It’s March Madness, the greatest time of the year. Looking for some help with your bracket? Don’t know which teams to believe in, in this crazy college hoops season? We’ve got your back. We’re breaking down every first-round game in the field of 68, plus looking ahead at which teams will make the run to the Final Four.
6. Arizona (25-8, 12-6/Pac-12)–Despite the gaudy record and its third-place finish in the tough Pac-12, this isn’t a vintage Arizona team. The Wildcats don’t have the talent they’ve had in years past, as there aren’t any NBA lottery picks like Aaron Gordon or Stanley Johnson on the roster. They do boast a trio of capable scorers in 6-9 senior forward Ryan Anderson (15.5 ppg), 6-3 guard Gabe York (15.2 ppg) and 6-4 guard Allonzo Trier (15 ppg), and goliath big man Kaleb Tarczewski, who puts up nearly a double-double (9.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg).
Beyond that though, the Wildcats don’t have a ton of depth, and can be beaten if they get into foul trouble. They don’t have any bad losses, but finished third in the Pac-12 (a down year by Arizona standards) and were a cut below Oregon and Utah, going 0-3 against the league’s top two teams.
This is one of the highest-scoring teams in the nation, averaging 81.2 points per game, which ranks 19th nationally. They only give up 69 ppg,
81.2 points per game (19th)
14.5 assists per game (97th)
11. Vanderbilt (19-13, 11-7/SEC)– This team has been up and down all season long, though it’s been hit hard with injuries. Once the Commodores started to get healthy, it started to win more games, and scored a huge home victory over Kentucky on February 28 that probably pushed them into the field. Vandy gave some of that goodwill back by losing to Tennessee in the first round of the SEC Tournament, but apparently not enough to knock them out of the field (to Monmouth’s dismay).
Vandy is led by sophomore point guard Wade Baldwin IV, who puts up 14.3 points and 5.2 assists per game. Damian Jones (14.2 ppg) is another capable scorer, and four other players average at least seven points per game. This is a relatively deep group.
76.8 points per game
67.3 points allowed (65th)
11. Wichita State (24-8, 16-2/MVC)–We think the Shockers were seriously undervalued as an 11-seed, and they’ll carry a chip on their shoulder into the NCAA’s. This team is led by the same spectacular backcourt that helped guide the team to the Final Four in 2013, an undefeated regular season and No. 1 seed in 2014, and the Sweet 16 last season. Wichita State lost a lot of early season games because it didn’t have do-everything senior guard Fred Van Vleet (12 ppg, 5.7 apg), who will go down as one of the best players in school history and without whom, the team struggled to figure out how to play.
When Van Vleet returned, this became the Top 15-caliber squad that it’s been for the last three seasons, reeling off 17 wins in 18 games. Backcourt mate Ron Baker, who is a terrific three-point threat and will likely have his jersey retired in Wichita alongside Van Vleet’s, leads the team in scoring at 14.2 points per game. Both are All-American candidates.
The Shockers have the top scoring defense in the country, giving up just 59.3 points per game.KEY STATS:
59.3 points allowed (1st)
PREDICTION: We like Wichita State with a chip on its shoulder. The Shockers would have been a much higher seed if Fred Van Vleet hadn’t gotten hurt and missed the early part of the schedule, when this team played all of its quality non-conference opponents. Wichita State’s motto is “Play Angry,” and we think the Shockers will do that, and ride their No. 1-ranked defense to the second round. There, it’ll be a hard-fought battle with Miami (FL), which we expect the Hurricanes to win because of their size and veteran point guard Angel Rodriguez.