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks

St. Louis
Gametime: Friday, 4:10 p.m.
Records: Eastern Kentucky 24-9; Kansas 24-9
RPI: Eastern Kentucky 99; Kansas 3
KenPom: Eastern Kentucky: 129; Kansas 9
Spread: Kansas -13
Matchup: It's bombs away for the Colonels who can shoot from anywhere. But so can Kansas. The Jayhawks won't need injured 7-footer Joel Embiid to pound undersized Eastern Kentucky, one of the worst rebounding teams in the nation.

No. 14 Western Michigan Broncos vs. No. 3 Syracuse Orange

Gametime: Thursday, 2:45 p.m.
Records: Western Michigan 23-9; Syracuse 27-5
RPI: Western Michigan 69; Syracuse 13
KenPom: Western Michigan 113; Syracuse 15
Spread: Syracuse -13
Matchup: It takes an inside/outside game to crack Syracuse's 2-3 zone. Well, look at what we have here. A fifth-year senior, guard David Brown led the MAC with 19.4 points per game. In the middle for the Broncos is 6-11 senior Shayne Whittington. The Broncos are not deep, though, and Syracuse thrives in transition, which could quickly lead to some tired ponies.

No. 13 Tulsa Golden Hurricane vs. No. 4 UCLA Bruins

San Diego
Gametime: Friday, 9:57 p.m.
Records: Tulsa 21-12; UCLA 26-8
RPI: Tulsa 72; UCLA 14
KenPom: Tulsa 69; UCLA 16
Spread: UCLA -9
Matchup: The Bruins might as well be playing at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA loves to run, and few teams can keep pace, including Tulsa, which is built on defense, not scoring. The Golden Hurricane's only hope to is to slow the pace and make it a half-court game. But this has track meet written all over it in front of an enthusiastic, hungry crowd.

No. 12 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks vs. No. 5 VCU Rams

San Diego
Gametime: Friday, 7:27 p.m.
Records: Stephen F. Austin 31-2; 26-8
RPI: Stephen F. Austin 57; VCU 12
KenPom: Stephen F. Austin 59; VCU 12
Spread: VCU -8
Matchup: SFA is the trendy 12-5 pick, and it's easy to see why: good guard play, patient offense, physical half-court defense. VCU isn't a good shooting team, but its Havoc defense leads to easy buckets in transition. If SFA slows the pace and makes it a half-court game, the Lumberjacks could pull off the upset. VCU doesn't win if it shoots less than 40 percent. But that's not going to happen this time.

No. 11 Dayton Flyers vs. No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes

Gametime: Thursday, 12:15 p.m.
Records: Dayton 23-10; Ohio State 25-9
RPI: Dayton Flyers 43; Ohio State 24
KenPom: Dayton 53; Ohio State 19
Spread: Ohio State -6
Matchup: Grudge matches are always more important to the little guy. Even more important here as Flyers' leading scorer Jordan Siebert transferred from the Buckeyes two years ago. Ohio State doesn't have much offensive firepower, but it wins with shutdown defense. If Dayton takes care of the ball (12.2 turnovers per game) and hits some threes, the upset could happen.

No. 10 Stanford Cardinal vs. No. 7 New Mexico Lobos

St. Louis
Gametime: Friday, 1:40 p.m.
Records: Stanford 21-12; New Mexico 27-6
RPI: Stanford 40; New Mexico 15
KenPom: Stanford 37; New Mexico 28
Spread: New Mexico -2
Matchup: Tough matchup for New Mexico, which would rather see an opponent light in the paint in its opener so its bigs could dominate. But Stanford has a solid frontcourt too in what looks to be an evenly matched game. New Mexico, though, is deeper and has a chip on its shoulder because it got a seven seed after winning the Mountain West tournament.

No. 9 Pittsburgh Panthers vs. No. 8 Colorado Buffaloes
Orlando, Fla.
Gametime: Thursday, 1:40 p.m.
Records: Pittsburgh 25-9; Colorado 23-11
RPI: Pittsburgh 32; Colorado 39
KenPom: Pittsburgh 18; Colorado 64
Spread: Pittsburgh -6.5
Matchup: A seemingly big line for an 8-9 game. Both teams are physical inside, and neither offense will shoot fireworks. The pace probably favors Colorado, but Pitt forward Lamar Patterson is the best player on the floor.


No. 16 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers vs. No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers

Raleigh, N.C.
Gametime: Friday, 9:25 p.m.
Records: Coastal Carolina 21-12; Virginia 28-6
RPI: Coastal Carolina 191; Virginia 10
KenPom: Coastal carolina 232; Virginia 4
Spread: Virginia -19
Matchup: The Chanticleers don't shoot the three too well, and Virginia plays some of the best defense in the country. That's not a good combo for an upset.

No. 15 Milwaukee Panthers vs. No. 2 Villanova Wildcats

Gametime: Thursday, 9:25 p.m.
Records: Milwaukee 21-13; Villanova 28-4
RPI: Milwaukee 127; Villanova 5
KenPom: Milwaukee 163; Villanova 6
Spread: Villanova -14.5
Matchup: Villanova could win the whole thing. Milwaukee finished 7-9 in the Horizon League.

No. 14 North Carolina Central Eagles vs. No. 3 Iowa State Cyclones

San Antonio
Gametime: Friday, 9:50 p.m.
Records: North Carolina Central 28-5; Iowa State 26-7
RPI: North Carolina Central 102; Iowa State 8
KenPom: North Carolina Central 78; Iowa State 23
Spread: Iowa State -9
Matchup: N.C. Central plays good defense on the perimeter and in the lane. The Eagles might even slow Iowa State for a time, but they won't stop the Cyclones for good.

No. 13 Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens vs. No. 4 Michigan State Spartans

Spokane, Wash.
Gametime: Thursday, 4:40 p.m.
Records: Delaware 25-9; Michigan State 26-8
RPI: Delaware 70; Michigan State 21
KenPom: Delaware 105; Michigan 10
Spread: Michigan State -13
Matchup: Delaware drew a tough matchup, and it would have been fun to see what its three-headed monster offense could have done against a less stiff opponent.

No. 12 Harvard Crimson vs. No. 5 Cincinnati Bearcats

Spokane, Wash.
Gametime: Thursday, 2:10
Records: Harvard 26-4; Cincinnati 27-6
RPI: Harvard 46; Cincinnati 19
KenPom: Harvard 33; Cincinnati 24
Spread: Cincinnati -3.5
Matchup: Can Harvard pull the upset two years in a row? Cincinnati's defense is legit and could shut down Harvard's three-point shooting. Bearcats guard Sean Kilpatrick can take over games. Maybe the Crimson can turn the trick again, but there's not a lot to base that on besides hope.

No. 11 Providence Friars vs. No. 6 North Carolina Tar Heels

San Antonio
Gametime: Friday, 7:20 p.m.
Records: Providence 23-11; North Carolina 23-9
RPI: Providence 42; North Carolina 25
KenPom: Providence 40; North Carolina 26
Spread: North Carolina -5
Matchup: Providence's Bryce Cotton is capable of putting the team on his back, but North Carolina has more weapons. As long as the game doesn't become a foul-shooting contest, the Tar Heels are likely to prevail.

No. 10 Saint Joseph’s Hawks vs. No. 7 Connecticut Huskies

Gametime: Thursday, 6:55 p.m.
Records: Saint Joseph’s 24-9; Connecticut 26-8
RPI: Saint Joseph’s 38; Connecticut 23
KenPom: Saint Joseph's 49; Conneticut 25
Spread: Connecticut -4
Matchup: St. Joe's is more experienced and more well-rounded than guard-heavy UConn. The Huskies are great defensively, but St. Joe's can win on the perimeter or in the frontcourt. Shabazz Napier could will his team to victory, but UConn's shooting has been known to go cold, too.

No. 9 George Washington Colonials vs. No. 8 Memphis Tigers

Raleigh, NC
Gametime: Friday, 6:55 p.m.
Records: George Washington 24-8; Memphis 23-9
RPI: George Washington 29; Memphis 34
KenPom: George Washington 46; Memphis 45
Spread: Memphis -2.5
Matchup: The Colonials are strong in the frontcourt and play good perimeter defense. If injured guard Kethan Savage returns, all the better. Memphis gets steals, but its turnover margin is small. The Tigers also allow opponents to make 48.6 percent of their two-pointers. It's too bad GW has to play Virginia in the next round.


No. 16 Weber State Wildcats vs. No. 1 Arizona Wildcats

San Diego
Gametime: Friday, 2:10 p.m.
Records: Weber State 19-11; Arizona 30-4
RPI: Weber State 148; Arizona 2
KenPom: Weber State 169; Arizona 1
Spread: Arizona -14.5
Matchup: Wildcats win.

No. 15 American Eagles vs. No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers

Gametime: Thursday, 12:40
Records: American 20-12; Wisconsin 26-7
RPI: American 122; Wisconsin 7
KenPom: American 99; Wisconsin 11
Spread: Wisconsin -10
Matchup: American runs the Princeton offense, which is always intriguing when pondering an upset. Can the Eagles slow the pace enough to knock off Wisconsin? Probably not in what amounts to a home game for the Badgers.

No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns vs. No. 3 Creighton Bluejays

San Antonio
Gametime: Friday, 3:10 p.m.
Records: Louisiana-Lafayette 23-11; Creighton 26-7
RPI: Louisiana-Lafayette 100; Creighton 11
KenPom: Louisiana-Lafayette 115; Creighton 8
Spread: Creighton -14.5
Matchup: The Ragin' Cajuns are an offensive-minded team, but they don't want to get into a shootout with Creighton.

No. 13 New Mexico State Aggies vs. No. 4 San Diego State Aztecs

Spokane, Wash.
Gametime: Thursday, 9:57 p.m.
Records: New Mexico State 26-9; San Diego State 29-4
RPI: New Mexico State 78; San Diego State 17
KenPom: San Diego State 24; New Mexico State 71
Spread: San Diego State -6
Matchup: This is a good matchup for New Mexico State, which is in the tournament for the third consecutive year. SDSU has shown it can be exposed by teams with size, and New Mexico State's frontcourt features 7-foot-5, 355-pound, center Sim Bhullar and two 6-10 forwards. The Aggies can drain from the outside, too, when the ball is kicked out, and they know how to get to the line. The Aztecs get their offense from guard Xavier Thames, and that's about it.

No. 12 North Dakota State Bison vs. No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners

Spokane, Wash.
Gametime: Thursday, 7:27 p.m.
Records: North Dakota State 25-6; Oklahoma 23-9
RPI: North Dakota State 35; Oklahoma 28
KenPom: North Dakota State 55; Oklahoma 29
Spread: Oklahoma -2.5
Matchup: North Dakota State is the nation's best shooting team with top-20 offense in terms of efficiency. Do-it-all senior guard Taylor Braun is the best player you've never heard of. The Bison are undersized, but so are the Sooners, who lack on defense and are a volume shooters. This figures to be a shootout, which sets up well for North Dakota State.

No. 6 Baylor Bears vs. No. 11 Nebraska Cornhuskers

San Antonio
Gametime: Friday, 12:40
Records: Nebraska 19-12; Baylor 24-11
RPI: Nebraska 46; Baylor 30
KenPom: Nebraska 49; Baylor 31
Spread: Baylor -2.5
Matchup: Baylor played its best ball of the season in the Big 12 tourney. Nebraska wins with defense, but offensively it is pretty much all sophomore swingman Terran Petteway. Baylor is the more well-rounded, balanced team.

No. 7 Oregon Ducks vs. No. 10 BYU Cougars

Gametime: Thursday, 3:10 p.m.
Records: BYU 23-11; Oregon 23-9
RPI: BYU 33; Oregon 27
KenPom: BYU 50; Oregon 30
Spread: Oregon -2
Matchup: Bet the over with these two offensive powerhouses. This likely will be an up-and-down game with little defense. The Cougars are without versatile point guard Kyle Collinsworth (knee), and that's enough to give Oregon the edge.

No. 8 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State Cowboys

San Diego
Gametime: Friday, 4:40 p.m.
Records: Gonzaga 28-6; Oklahoma State 21-12
RPI: Gonzaga 22; Oklahoma State 45
KenPom: Gonzaga 20; Oklahoma State 22
Spread: Oklahoma State -1
Matchup: This might be the most even matchup in the tournament. Both can score, both play defense. Neither is great on the boards. Give the Zags the edge because of a West Coast crowd and coach Mark Few, who can figure out how to slow Marcus Smart.


No. 16 Texas Southern Tigers/Cal Poly Mustangs vs. No. 1 Wichita State Shockers

St. Louis
Gametime: Friday, 7:10 p.m.
Records: Texas Southern 19-14/ Cal Poly 13-19; Wichita State 34-0
RPI: Texas Southern 245/ Cal Poly 212; Wichita State 4
KenPom: Southern 237/Cal Poly 173; Wichita State 5
Spread: NA (Cal Poly -2)
Matchup: Cal Poly's record is not a misprint. Take Texas Southern in the First Four before the Shockers move to 35-0.

No. 15 Wofford Terriers vs. No. 2 Michigan Wolverines

Gametime: Thursday, 7:10 p.m.
Records: Wofford 20-12; Michigan 25-8
RPI: Wofford 156; Michigan 9
KenPom: Wofford 184; Michigan 14
Spread: Michigan -14
Matchup: Wofford: 0-8 against the RPI top 150. Next.

No. 14 Mercer Bears vs. No. 3 Duke Blue Devils

Raleigh, N.C.
Gametime: Friday, 12:15 p.m.
Records: Mercer 26-8; Duke 26-8
RPI: Mercer 83; Duke 6
KenPom: Mercer 99; Duke 7
Spread: Duke -10.5
Matchup: Duke wins track meets. The way to beat the Blue Devils is to slow it down. That won't happen in a home game for Coach K's crew.

No. 13 Manhattan Jaspers vs. No. 4 Louisville Cardinals

Orlando, Fla.
Gametime: Thursday, 9:50 p.m.
Records: Manhattan 25-7; Louisville 29-5
RPI: Manhattan 63; Louisville 18
KenPom: Manhattan 67; Louisville 2
Spread: Louisville -12.5
Matchup: Louisville will take out its anger over its perceived under-seeding. It's too bad the Jaspers got such a bad draw because they have the pieces to pull an upset.

No. 12 Xavier Musketeers/North Carolina State Wolf Pack vs. No. 5 Saint Louis Billkens

Orlando, Fla.
Gametime: Thursday 7:20 p.m.
Records: Xavier 12-12/North Carolina State 21-13; Saint Louis 26-6
RPI: Xavier 49/North Carolina State 53; Saint Louis 26
KenPom: North Carolina State 66; Saint Louis 34
Spread: NA (Xavier -1)
Matchup: Saint Louis has one of the stiffest defenses in the country, and it will be too much for whoever escapes the First Four matchup.

No. 11 Tennessee Volunteers/Iowa Hawkeyes vs. No. 6 Massachusetts Minutemen

Raleigh, N.C.
Gametime: Friday, 2:45 p.m.
Records: Tennessee 21-12/Iowa 20-12; UMass 24-8
RPI: Tennessee 41/Iowa 54; Umass 20
KenPom: Tennessee 13/Iowa 27; UMass 52
Spread: NA (Tennessee -3)
Matchup: UMass is balanced and patient, if inconsistent. But that plays into the hands of Tennessee, who should get by Iowa in the First Four with a better balance of offense and defense. The Vols can win a slow-paced game against the Minutemen, who are 8-7 in their last 15.

No. 10 Arizona State Sun Devils vs. No. 7 Texas Longhorns

Gametime: Thursday, 9:40 p.m.
Records: Arizona State 21-11; Texas 23-10
RPI: Arizona State 44; Texas 36
KenPom: Arizona State 47; Texas 39
Spread: Texas -2.5
Matchup: Arizona State is talented and has enough inside and outside to cause problems for Texas. But the Longhorns should have more offense in what could be a defensive battle.

No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats vs. No. 9 Kansas State Wildcats

St. Louis
Gametime: Friday, 9:40 p.m.
Records: Kansas State 20-12; Kentucky 24-10
RPI: Kansas State 51; Kentucky 15
KenPom: Kansas State 44; Kentucky 17
Spread: Kentucky -4
Matchup: See Weber State vs. Arizona.