The First Round/Opening Round/Play-In Games/Mild Annoyance of the NCAA Tournament continues tonight, getting under way at 6:40 PM tonight on truTV (go ahead, try to remember where that channel is again). From 66 to 16 in the next five days… let’s analyze the final two play-in games this evening.
#16 Robert Morris vs. #16 North Florida — South Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 pm ET on truTV.
Robert Morris, tournament champions of the NEC, will take on Atlantic Sun regular season and tournament champions North Florida in Dayton tonight. This game will play undercard to the “Dayton in Dayton” drama (co-starring Boise State) set to unfold later. The winner will make the move into the 64-team bracket to take on Duke in Charlotte on Friday. Robert Morris had to know it was headed to Dayton the moment the Colonials upset St. Francis (NY) and earned the automatic berth, but North Florida might be surprised at its appointment in Dayton. After a 23-11 season that featured a December victory at Purdue, the Ospreys are now the first Atlantic Sun team to ever receive the First Four assignment. An RPI in the 160s had to be the incriminating component of the North Florida resume, even as their KenPom ranking of #127 values them ahead of an Eastern Washington team that netted a #13 seed. The Ospreys’ big lineup – five of seven regulars are 6’6” or taller – will serve them well against the smaller Colonials, but it’s 6’1” Dallas Moore who makes North Florida go. The all-Atlantic Sun performer averaged 15.4 points and 3.9 assists per game in leading UNF to that pair of Atlantic Sun titles. Expect Moore and the Ospreys to look by the bracketing slight and embrace the unique opportunity that a First Four can offer. Just three days after accepting the program’s inaugural NCAA Tournament bid, North Florida should be in good shape to snag its first Tournament victory.
The RTC Certified Pick: North Florida
#11 Boise State vs. #11 Dayton — East Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 9:10 pm ET on truTV.
These teams are very similar in two notable respects: Both overcame key personnel losses early in the season and both were rooked by the Selection Committee. Dayton – which dismissed two of its most important frontcourt players back in December – somehow became the last at-large team above the cut-line, despite most bracketologists projecting the Flyers as a #8 or #9 seed. As a result, Boise State – which lost shooting guard Anthony Drmic less than one month into the season – must now win a true road game (at University of Dayton Arena) in order to advance. If this matchup were played on a neutral floor, it would be hard to figure which squad has the edge; the Broncos and Flyers are ranked 39th and 40th in KenPom, respectively, and each sits firmly among the top-75 teams in America in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Boise State’s Derrick Marks (19.3 PPG) will be the best offensive player on the floor, a supremely talented scorer with a vastly-improved outside shot (44% 3FG), while Dayton boasts an entire lineup of guys adept at beating opponents off the dribble and earning trips to the free throw line (third-highest free throw rate in college hoops). Considering the Flyers’ utter lack of depth and relatively short turnaround, Boise State would probably have the slight leg up under normal circumstances. But home court advantage is a very real thing, and Dayton fans come out in bunches. Look for Archie Miller’s group to ride that support to its fourth NCAA Tournament victory in the last two years.
The RTC Certified Pick: Dayton