6. Texas (20-12, 11-7/Big 12)–The Longhorns have a lot of talent and played one of the toughest schedules in the country, so they’re tournament-tested. They’ll also enter the Big Dance without a bad loss–if you don’t count the 86-56 pasting at the hands of Kansas at home as a bad loss. 6-1 junior guard Isaiah Taylor has blossomed into a tremendous player under new coach Shaka Smart, who righted the ship after some early growing pains. Taylor is the team’s leading scorer at 14.8 points per game, and also dishes out 5 assists per.
Point guard Javan Felix (10.6 ppg) may be diminutive, but he’s quick and shifty, and very difficult to guard. He knows how to find teammates like Connor Lammert, who at 6-9 is the definition of a stretch-four who can shoot the rock. Cameron Ridley (11.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg) is a load inside, and he’s returned to the lineup after missing the entire conference season with a foot injury.KEY STATS:
68.1 points allowed (84th)
71.3 points per game (222nd)
11. Northern Iowa (22-12, 11-7/MVC)–This is no first-round pushover. The Panthers were a five-seed in last year’s NCAA’s, and advanced to the second round before falling to Louisville. In 2010, UNI orchestrated one of the biggest upsets in tournament history, stunning No. 1 Kansas after a memorable three from Ali Farokmanesh.
These Panthers don’t have the same talent as those squads, but they do have a bona-fide star in do-everything guard Wes Washpun, who hit the game-winner to give UNI the Missouri Valley championship. Washpun scored 28 in Northern Iowa’s win over Iowa State in December, and had 21 and 8 assists in their upset of No. 1 North Carolina in November. He can play against the big boys. So too can Northern Iowa, which enters the tournament winners of 11 of 12.
Four players average in double figures in scoring for the Panthers, including Washpun’s backcourt mate Matt Bohannon, at 11.8 per.KEY STATS:
62.9 points allowed (11th)
30.1 rebounds per game (347th)
PREDICTION: This should be a fascinating matchup, as Texas will have to corral Washpun and push the pace in order to win. Northern Iowa prefers a much slower pace, so it’ll be interesting to see which team can win that battle. We think this one goes right down to the wire, with Northern Iowa pulling off the upset and spoiling the potential for a Texas-Texas A&M second-round matchup.