NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Tuesday NightPosted by Bennet Hayes & Walker Carey on March 18th, 2014
The First Round/Opening Round/Play-In Games/Mild Annoyance of the NCAA Tournament begins tonight, getting under way at 6:40 PM tonight on truTV (go ahead, try to remember where that channel is again). From 68 to 16 in the next six days… let’s analyze the first two games this evening.
#16 Albany vs. #16 Mount St. Mary’s — South Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 pm ET on truTV.
It may be too late to fill in that blank space under Florida in the brackets floating around the office, but Mount St. Mary’s and Albany will battle Tuesday night for a space in the official field of 64. The First Four foes took a similar path to Dayton: Both bumbled through 9-7 league seasons, earned the #4 seed in the conference tournament, then won three games (including one over the regular season champion) to advance into the field of 68. It was the same route for the Great Danes and Mountaineers, but they drove different vehicles along the way. Albany relied on a stout defense – particular against the two-point shot – and timely three-point shooting to claim the America East crown, while Mount St. Mary’s sprinted through a NEC Tournament final where the Mounts averaged 1.28 points per possession in a 17-point win at #1 seed Robert Morris. If Mount St. Mary’s (32nd nationally in possessions/game) can maintain that quick tempo against the Great Danes, they have to like their odds of advancing, but Albany (313th in possessions/game) will be doing everything possible to play a game featuring 65 possessions or fewer. KenPom gives the Great Danes a slight edge to seize victory in the NCAA Tournament opener, but we’ll put our faith in Mount St. Mary’s to move on to face Florida. Not only did the Mountaineers emerge from a tougher conference, but their up-tempo attack should allow them to fully capitalize on the adrenaline rush that the national spotlight will surely provide.
The RTC Certified Pick: Mount St. Mary’s
#12 NC State vs. #12 Xavier — Midwest First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 9:10 pm ET on truTV.
The nightcap on Tuesday features two of the last at-large teams to make the NCAA Tournament field, with NC State and Xavier facing off for the chance to meet Saint Louis on Thursday in Orlando. This marks the third consecutive tournament appearance for the Wolfpack and head coach Mark Gottfried, who is now three-for-three in leading his program into the bracket. NC State is led by ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren, who enters NCAA Tournament play averaging 24.8 points per game. The Wolfpack as a team do not do anything extraordinarily well on either side of the court, as they are 190th in the country in points scored per game and 159th in the country in points allowed per contest, but the presence of Warren gives the squad a chance every time it takes the court.
Xavier finds itself in Dayton mostly due to multiple poor stretches to its season. Chris Mack‘s squad lost all three of its games at the “Battle 4 Atlantis” in November, three straight from January 25 to February 8, and it enters the Tournament as losers of three of its last four. Outside of those poor stretches, however, the Musketeers have been a solid team. Guard Semaj Christon was one of the top players in the Big East all season and he provides the offensive firepower, averaging 17.1 points per game. Versatile forward Justin Martin is a solid second scorer and effectively uses his length to guard multiple positions, while forwards Matt Stainbrook and Isaiah Philmore provide the necessary brawn in the interior. Despite the fact that Xavier is probably the better team, I know better than to pick against star power in March. The ACC Player of the Year will carry NC State into the Round of 64 in what should be a hotly-contested affair in Dayton.
The RTC Certified Pick: NC State