NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Tuesday NightPosted by KDoyle on March 13th, 2012
No matter whether you feel the First Round of the NCAA Tournament is legitimate or not (and we know at least one person writing Amicus briefs to the Supreme Court on this very issue), it all gets under way at 6:40 PM tonight. From 68 to 16 in the next six days… let’s analyze the first two games this evening.
#16 Western Kentucky vs. #16 Mississippi Valley State — South Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 pm ET on truTV.
It is hard to believe that the NCAA Tournament officially tips off tonight — it seems like the 24 hours of college basketball marathon on ESPN was just last week — as Western Kentucky will do battle against Mississippi Valley State in the First Round. Things looked bleak for both squads midway through the year as MVSU entered conference play with a 1-11 record, while Western Kentucky stood at 5-14 just six games into league play. In fairness to the Delta Devils, however, they did play one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the nation with virtually all of their contests being so-called “guarantee games.” As for the Hilltoppers, they fired Ken McDonald halfway through the season, and have looked like an entirely different team since. Mississippi Valley is 20-1 since SWAC play began, while Western Kentucky is 10-7 since Ray Harper took over the helm in Bowling Green. Hailing from the weakest conference in America, the Delta Devils will enter the game as slight underdogs, even though they have a much more impressive overall record than their opponent. Western Kentucky is led by freshman Derrick Gordon (11.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG), but junior transfer Teeng Akol — formerly of Oklahoma State — has provided the Hilltoppers with a formidable presence in the frontcourt as of late; Akol scored a career high 23 points in the Sun Belt championship game. Meanwhile for MVSU, it has a balanced approach as five players on the squad average nine points or better. Terrence Joyner is their sharpshooter as he connects on just over two triples a game, while Paul Crosby (13.3 PPG, 7.4 RBG) mans the paint. Despite Sean Woods‘ team losing only one game since the New Year, Western Kentucky is the more talented team and is playing with a real chip on its shoulder.
The RTC Certified Pick: Western Kentucky
#14 BYU vs. #14 Iona — West Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 9:10 pm ET on truTV.
The time for debating whether either of these teams belongs in this NCAA Tournament is past (although, for what it’s worth, these are the two teams whose inclusion is on the shakiest of ground); it is instead time to decide who moves on to face Marquette in the traditional opening day of the tournament. Iona comes to this game having won the MAAC regular season title by two full games over eventual automatic bid winner, Loyola (MD), but left itself in peril after losing in the conference semifinals. Meanwhile, BYU ran third all season long in the WCC, knocking off Gonzaga at home but dropping every other game against better competition by an average of more than 13 points per game (Wisconsin and Baylor, plus Saint Mary’s twice and Gonzaga two other times). Still, this game will feature some very good players. BYU’s Brandon Davies, Noah Hartsock and Charles Abouo are veterans of NCAA Tournament play, while Iona’s Momo Jones saw Tournament action last year for Arizona. He is paired with seniors Scott Machado and Mike Glover, two guys who have had big careers but will appear in their first Big Dance. Machado is among the handful of best offensive point guards in the nation, while Glover is a scoring and rebounding machine who is somewhat limited defensively. And that’s the story of this game: While Iona is a truly great offensive team (16th in the nation in offensive efficiency), they are below average defensively. Meanwhile, the Cougars are a very good defensive team that is just okay offensively. The numbers say that BYU is the slightly more balanced team, but head coach Dave Rose likes to have his team get up and down the floor with alacrity, a strategy that may play right into the hands of the Gaels. In a game that should provide an exciting kickoff to the 2012 Tournament, give us the Gaels in a shootout.
The RTC Certified Pick: Iona