Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses. Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds. Here are the Thursday afternoon games.
Thursday, March 18 (all times ET)
12:20 pm – #7 BYU vs. #10 Florida (Oklahoma City pod)
The NCAA Tournament kicks off in style this year with a good first round game from Oklahoma City. BYU enters the postseason riding the wave of one of its most successful regular seasons in decades, but it won’t matter much if the Cougars can’t slay their old bugaboo of winning a first round game on Thursday afternoon. The last time BYU won an NCAA opener in 1993, Grant Hill’s high fade was in style and the internet was something employees wore in their hair at fast food joints. Eight trips later, BYU has by far its best team and chance to end that losing streak. Jimmer Fredette is the best player casual fans haven’t yet heard of, but his 21/3/5 assts per game and 45% three-point shooting allow for the occasional explosion, as in the cases where he dropped 49 points at Arizona or 45 against TCU just last week in the Mountain West Tournament. The Cougs’ opponent, Florida, limped into the postseason, having lost four of five games and is a questionable entrant (especially as a #10 seed). But the Gators are still dangerous, boasting five players who average double figures with an ability to go off at any time. The most difficult problem Florida will face, though, is how to stop the highly efficient offense that BYU brings to the dusty plains. Dave Rose’s team shoots well from everywhere on the floor, and the Gator defense has been appropriately described as soft throughout the season, so UF will have to get into a high-scoring shootout to have a chance to outscore the Cougars in this one.
The Skinny: it’ll be difficult for Florida’s defense to slow the offensive talents of Fredette and his Cougars so we’re going with BYU by ten in a shootout.
12:25 pm – #6 Notre Dame vs. #11 Old Dominion (New Orleans pod)
Everybody knows about the Irish and their response to what was believed to be a potential season-ending injury to their superstar Luke Harangody. After the injury (and during Harangody’s return), the Irish have rebuilt themselves into a better team. We’re not saying they are a better team without Harangody because that would be ridiculous, but the brand of basketball they play when they don’t dump it down to him and watch him go to work is producing better results. They will have their hands full with the CAA champion (both regular season and tournament) Old Dominion. While the Monarchs ended up losing many of the “resume-building” games they played this year, they were competitive in most of them (5-point loss versus Missouri and 9-point loss at Northern Iowa) they also managed to win the biggest game on their schedule at #3-seeded Georgetown. So we know they can hang with a Big East team. Now the question is whether senior Gerald Lee can put it together to lead Blaine Taylor’s squad to an upset in the first game of the NCAA Tournament. It says here that they can, but the Irish are playing so well that they won’t.
The Skinny: Notre Dame gets enough production from each of its key scorers and is able to clamp down late on Lee and company to eke out a six-point victory.