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.
3. West Virginia (26-8, 13-5/Big XII)–Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers may be the toughest team in the nation to prepare for in tournament play–which is why we like this group to make a deep run this year. It’s not just that WVU’s ‘Press Virginia’ style is tough to get ready for–it’s that the players running that system are talented, too.
The Mountaineers are kick-started by 6-2 senior guard Jaysean Paige, who is a pest on defense and leads the team in scoring at 13.9 ppg. 6-9 junior forward Devin Williams can put the ball in the bucket, too (13.3 ppg), and rebounds well (9.3 per). The ‘Eers play at an up-tempo pace, averaging 79.2 points per game, which ranks 40th in the nation. They rebound very well (39.2 per), and lead the nation in steals, thanks to their aggressive and confounding defense.KEY STATS:
9.9 steals per game (1st)
4.1 turnover margin (7th)
14. Stephen F. Austin (27-5, 18-0/Southland)– What a down year it’s been for Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks will ride a mere 20-game winning streak into the Big Dance this season, after entering March Madness winners of 27 of 28 last year, and 28 in a row in 2014. What’s wrong with them? Maybe that’s what the selection committee was thinking as they inexplicably gave SFA a 14-seed. The ‘Jacks deserved much better.
This team is simply too good for the Southland Conference. Since 2014, SFA is an outlandish 53-1 in league play. They’ve represented themselves well in the NCAA’s too, beating VCU in a classic, overtime battle in 2014 and coming up just short in a 57-50 loss to Utah, which reached the Sweet 16, last season.
This is a small team, with only one starter, 6-7 T.J. Holyfield, standing above 6-5. Senior forward Thomas Walkup (17.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.5 apg) is only 6-4, but he plays like a big man, and can fill up every statistical category. The ‘Jacks are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the nation, ranking 21st in scoring (80.7 ppg), second in assists (18.9 per). They give up just 63.2 points per game, which ranks 13th nationally.
PREDICTION: Take a look at some of the numbers in the paragraphs above, and it’s hard not to at least think about taking Stephen F. Austin in the upset. I mean, 53-1 in their own conference in the last three years? That’s insane. Unfortunately for us (and the Lumberjacks), the selection committee decided to severely underseed them (should have been at least a 13, maybe a 12), and give them West Virginia in Round 1. We don’t like their chances against the Mountaineers’ press. We do like West Virginia to advance to the Elite Eight–where it could meet up with Kentucky or North Carolina.