March Madness Day 3 – Picks and Previews
#5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. #4 West Virginia Mountaineers
- Notre Dame (+2.5) vs. West Virginia (-2.5)
Old rivals take the court when the Mountaineers and Fighting Irish tip off in the first game of second round action during the March Madness tournament on Saturday. The Mountaineers are no longer in the Big East but they’ve brought success with them. They have a 27-8 record overall on the year and have played well in the Big 12 this season. Notre Dame is in the Atlantic Coast Conference now and have had a stellar season as well with a 26-9 record on the year.
Both teams had to earn their way into the second round as their games came closer than either team expected to set up a number 4 seed versus a number 5 in a must-watch game. For West Virginia they held on against an upstart Bucknell team 86-80 but their typical press game was failing them down the stretch and the 80 points Bucknell scored are a cause for concern for the Mountaineers going forward. With that being said West Virginia also scored the most they’ve ever scored in a game for the first time since 1982 and if they can continue that offense while getting back to their defensive ways they’ll be a tough out everyone in the tournament, let alone Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish will be well-prepared for the full-court press that West Virginia employs. Notre Dame has the lowest turnover rate in the country and just 13.8 percent of their possessions result in them turning over the ball. In their close 60-58 win over Princeton they turned the ball over just six times to set a school record for the fewest turnovers even in a March Madness game.
The Fighting Irish still have concerns up front as their best player and big man inside Bonzie Colson is nursing an ankle injury. He overcame it to score 18 points with eight boards in the win over the Tigers but has repeatedly told the press that his ankle is fine and he just needs to ice it. Those are hardly encouraging words but he’ll let his performance against Princeton speak for itself.
That wasn’t the only injury the Fighting Irish had to deal with as their forward Rex Pfluger had to leave the game briefly after receiving a huge cut over his right eye. He had to have it glued shut but returned to the game and locked it down on defense as the Irish held Princeton to under 30 percent shooting from deep. That type of fight will be needed all tournament and especially against a team as feisty as the Mountaineers.
The last time these two teams met was back in 2012 when both schools were still part of the Big East conference. Notre Dame swept the season series that year with a 55-51 win on the road in West Virginia and a huge 71-44 victory at home. While the teams have changed a lot since then the history still means something for both clubs.
Jevon Carter against Matt Farrell. Farrell was one of the best Irish players on the court in their first game and had all the space in the world to conduct Notre Dame’s offense. He’s not going to have the same amount of freedom against Carter and the rest of West Virginia’s press defense though. Carter leads the team with 2.6 steals a game and is active as anyone in the passing lanes.
Notre Dame’s win against Princeton was a little too close for comfort and their 60 points are a major concern as they get ready to battle an even better defense. With the spread only set at 2.5 we love the Mountaineers’ chances to cover. Take West Virginia on the spread.
#8 Wisconsin Badgers vs. #1 Villanova Wildcats
- Wisconsin (+5.5) vs. Villanova (-5.5)
The Wildcats didn’t look like a number one seed in their victory over Mount Saint Mary’s but at this point all that matters is that they live to see another day. The only problem for Villanova is that next day comes against a strong and experienced Wisconsin team.
The Badgers came in as a number 8 seed but easily handled the number 9 seeded Hokies when they grabbed an 84-74 win against Virginia Tech in their opening game of the tournament. Now a big game looms between the defending champion Wildcats and the 2015 runner up Badgers. Wisconsin must be looking forward to the game especially after the way Villanova started. The Wildcats didn’t score their first points until just overt six minutes into the game against Mount Saint Mary’s and if that offense shows up against the Badgers they could be buried early. They still managed to win big in a 72-52 victory but their 72 points seem extremely low for the competition they were facing.
Wisconsin was strong for the majority of their game against Virginia Tech. They held the lead for 35 of the 40 minutes but didn’t truly pull away until the very end of the game when they finally managed to stretch their lead to double digits. Bronson Koenig was the star for Wisconsin in their first game with big shot after big shots down the stretch as he pumped in a school record eight three to finish with a career high 28 points. It’s a good time as any to find your career high and Koenig will likely need a similar performance if the Badgers want to escape with a victory.
Despite the different in talent and record the Badgers make up for it in experience. They’re the only team to make it to the Sweet 16 in three straight years entering the tournament but can’t exactly brag about that when they’re playing the defending national champions.
Ethan Happ against Josh Hart. Happ was quiet compared to Koenig in his first game but still chips in all over the court for the Badgers and will need to help play defense against Hart and the rest of the Wildcats’ athletic forwards. Hart scored just 11 points against Mount Saint Mary’s and was took just nine shots despite making five of them. Expect him to be more aggressive after his teammates were ice cold to start their first game.
We expect Villanova to bounce back and take care of business but it won’t be easy against the depth and experience of this Wisconsin team. This has the making of a close game and we expect Wisconsin to come out gunning. Take the Badgers on the spread to make it close, but ultimately lose.
#8 Northwestern Wildcats vs. #1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
- Northwestern (+11) vs. Gonzaga (-11)
Congratulations are in order for Northwestern who won their first game in their first tournament ever in a nail biter on Thursday night. They have a flair for the dramatic and will need a little more drama on their side when they take the court against the Bulldogs on Saturday. Northwestern became the fourth team seeded eighth or higher in history to win their first ever March Madness game and will try and keep the Cinderella story rolling. They enter with a 24-11 record and are riding high after their tight 68-66 win over a very good Vanderbilt squad. Bryant McIntosh put a seal on the win with two big free throws with 14.6 seconds left before a costly Vanderbilt foul sent the Wildcats into the next round.
Despite all the pressure and mounting comeback by the Commodores the Wildcats showed a resolve that they’ve had all season long and brought a huge win to their school program in their first tournament game in the 78 years the school has been eligible. The Wildcats relied on an efficient offense in their first game by shooting just under 50 percent from the field. They scored 32 of their points in the paint for high percentage shots and made Vanderbilt work in their own end.
As big as that win was it will take everything for them to come out with another victory against Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are 33-1 this season for a reason and just grabbed another win in their opening game in the tournament for the 9th straight year. They started off slow but turned on the jets in the second half to beat South Dakota State by 20 in the 66-46 win. Gonzaga didn’t lead the game until just under two minutes before halftime though and if Northwestern can get out to a good start they may be able to weather the storm from a very strong second half team.
Nigel Williams-Goss against Bryant McIntosh. Both of these players were key in their teams’ opening round wins and are the de facto leaders on their respective clubs. McIntosh was unreal down the stretch for Northwestern while Williams-Goss carried Gonzaga out of their first half slump to make sure his team advanced. Whoever can control the pace of the game better may just come out with the victory.
The party is over for Northwestern but that doesn’t mean it won’t be close. 11 points is a lot for a team that had trouble with their first round opponent and as strong as Gonzaga has been this season they’ll have trouble clearing that margin. Take the Wildcats on the spread as they flirt with destiny one last time.
#11 Xavier Muskateers vs. #3 Florida State Seminoles
- Xavier (+6) vs. Florida State (-6)
It’s always nice to win your first game, especially against a team as dangerous as Florida Gulf Coast but the Seminoles still have some concerns heading into their second round game against the Musketeers. Third seeded Florida State made it through to the second round even though they had some uncharacteristically sloppy plays and some brutal shooting from the charity stripe. Both of those factors will need to be fixed before they take on Xavier as the Musketeers are coming off an impressive win of their own after upsetting Maryland.
Despite the areas of concern for Florida State they still looked as dominant as ever during stretches of play against Florida Gulf Coast and will be eager to continue that play on Saturday. Dwayne Bacon was strong as he has been all year for the 26-8 Seminoles. He dropped 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds to compliment Jonathan Isaac’s big game. He racked up a double-double with 17 points and ten boards while Terance Mann and Xavier Rathan-Mayes were big as well for Florida state. The Seminoles dominated the glass and the paint and that will be a big area of concern for the Musketeers in round 2 of the NCAA Tournament.
Florida State was great inside, but brutal at the free throw line. They made just 61.5 percent of their shots despite taking a huge 39 shots from the line. If they made even 75 percent of their shots it would have been a totally different game and they’ll need to calm their nerves and find their stroke against Xavier.
The Musketeers are confident after their second half comeback against the Terrapins. Down five points to start the second half Xavier leaned on Trevon Bluiett who seemed to gain momentum as the game wore on. He dropped a game-high 21 points thanks to five threes and will need to be aggressive against the Seminoles. Xavier had five different players score nine points or more but their key to success lies with Bluiett who has all the skills to attack the Seminoles’ weaker perimeter defense.
Xavier enters with a 22-13 record and feel like they can beat anyone after their upset over Maryland. They know that the Seminoles struggle from the line now as well and won’t be afraid to play some aggressive defense. Even if Florida State makes it to the foul line Xavier is capable they can capitalize off their misses.
Trevon Bluiett against Dwayne Bacon. Both players were huge in helping their teams escape with wins in round one and will find themselves guarding each other on multiple occasions on Saturday. Blueitt is in full-blown attack mode and we wouldn’t be surprised to see him go hard at Bacon early.
Xavier earned their win against Maryland but the Terrapins had been struggling down the stretch and are nowhere near the quality of team the Seminoles are. Florida State can score at will and if they figure out their free throw issues they’ll move on to the Sweet 16 in a big win. Take Florida State on the spread.
#12 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. #4 Butler Bulldogs
- Middle Tennessee (+4) vs. Butler (-4)
The upset that almost everyone predicted happened when the Blue Raiders wiped the floor with the Minnesota Golden Gophers and now they find themselves in the second round against a strong Butler team.
As much as Middle Tennessee is being billed as an underdog they certainly have the look of one of the best teams in the tournament. A win over Butler would certainly get everyone in the nation’s attention and that’s exactly what they’ll be gunning for when the ball tips on Saturday in one of the most anticipated games of the day. The Blue Raiders will try and use the same game plan that worked so well against the Golden Gophers: Attack the paint and protect the ball. That’s exactly what they did in round one with just eight turnovers. They also dished out 19 assists and are one of the top 15 teams in the entire country in assist to turnover ratio.
As strong as their offense has been this year it will need to be even better against Butler who is a strong defensive team. The Bulldogs are coming off their best regular season ever as a school and are trying to recreate their magical Final Four run back in 2011. They rolled over Winthrop 76-64 in the first round thanks to some good shooting from the field and the free throw line and that will be key to keeping up with the Blue Raiders.
The Bulldogs know that the Blue Raiders can play some defense as well and Butler will need to make sure they continue to rack up the assists as they try to generate a little more offense. Butler’s emergence in the March Madness tournament came out of seemingly nowhere in 2010 but now fans and bettors alike have an expectation for this team to do well and move on. They’ll be trying to get out of the first weekend for the first time since 2010 on Saturday but the Blue Raiders stand in their way.
Kelan Martin against JaCorey Williams. With both teams playing such excellent defense the offensive players can get overlooked. Martin leads the Bulldogs in scoring with 15.9 points a game to go along with 5.8 rebounds and is by far the most athletic player on Butler. He’ll be asked to try and locked down Williams who leads the Blue Raiders with 17.2 points a game and isn’t afraid of banging on the glass with 7.2 rebounds.
It’s always nice to root for an underdog but the Blue Raiders are playing a much harder team than the Minnesota squad they faced in the first round. With the spread set at just four points thanks to everyone jumping on the Middle Tennessee bandwagon don’t be afraid to sprinkle a few bets on Butler. Take the Bulldogs on the spread.
#7 Saint Mary’s Gaels vs. #2 Arizona Wildcats
- Saint Mary’s (+4.5) vs. Arizona (-4.5)
Here comes Arizona. The Wildcats are peaking at the right time and look like the dangerous team everyone predicted them to be with the tournament upon us. Second-seeded Arizona hit the 100 point mark in their 100-82 win over North Dakota on day one of the tournament. It’d just the third time in Division 1 history that a team has hit the century mark in the March Madness tournament and Arizona is ready to keep their foot on the pedal when they take on Saint Mary’s in round two.
In just 40 minutes the Wildcats stormed to 100 points with 54 points in the paint. They shot over 58 percent from the field and had five different players hit the double digit scoring mark. Now they’ll try and keep the offense rolling when they take on the seventh-seeded Gaels on Saturday.
Saint Mary’s enters with a 29-4 record compared to Arizona’s 31-4 and while the Gaels played against weaker competition for most of the season they had an impressive first round victory and will try and build off that momentum. The Gaels can flat out score but do it in a slow and methodical way and have no trouble slowing down the pace to a crawl as long as they get their shot off.
Saint Mary’s is in the top five in the country in both rebounding margin defense and they take methodical shots to get their results. They outlasted VCU 75-77 in their first round game and shot 55.6 percent from the field. They also assisted on over 50 percent of their field goals and got to the line a shocking 39 times.
The Wildcats played a much different style in their win with huge games from start players including Lauri Markkanen. The freshman dropped 20 points to match his teammate Rawle Alkins and with Markkanen projected to be a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft he’ll be trying to improve his stock with each passing game.
Allonzo Trier against Jock Landale. As good as Markkanen has been this season it’s actually Trier that leads the team in scoring. After missing the first 19 games of the season due to a suspension he’s averaging 17.3 points per game this season with 5.1 rebounds. He won’t be guarding Landale directly but will still need to finish at the rim against him. Landale scored 18 points with 13 rebounds in his round one game and leads the Gaels with averages of 16.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks a game.
Saint Mary’s has had an excellent season, but most of their wins have come in the West Coast Conference and they haven’t had to play teams on Arizona’s level very often this season. The Wildcats meanwhile are just picking up steam and look like one of the most dangerous teams in the tournament. Take Arizona on the spread.
#5 Virginia Cavaliers vs. #4 Florida Gators
- Virginia (+.1.5) vs. Florida (-1.5)
One of the closest and most anticipated games of the second round will come on Saturday when the Virginia Cavaliers and Florida Gators tip off. Arguably the biggest battle between these two teams will happen at the point guard position when Chris Chiozza gets tasked with guarding London Perrantes. With a berth in the Sweet 16 up for grabs the intensity is going to be turned all the way up and it may come down to who has a better game between these two.
The Gators are the slight favorite with a 25-8 record and had a much easier win in their first game against East Tennessee State 80-65 in round win. Virginia enters with a 23-10 record but barely held on to beat UNC Wilmington and needed a big comeback to get the job done. It was none other than Perrantes that made sure his team got over the hump with a game-high 24 points including a whopping 19 during the second half alone. He made four of five from the charity stripe and nailed two big three pointers to lift his team to their round one victory.
Now Perrantes will go against much stronger defenders in Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen and Kasey Hill. Allen and Hill each grabbed two steals in their first game while Chiozza chipped in with one of his own. The Gators were awesome on the fast break with 18 points while forcing the Buccaneers into 17 turnovers. They’ll hound Perrantes all night and show the guard as many different looks on defense as possible to throw him off his game.
It’s not all about Perrantes on Virginia though. Marial Shayok was huge for the Cavaliers in their comback win and dropped 23 points of his own. The two players turned over the ball just twice between them and will have to take care of it again with the swarming Florida defense in their faces.
London Perrantes against Chris Chiozza. Perrantes and the Cavaliers are known more for their defense than their offense but Perrantes had to rescue them when they were down big against UNC Wilmington. Now he’ll need to provide that offensive spark against much tougher defense but if anyone is capable it’s the guard from Virginia.
With this game amounting to a pick em’, the Cavaliers seem like the better bet. They’re getting the 1.5 points and will have their defense in a better spot when they take on the Gators. Take Virginia on the spread and hope they get more magic from Perrantes.
#5 Iowa State Cyclones vs. #4 Purdue Boilermakers
- Iowa State (+1) vs. Purdue (-1)
The Boilermakers are happy to be in the second round of the tournament for the first time in three years but as the higher seed in their next game against Iowa State they know they can accomplish a lot more. Purdue enters as the champions of the Big Ten regular season and will try and earn their way to the sought after Sweet 16 with a big win over the Cyclones on Saturday.
The Boilermakers played their typical style of big basketball in their first win against a tough Vermont team 80-70. Caleb Swanigan and Vincent Edwards were excellent in the paint and absolutely dominated the Catamounts outscoring them 42-24 in the paint. They also crabbed 11 more rebounds and were workhorses on the glass all night. As strong as they were on offense, their coach was most impressed with how well the Boilermakers played defense. Purdue held Vermont to just 44 percent shooting from the field all night and looked like a team ready to put in the work for a deep tournament run.
They’ll need to put in that work again with a very tough Iowa State team standing in their way on Saturday night. The Cyclones come in as the fifth seed and are desperate for a trip to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 17 years. Iowa State had to earn their win against surprisingly strong Nevada team but the Cyclones came out on top thanks to some athletic plays and big time buckets.
Iowa State is also enjoying playing so close to home in Milwaukee. Ames, Iowa is just a six hour drive and the Cyclones have enjoyed how many of their fans came out to their first game. With the stadium expected to be packed again with Iowa State supporters they could have a bit of an advantage against the Boilermakers from a crowd perspective.
Monte Morris against Caleb Swanigan. Two completely different players but the same expectations as these two stars will be leaned on heavily to carry their teams to the Sweet 16. Morris was the Most Outstanding Player of the Big 12 tournament and averages 16.3 points per game with 6.1 assist.
He also leads the entire country in assist to turnover ratio and knows how to take care of the basketball. Swanigan meanwhile plays a big man’s game but has been nothing short of spectacular for the Boilermakers this season. He averaged a huge double-double on the year with 18.4 points and 12.6 rebounds and will be a menace for any of the Cyclones to deal with.
Iowa State gets a little bump for playing in front of so many fans but the Boilermakers had a tougher first game and know what it takes to move on. As good as Morris is the Cyclones don’t really have an answer for Swanigan and we expect him to feast early as he tries to bring Purdue to the Sweet 16. Take the Boilermakers on the spread.