We made it! Seemingly the first of many beloved things that Covid-19 had stripped away from us over a year ago, has returned. The NCAA Men’s Basketball National Tournament field of 68 teams kicks off today. In this article, I use analytics from both KenPom and Bart Torvik, two leaders in the vast world that is College Basketball analytics, to breakdown each first-round matchup. I will explain some of the metrics I will be using throughout this article before we dive in.
adjEM (KenPom) / BARTHAG (Torvik): Both use a similar metric in ranking a team’s likelihood of beating the average Division-1 team. I will be including a table in each matchup showing the respective team’s ranking in this metric.
adjOffense / adjDefense (KenPom): This metric ranks the team’s points scored per 100 possessions and points scored per 100 possessions, adjusted for the opponent.
I will be using a few more metrics throughout this article and will explain what the metric measures throughout. Let’s keep in mind, it’s named March Madness for a reason. Therefore, my predictions won’t always lineup with what the metrics or history may say. Another thing you will find throughout this article is that I will not be going into a deep analysis of some of the more lopsided matchups I am predicting.
With that being said, let’s dive into the Big Dance!
Wichita St (11) vs. Drake (11)
Wichita State (68th)
Wichita State (74th)
This game is a true toss-up, as KenPom gives Drake a 57% chance to move on, and the Torvik metric favors Wichita State. Given either team’s probable matchup and ultimate fate in the round of 64 against the under-seeded USC Trojans (6), I am going to ride with the Bulldogs. Getting Hemphill back is crucial and impacts this game immensely. Drake likes to create as many possessions as possible and they are an above-average offensive rebounding team. The Shockers rank near the bottom nationally in defensive rebounding. The matchup favors Drake, the metrics are split. Should be a good one to watch tomorrow night.
Norfolk State (16) vs. Appalachian State (16)
Appalachian State (217th)
Norfolk State (209th)
Appalachian State (209th)
Norfolk State (200th)
Another toss-up First Four play-in game, but I am giving a slight edge to Norfolk State. The Mountaineers will need to rack up the threes if they want to win, and the metrics favor the Spartans beyond the arc. Appalachian State ranks 226th in three-point field goal percentage. while the Spartans rank 67th in defending the three. KenPom gives Norfolk State a 51% chance to move on to the round of 64.
Mount St. Mary’s (16) vs. Texas Southern (16)
Mount St. Mary’s (212th)
Texas Southern (227th)
Mount St. Mary’s (219th)
Texas Southern (229th)
I like Mount St. Mary’s to move on in this one, as they are the more battle-tested team. Also, Texas Southern really struggles from beyond the arc hitting just 27.7% and ranking 342nd from three-point land. With limited possessions, and Mount St. Mary’s controlling the tempo, I think this contest plays in the Mountaineers’ favor.
UCLA (11) vs. Michigan State (11)
Michigan State (58th)
Michigan State (56th)
This game will be strength on strength and weakness on weakness. Mich St. has displayed a poor offense (98th), and a solid defense (32nd). UCLA has displayed a solid offense (26th), with a poor defense (86th). There’s no question that Tom Izzo has been able to figure it out in March, but don’t let UCLA’s 4 game losing-streak fool you. Losses to USC (6) by 1 point, on the road to Colorado (5) and Oregon (7) can be misleading. Torvik’s metrics give UCLA a 55.1% chance at advancing, while KenPom likes the Bruins as well giving them a 55.8% of beating the Spartans. I’m riding with them on this one.
Gonzaga (1) vs. Norfolk State (16)
Don’t overthink it. Out of the four 1 vs. 16 matchups, this one is the least likely to be an upset.
Oklahoma (8) vs Missouri (9)
All 8 vs. 9 matchups are going to be tossups. But this one, on paper at least, will be the closest. History plays in Oklahoma’s favor here, as the favorite in these games typically wins. Rebounding, free-throw shooting, and staying out of foul trouble are all crucial facets in games likely to go to the wire. Missouri has a habit of fouling. They also have a habit of missing free throws, and Oklahoma has a slight edge in defensive rebounding efficiency. This gives Oklahoma the advantage. Give me the Sooners here.
Creighton (5) vs. UC-Santa Barbara (12)
The people LOVE the 12 seeds in March. The Gauchos of UCSB are a good squad, but Creighton is dangerous. Historically, guard play has proven to be a winning formula in the NCAA tournament. Luckily for the Bluejays, guards Zegarowski and Mahoney have been phenomenal thus far. Creighton makes good use of their offensive possessions ranking 15th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency. This game is one to circle, as Creighton is widely considered to be on upset alert. However, the metrics show Creighton is a fringe top 20 team. I’m taking the Bluejays.
Virginia (4) vs. Ohio (13)
The Virginia Cavaliers had to exit early from the ACC tournament due to Covid-19 issues. The reports coming out point to a bench player having the positive test causing the Wahoos a shot at a conference tournament title. A name to watch, Jason Preston. Preston is an offensive machine for the Bobcats, but as we take a deeper look, Ohio is just a really well-oiled machine on the offensive side of the court. KenPom ranks them 29th in the nation in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. These two teams play two completely different styles. Ohio plays faster than average, whereas Virginia is as slow as it gets. There’s no doubt, Ohio has a tall task at hand. But KenPom gives the Bobcats over a 25% chance of pulling it off. History shows that 13 seeds in this scenario have close to a .500 win percentage. I’m taking Ohio to move on.
USC (6) vs. Drake (11)
As you can tell in the table above, the metrics love USC. The Trojans may be a 6 seed, but both Torvik and KenPom agree they are a top 20 team. Drake is a March Madness darling among the public, but USC will just have too much size, and skill, for the Bulldogs to overcome. I’m taking USC here.
Kansas (3) vs. Eastern Washington (14)
This one will likely be a trendy upset pick in many brackets given the news of Kansas’ Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna will not be making the trip to Indianapolis this weekend. However, the Jayhawks will win this one. They may struggle to cover the 10-pt spread that Vegas has set, but Kansas wins.
Oregon (7) vs. VCU (10)
The metrics disagree on who is the more talented team in this matchup. The Oregon Ducks have proven to be the more offensively efficient team, as VCU holds a slight edge on the defensive side of the court. With all 5 of the Ducks starters being able to score and find a hole in the defense, VCU will be hard-pressed in slowing Oregon down. I’ll take the Ducks in a close one.
Iowa (2) vs Grand Canyon (15)
I don’t suggest picking any 2 seeds to lose, as it’s historically not much of a payout. IF you insist on choosing one, look no further than our own Billy Williford to speak with as I have no doubt he can convince you the Coyotes have a legitimate chance. I’ll add this, Luka Garza won’t be able to manhandle GCU down low. The Coyotes happen to have 7’0” Midtgaard and 6’10” Alessandro Lever. Two absolute rebounding machines. I’ll be keeping an eye on this one, but I am riding with the Hawkeyes.
Michigan (1) vs. Mount St. Mary’s (16)
Don’t do it. Wolverines advance.
LSU (8) vs. St. Bonaventure (9)
St. Bonaventure (29th)
St. Bonaventure (25th)
Another game projected to be very close. I can not wait for this weekend. St. Bonaventure plays really good defense, but LSU shoots the lights out. LSU ranks 5th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, while the Bonnies are 17th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. The thing about the Tigers is, games they have lost this season have come by simply being out-shot. I simply don’t believe St. Bonaventure has the fire-power to beat LSU. I’m taking the Tigers.
Colorado (5) vs. Georgetown (12)
The metrics like Colorado, history favors Georgetown. I will be the first to admit, I like this 12 over 5 upset pick. However, the Hoyas are extremely inconsistent. On top of that, Colorado happens to protect the ball and shoots at a good clip from the free-throw line. But this is MARCH! And the Hoyas are on fire! I’m taking the upset here.
Florida State (4) vs. UNC-Greensboro (13)
I’ll save you the deep dive on this one. The metrics and history love the Seminoles. Florida State is a sound team and should reach the round of 32 with ease.
BYU (6) vs. UCLA (11)
I’m saving the metrics talk on this one as it may be a completely different opponent, however, BYU has a sound offense and a serviceable defense. They are the only team to push Gonzaga wire to wire all season. That’s enough for me to give the Cougars an edge over either UCLA or Michigan St. in this one.
UCONN (7) vs. Maryland (10)
Both Bart Torvik and Kenpom have UCONN as a top 20 team. This tells me UCONN is vastly under-seeded. The winner of this game will have to face a scary 2 seed in Alabama, therefore I am going with the metrics on this one. Give me Connecticut.
Texas (3) vs. Abilene Christian (14)
This could very oddly be closer than many people are expecting it to be. I can’t bring myself to take this upset, but I wouldn’t scoff at the idea of it.
Alabama (2) vs. Iona (15)
The only way this one becomes interesting at any point is if the Crimson Tide goes completely cold and gets out-rebounded. But even then, Alabama will be able to pull away.
Baylor (1) vs. Hartford (16)
Baylor wins big, only take Hartford if you’re filling out your 50th bracket.
Wisconsin (8) vs. North Carolina (9)
The metrics love the Badgers, the public is on the Tar Heels. This is largely in part to Wisconsin’s 2-6 record to end the season. But, those losses are to Illinois (1), Michigan (1), Purdue (5), and Iowa (2). Wisconsin is the better three-point shooting, ball controlling, and free-throw shooting team. Give me the Badgers.
Villanova (5) vs. Winthrop (12)
Nope, I didn’t skip my table. THROW THE METRICS OUT ON THIS ONE, BABY!
**Full Disclaimer* – Although Villanova is going to be without one of its best in Collin
Gillespie, the metrics still like Nova to move on.
However, this Winthrop team is dangerous. They pound the offensive and defensive glass and score a ton of putback buckets. Not to mention **checks notes** the 10:00 pm start time is weird. Again, this is March, let’s get weird.
Purdue (4) vs. North Texas (13)
North Texas (80th)
North Texas (71st)
I only include the metrics in this one as a disclaimer. But the truth is, the Mean Green is finding its stride and is a confident team. Also, remember my nugget about guard play? North Texas has the guards with the experience to pull this off. If the Boilermakers continue to turn the ball over as they have throughout the season, I truly believe North Texas takes this one in a shocker.
Texas Tech (6) vs. Utah State (11)
Texas Tech (18th)
Utah State (38th)
Texas Tech (23rd)
Utah State (40th)
Utah State comes in as the highest-ranked 11 seed in the tournament. Texas Tech is the 3rd ranked 6 seed. The Red Raiders ranked 24th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, and I believe that will give them enough edge to avoid a scare here against the very capable Aggies.
Arkansas (3) vs. Colgate (14)
This will be a popular upset pick, and rightfully so. Colgate can most definitely shoot with the Razorbacks which will allow them to hang around long enough to give a big-time scare. KenPom gives Arkansas a 78.2% chance to move on, and I tend to agree. Look for a ton of points in this one.
Florida (7) vs. Virginia Tech (10)
Virginia Tech (47th)
Virginia Tech (50th)
Florida’s Tre Mann will be the best player on the floor in this game, but Florida will have to hit shots and make their free throws to get by the Hokies. Lately, the Gators have been ice cold from behind the arc and that plays into the Hokies’ strength in defending the three. Florida ranks in the bottom third of the nation in defensive rebounding, if the Hokies can grab some second-chance points and keep Florida off the foul-line, I like them to win. I’m taking Virginia Tech.
Ohio State (2) vs. Oral Roberts (15)
Don’t see a scare in this one, take the Buckeyes.
Illinois (1) vs. Drexel (16)
Drexel likely deserved a higher seed, as KenPom has them ranked higher than three of the 15 seeds. But even still, Illinois has the best player in the tournament in Ayo Dosunmu outside of Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, Baylor’s Jarod Butler, and Iowa’s Luka Garza. Illinois breezes through in this one.
Loyola Chicago (8) vs. Georgia Tech (9)
I liked Loyola even before the news broke about Georgia Tech’s Covid-19 issues. I like them even more now, and the metrics agree (Loyola 9th, Georgia Tech 32nd). Loyola Chicago is a very, very strong 8 seed here and is a great candidate to make a run, even in a square-off with 1 seeded Illinois for a ticket to the Sweet 16. Give me the Ramblers.
Tennessee (5) vs. Oregon State (12)
Oregon State (85th)
Alright Vol fans, buckle up. Nationally, this is a trendy upset pick based on Tennessee’s inconsistencies on both offense and defense; as well as Oregon State’s improbable run to win the PAC-12 Tournament. If you have watched any Tennessee game this season, you’re well aware of the Vols’ tendency to go cold. Teams that can rebound well will benefit from this against the Volunteers in this tournament. Luckily for Rick Barnes, the Beavers rank just 231st in Defensive Rebounding Efficiency. Tennessee will likely be without John Fulkerson in this one so it will be interesting to see how the two freshman guards, Springer and Johnson, debut in their first NCAA Tournament game. I’m riding with the Vols.
Oklahoma State (4) vs. Liberty (13)
Oklahoma State lives and dies by Cade Cunningham. If the Cowboys were playing any other 13 seed, I’d probably take the upset here. But not in this matchup.
Syracuse (11) vs. San Diego State (6)
San Diego State (10th)
San Diego State (19th)
Defense travels. Brian Dutcher said himself the Aztecs haven’t seen much of a zone defense at all this season. That is likely to give San Diego State some fits on the offensive side of the ball. KenPom gives Syracuse a 37% to get the upset here, and I am taking the Orange to move on in this one.
West Virginia (3) vs. Morehead State (14)
If there’s a game to skip that’s not a 1 vs 16 seed, it’s this one. Mountaineers move on.
Clemson (7) vs. Rutgers (10)
Both metrics like Rutgers. Largely due to their 18th ranked Defensive Efficiency. On the other side of the ball, they have the duo of Harper and Young which combine for almost 30 points per game. Clemson fails to get to the free-throw line, and also relies on their defense fairly heavily to keep them in close games. Don’t look for fireworks in this matchup. I give Rutgers the edge.
Houston (2) vs. Cleveland State (15)
Not a must-watch game by any means, take Houston.
ROUND OF 32
Gonzaga (1) defeats Oklahoma (8)
Creighton (5) defeats Ohio (13)
USC (6) defeats Kansas (3)
Iowa (2) defeats Oregon (7)
LSU (8) defeats Michigan (1)
Florida State (4) defeats Georgetown (12)
BYU (6) defeats Texas (3)
Alabama (2) defeats UCONN (7)
Baylor (1) defeats Wisconsin (9)
North Texas (13) defeats Winthrop (12)
Texas Tech (6) defeats Arkansas (3)
Ohio State (2) defeats Virginia Tech (10)
Illinois (1) defeats Loyola Chicago (9)
Tennessee (5) defeats Oklahoma State (4)
West Virginia (3) defeats Syracuse (11)
Houston (2) defeats Rutgers (10)
Gonzaga (1) defeats Creighton (5)
Iowa (2) defeats USC (6)
Florida State (4) defeats Michigan (1)
Alabama (2) defeats (6) BYU
Baylor (1) defeats North Texas (13)
Ohio State (2) defeats Texas Tech (6)
Illinois (1) defeats Tennessee (5)
Houston (2) defeats West Virginia (3)
Gonzaga (1) defeats Iowa (2)
Florida State (4) defeats Alabama (2)
Baylor (1) defeats Ohio State (2)
Houston (2) defeats Illinois (1)
GONZAGA (1) defeats Florida State (4)
BAYLOR (1) defeats Houston (2)
Gonzaga defeats Baylor.