March Madness is finally here.
Despite the obvious miscarriage of cosmic justice that resulted in a Badger-less tournament, it is still the best time of the year. Play-in games begin Tuesday, March 13. The National Championship falls on Monday, April 2. Between those two magical dates is a time like no other. Couches mold to fit suspiciously well to your rear-end. Your eyeballs become painfully aware you were not meant to watch that television eight hours a day. Kick back, ignore homework, loved ones and responsibilities and break out your lucky highlighter.
And hey, as of now – you have a perfect bracket!
Let’s do it.
No. 1 Villanova University vs. No. 16 Long Island University-Brooklyn/Radford University
Sixteen seeds don’t beat one seeds.
It doesn’t look like this match-up will provide us with much more than a chance to watch Villanova tune up their game for the rest of the tournament.
Villanova (30-4, 14-4 Big East) has impressive wins against Tennessee, Butler (twice), Providence (twice), Creighton (twice) and Seton Hall.
The Wildcats feature two of the top players in the country in juniors Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. The deadly duo is devastatingly accurate from three: Brunson shoots .413 and Bridges nails .433 of their shots from beyond the arc. Both are more than 52 percent in overall field goal percentage and averaging 19.4 and 18 points per game respectively.
Coach Jay Wright will be looking to bring his perennial talented Villanova squad past either LIU (18-6, 10-8 Northeast Conference) or Radford (22-12, 12-6 Big South Conference), two teams that have not as much sniffed the kind of competition Villanova will be providing in the inaugural tournament weekend.
No. 8 Virginia Tech University vs. No. 9 University of Alabama
This is one of the most interesting matchups in the round of 64.
Virginia Tech (21-11, 11-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) has one of the best resumes of any middle-seeded team in the country. The Hokies beat Duke, UNC and Virginia — three of the best teams in the nation.
Tech plays a balanced, high octane, transition offensive style that allows them to average close to 80 points per game, though puts them in mediocre defensive standing. Over the course of the season, Virginia has come up short on the glass, they suffer a rebounding disparity of -1.5 per game.
Where Virginia Tech is even-keeled, Alabama (19-15, 8-10 Southeast Conference) contrasts play styles by funneling their entire offense through a single man: Collin Sexton.
You may remember the hilarity of a technical foul-induced three-on-five situation between Alabama and Minnesota earlier in the season. Of course, it was funny until Sexton finished the game with 40 points and almost took the Crimson Tide all the way back for the improbable win. Though in the end they fell short, nobody forgot Sexton moving forward.
If Sexton is on, the lowly conference record of Alabama will hardly matter and Virginia Tech will be searching for an answer.
No. 5 West Virginia University vs. No. 12 Murray State University
WVU (24-10, 11-7 Big 12) had their signature win early in the season against top overall seed UVA.
The Mountaineers are famous for their full-court press, and their dogged defense held opponents to an average of 69 points per game this season.
They are led by senior Jevon Carter, who was nominated to The Badger Herald’s “How is that guy still in college” All-American Team. Carter is fifth in the country in steals, averaging 2.85 per game and averages 6.6 assists per game to go with his team-leading 17 points average.
Murray State University (26-5, 16-2 Ohio Valley Conference) relies heavily on their sharpshooter Jonathan Stark. He’s draining 3.5 threes per game at a 41 percent clip on his way to a 21.8 point per game average.
The Racers have a healthy 13.8 average scoring margin that will be tested against the tenacious defense of the Mountaineers.
No. 4 Wichita State University vs. No. 13 Marshall University
Wichita State (25-7, 14-4 American Athletic Conference) has wins against Cincinnati, Houston and Baylor this season and is third in the country in team rebounding margin at 9.8 per game.
Their leader Landry Shamet is an elite shooter (.459 three-point percentage), facilitator (5.1 assists per game) and shoots over 82 percent from the free throw line.
Marshall (24-10, 13-5 USA Conference) is known as the alma mater of NBA G-League success story and shot-blocker extraordinaire Hassan Whiteside.
It would seem the Herd has elected to continue to host block parties. They once again have an elite paint protector on the roster in NCAA blocks leader Ajdin Penava.
They also have two 20-point per game scorers on the roster in Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks.
No. 6 University of Florida vs. No. 11 St. Bonaventure University/University of California-Los Angeles
Florida (20-12, 11-7 Southeast Conference) has two wins against Kentucky and a victory against Cincinnati on the season.
Despite those resume-building wins, the Gators seem rather unremarkable. Their positive scoring margin of 6.7 is barely more impressive than their negative rebounding deficit, and they look like a prime target for a surprise upset.
They will wait for the victor of St Bonnies (25-7, 14-4 Atlantic 10 Conference) and UCLA (21-11, 11-7 Pac-12 Conference), two teams that are capable of pulling off a first-round shocker.
No. 3 Texas Tech University vs. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin State University
Texas Tech (24-9, 11-7 Big 12 Conference) beat Nevada, Baylor and WVU before falling into a free-fall in the latter half of the season as a result of an injury to star Keenan Evans. Before the injury to their chief facilitator and shot-maker, Tech was 22-4 and at the top of the Big 12. Evans returned in time for the Big 12 tournament and will be back in the line up for the first round game.
Nothing says March Madness like seeing Stephen F. Austin State (28-6, 14-4 Southland Conference) on the docket opening weekend. You may not know where it is, whether it existed before the NCAA Tournament or who Stephen F. Austin was (The “Father of Texas”), but we are all happy to see our friends back in the bracket.
The Jacks have a 13-point scoring margin, albeit against rather weak competition, and match a balanced offense with tight defense — only allowing 68.1 points per game.
No. 7 University of Arkansas vs. No. 10 Butler University
Arkansas (23-11, 10-8 Southeast Conference) has wins against Florida and Tennessee this season and uses an efficient offensive system in which they convert on more than 40 percent of their three-point shots as a team, 47 percent of shots from the floor and drop more than 81 points per game.
The tradeoff is the Razorbacks lowly defensive effort. They allow 75.5 points per game, have a negative three-point field goal deficit of .7 and allow almost 43 percent field goal percentage per game.
Butler (20-13, 9-9 Big East) has wins against Villanova, Ohio State, Creighton and Seton Hall and will look to assail the weak Arkansas defense with their attack that managed to average just under 80 points a game this season. Senior forward Kelan Martin leads the way on the roster. Martin is tops on the team in points per game (20.8), three-point shooting (2.6 made per game), rebounds (6.2 per game) and blocks (.5 per game).
No. 2 Purdue University vs. No. 15 California State University-Fullerton
Purdue (28-6, 15-3 Big Ten) provided Badger fans with one of the few bright spots of the season earlier in the year when they lost an exciting tilt in Madison, followed by a student court storming to celebrate the upset.
As a two seed in a Tournament that forgot to mail Wisconsin an invite, it would seem Purdue had the last laugh. Team leader Carsen Edwards was built for March. He’s a shoot from the hip, all-around solid player who averaged 18.5 points and is a threat to go off any given night. He’s a huge reason why Purdue finished the regular season fifth in the nation in scoring margin (15.5).
Cal State-Fullerton (20-11, 10-6 Pac 12 Conference) has a negative scoring margin, turnover margin and averages lower field goal percentages from the field and from three than their opponents.
Though, they do have two talented scoring guards, Kyle Allman Jr. and Khalil Ahmad, averaging 19.4 and 15.3 points per game respectively.
At the end of the day, it’s March, where anything can happen. So, when push comes to shove, disregard all numbers, knowledge or wisdom and take out the dart board to make some quick, uninformed decisions.