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 Manhattan vs. #16 Hampton— Midwest Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 PM ET on truTV.
Manhattan and Hampton Start Us Off in Dayton Tonight (USA Today Images)
Battling for the right to face unbeaten #1 Kentucky in Louisville on Thursday are MAAC champion Manhattan and MEAC champion Hampton. The 19-13 Jaspers pulled off a stunner over heavy favorite Iona to take home the MAAC title, and as winners of seven of their last eight, they seem to be playing their best basketball of the season. If you recall, Manhattan was in the NCAA Tournament last year where it was a #13 seed and pushed #4 Louisville to the edge before the Cardinals grabbed the victory in the last few minutes. Gone from last year is standout guard George Beamon, but experienced forwards Emmy Andujar and Ashton Pankey are still around to carry the load for Steve Masiello‘s group. Hampton is the only team in this season’s field with a losing record, as the Pirates are just 16-17. While the 16-17 mark is less than ideal, it should be noted that they are a very respectable 5-1 in neutral site games, and Dayton certainly qualifies as that. Hampton’s offensive attack is led by forward Dwight Meikle and Tennessee transfer guard Quinton Chievous. The advantage in this one looks to be when Manhattan has the ball, as Hampton’s defense enters the game 224th in the country in points per game allowed. Look for Andujar and Pankey to set the tone early for the Jaspers, as they will advance to the main bracket to take on Masiello’s alma mater in what will be truly a David versus Goliath matchup.
The RTC Certified Pick: Manhattan
#11 BYU vs. #11 Mississippi – West Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) – Approx. 9:10 PM ET, truTV.
BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth is Worth Watching Tonight (Jaren Wilkey/BYU)
While Ole Miss limps into the First Four as losers of five of their last eight games including an opening round loss to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament, BYU comes in playing as well as it has all year. The Cougars won eight games in a row, including a win at Gonzaga, before running out of gas in the WCC championship game. Still, with a talented backcourt highlighted by senior leading scorer Tyler Haws and junior do-everything guard Kyle Collinsworth, head coach Dave Rose has to feel confident in his group. Andy Kennedy’s Rebels, meanwhile, are an experienced team too, with upperclassmen representing all three of the team’s leading scorers. Junior Stefan Moody is one of the nation’s best shooters, while senior Jarvis Summers is a no-mistakes kind of lead guard. With both teams interested in playing a quick tempo and with both squads better with the ball than defensively, this could be a fun, high-scoring, back-and-forth game. In the Big Dance, benefit of the doubt goes to the team playing its best ball.
The RTC Certified Pick: BYU