4 Things to Watch During Day 2 of March Madness
Well that was fun.
The first day of the Big Dance certainly didn’t disappoint. We saw two different 12/5 upsets (work on your free throws, Wolfpack), a 16 seed compete with the top overall team, overtime thrillers, dudes with ponytails and awesome Aaron Craft memes. The only thing missing from all the excitement was a hefty dose of The Stain Train.
And guess what? We get to do it all over again today.
Here are four things to watch today as you sit back, relax and enjoy some more March Madness.
Will an 11 Seed Win Again?
The first game of the tournament saw a somewhat shocking upset of Dayton over Ohio State, making Dayton – given the losses to Xavier and Cincinnati – the last Ohio team standing in the Big Dance.
Today’s slate features three more games between 6 and 11 seeds, and each one provides the potential for an upset.
Starting in the East, North Carolina, coming off a loss in the ACC Tournament to Pitt, will square off against Providence, winners of the Big East Tourney. Carolina ranks 28th in nERD, sporting a solid defense and good all-around team. Providence, meanwhile, ranks 50th in nERD, playing at a slow pace to help open things up offensively.
The main reason folks think Providence has a chance to pull the upset though is because of Bryce Cotton. The senior guard averaged over 21 points per game this season, and has been sensational down the stretch. The Friars will need him to have a big game if they want to pull the upset.
The Midwest features a 6/11 game between Tennessee and UMass. The Volunteers are coming off a comeback win against Iowa in the “first round”, while UMass enters the tournament in a bit of a slump, losing three of their last five.
Tennessee’s an underrated team according to our numbers, ranking 23rd in nERD due to their 26th-ranked offense and 24th-ranked defense. They play at a slow pace – ranked 285th in college basketball – which could be an issue for UMass. The Minutemen are the 16th-fastest team in the country, and one of the fastest in this year’s tournament.
We’ve dubbed Massachussetts as over-seeded, so clearly we wouldn’t be surprised to see the six seed go down today.
The final game featuring an 11 seed will take place in the West region, where Baylor will face Nebraska. Baylor’s won 10 of their last 12, and are a lengthy bunch, ranking 24th in rebounding and 20th in blocks per game. Nebraska is a surprise team this year, soaring into the tournament as well after winning 10 of their final 13 games. Our numbers would be surprised to see Nebraska win this contest, however, especially when you consider that their mediocre offense may not be able to take advantage of Baylor’s bad defense.
An Underrated Gonzaga vs. Oklahoma State Contest
Yesterday’s 8/9 matchup wasn’t very entertaining. Well, it was for me, a Pitt alum, but I’m sure the majority of the country switched the channel when they saw Pitt take a 28-point lead to the half.
One of today’s three 8/9 matchups features two very good teams in Gonzaga and Oklahoma State. While everyone – even those who pick based on mascot – is picking the surging Oklahoma State Cowboys, don’t sleep on a Gonzaga squad that ranks 20th in nERD, featuring the 19th-best offense and 34th-best defense in the land.
Plus Gonzaga has John Stockton’s son. You never bet against John Stockton in a playo…nevermind.
Oklahoma State is one of the teams playing well into the tournament, led by the once-suspended Marcus Smart. They’ve been up-and-down all season long, but are entering the Big Dance on an “up”, winning five of their last seven. Those two losses were in overtime against highly-ranked Iowa State and Kansas.
But the Zags are coming in winners of their last five, and although they played just the 77th-hardest schedule in the country this year with no major wins, they’re a solid group that can compete with the Cowboys. They’ll just need to slow the pace a bit to keep it close.
A Big Game for Kansas
The biggest game for Kansas may not even be the one they’re playing in today. Sure, they’ll have to get by 15-seeded, 142nd power-ranked Eastern Kentucky, but their next opponent has the potential to give them a lot of problems now that Joel Embiid is officially out this weekend.
Right above the Jayhawks in the bracket sits a matchup between New Mexico and Stanford. The winner would play Kansas, and anyone who picked the Jayhawks should, quite honestly, be rooting for Stanford.
Stanford isn’t as strong as New Mexico according to nERD, which is the first reason to be pulling for them. But more importantly, while Stanford does have size, New Mexico has more. A lot more.
The Lobos lost to Kansas earlier in the season by 17 points, and Joel Embiid played a huge role, getting 16 points and three blocked shots in the second half alone. Without Embiid’s presence, 7’0’’ center Alex Kirk and 6’9’’ forward Cameron Bairstow could dominate Kansas down low. While Kirk is inconsistent, Bairstow is one of the players capable of taking over this tournament, and could create matchup problems against Kansas.
Don’t write off Stanford, an underrated team given their seed. But if they do indeed lose, be prepared for an interesting round of 32 game this weekend between probable Kansas and New Mexico.
Why is Everyone Talking About Mercer?
Who is Mercer? Why do they matter? Can they beat Duke?
Well, here’s the deal. Mercer played the 195th-toughest schedule this year, and as a result, their analytics aren’t bad – they rank 19th offensively and 29th defensively. They average the 25th-most points per game in college hoops, shoot a high field goal percentage, and dish the ball around well.
Because they’re good offensively, folks think that they’re a good candidate to upset a Duke team that ranked 109th on defense this year. The biggest problem with that logic, however, is that Mercer went 0-2 against tournament teams this season (Texas and Oklahoma), and really haven’t been tested.
Can they win? Of course. It’s March Madness, and Duke has their set of flaws defensively. And in a one-game playoff, anything is possible. But let’s not pretend Mercer will be able to stop Duke on the defensive end, either.