4 Things to Watch During Day 1 of March Madness

Can Harvard upset Cincinnati? Will Pitt close out a game? Is Tyler Haws going to go nuts?

We’re finally here. After days of breaking down the bracket, analyzing over-seeded teams, under-seeded teams, teams limping and soaring into the tournament, upsets and more, we’re finally here. The madness is about to begin.

As you sit in your office chair wishing you had taken a vacation day, finding the best way to get around your company’s firewall to watch the games online, keep an eye on these things to watch during Day 1’s madness. It’s sure to be a crazy one.

Want to know who will surprise, who will bust out, and who will take the tournament? Check out our bracket picks, our game simulator, and more!

Check It Out

Will There Be a 12/5 Upset?

The basketball gods (NCAA Tournament schedulers) have given us three 12/5 games today, and they’re probably the three most popular upsets of the first round.

Harvard will first face Cincinnati at 2:00 PM, in what will most likely be a defensive struggle. The Bearcats have a top 10 defense in the country, but have shown to have trouble scoring points, ranking 90th offensively. They also didn’t play the toughest schedule in the world this year (64th-hardest), so it’s not as though they’re a lock.

Harvard, meanwhile, ranks just eight spots below Cincinnati in nERD, and while their defense finished just slightly worse than Cincinnati without adjustments, the offense is much more efficient – they actually have five scorers who average double figures. The biggest trouble for the Crimson will be the fact that they haven’t played a harsh schedule. Cincinnati will be their toughest test of the year.

North Carolina State and Saint Louis will tip off at 7:20 this evening, and both teams are currently heading in different directions. The Billikens enter the tournament having lost four of their last five, while the Wolfpack are coming off an impressive win over Xavier, and are now 5-1 in their last six games.

NC State doesn’t grade out well analytically thanks to a really bad first half, but have come around thanks to the play of TJ Warren. Warren finished the team’s play-in game against Xavier with 25 points, and will likely need a big performance for the Wolfpack to move on tonight.

The final 12/5 game comes from the West region, and features what should be a very interesting matchup. While the higher-seeded Oklahoma Sooners can get you on offense with a fast-paced style (14th-fastest team in the country this year), North Dakota State, winners of 23 of their last 26, play slower in order to find open shots. In fact, they led the entire country in field goal percentage as a result.

If North Dakota State can slow down the tempo of this game and play to their pace, there’s potential for an upset.

Can Pitt Finish a Game?

The Pitt Panthers are certainly under-seeded given talent and ability, but seeded correctly when you look at their resume. The team’s best win of the year came against North Carolina in the ACC Tournament, while the only loss suffered to a non-tournament team came against Florida State, one of the first four out of the Big Dance.

One of Pitt’s biggest problems is closing out games, as shown recently in their contest against the Tar Heels. Up by double-digits for almost all of the game, Pitt continued to turn the ball over against Carolina’s press defense, putting the Tar Heels back in the game. Fortunately the Panthers were still able to secure a victory, but any Pitt fan (like myself) knows that no game is ever over when Jamie Dixon is head coach.

Pitt faces off against a struggling Colorado team, and should be expected to win despite being the lower seed. Colorado lost their top scorer Spencer DinWiddie in January, and have played average basketball since. As a result, they’re over 30 spots behind Pitt in our nERD rankings.

But don’t expect a blowout. Pitt’s only double-digit victory since late January came against a bad Wake Forest squad, mostly because, as noted, they can’t close out games. It will be interesting to see how Pitt potentially closes out their round of 64 contest against Colorado today.

Will Western Michigan Take Advantage of a Slumping Syracuse Orange?

Western Michigan enters the tournament having won 12 of their last 13 games, while Syracuse, well, we know the story. The Orange have dropped five of their last seven, including a big loss in the ACC Tournament to North Carolina State.

While Western Michigan doesn’t rank very well in terms of nERD (124th), they’re still a defensive-oriented team that enters the tournament feeling the exact opposite of Syrcause. The Orange should be able to get the victory given their suffocating defense, but it’s going to be exciting to see how they react to their ACC Tournament loss.

How Many Points Will Be Scored in the BYU vs. Oregon Game?

The fastest team in the tournament, Brigham Young, will face off against the 12th-fastest, Oregon, today in a first-round (second round, whatever) matchup. As I said in yesterday’s 80 quick facts piece – don’t watch this game if you get motion sickness.

BYU is led by one of the best offensive players in the country in Tyler Haws. Haws averages over 23 points and nearly 4 boards per game, averaging more than 9 points more than any other BYU Cougar.

While BYU can bring it on offense, Oregon is actually better. The Ducks bring the 17th-best offense to the Big Dance, which is over 20 ranks better than BYU’s. While it may not be a result of the fast pace, both defenses struggle mightily, which is another reason to believe this could be the highest-scoring game of the first round.

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