Source: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s a look at matchups set for the Elite Eight.

Pick your Fantasy Sports Elite Eight Winners Here

Texas Tech could reach its first Final Four, while Gonzaga’s a win from its second in three seasons

A showdown of two No. 1s determines the West Regional’s bid to the 2019 Final Four, as the top-ranked Texas Tech defense faces the nation’s best offense in Gonzaga.

The third-seeded Red Raiders and top seed Bulldogs advanced to Saturday’s Elite Eight at Honda Center with double-digit-point margins of victory in the Sweet 16, but the nature of their victories differed dramatically. Gonzaga used a balanced offense to overcome Florida State’s length and defensive prowess, ultimately pulling away from a four-point deficit late in the game.

Texas Tech physically battered Michigan and stymied every look the Wolverines had at the hoop. The Red Raiders’ overwhelming defense turned into offense in the second half, as star Jarrett Culver spread the wealth en route to a lopsided win.

The clash in styles sets the tone for this Elite Eight showdown.

Expect plenty of offense as one of these teams will break a lengthy Final Four drought

The Purdue Boilermakers and the Virginia Cavaliers do have some things in common. They both won their respective conference regular-season championship this year, they both received top-three seeds in this year’s NCAA Tournament, they’re looking to end their Final Four droughts (1980 for Purdue, 1984 for Virginia) and they’re both looking for their first-ever national championship. But that’s where the similarities end. Both teams thus far have surpassed Tournament expectations.

Purdue (26-9) has had a reputation of reaching the NCAA Tournament on a somewhat regular basis but struggles when trying to advance past the second round. Virginia (32-3), on the other hand, is still haunted by last year’s shocking upset loss in the first round to No. 16 UMBC. Now they must face one another in order to write the next chapter and continue to make history for their programs. Very few expected both of these teams to reach the Elite Eight, but here we are and this game will be fun to watch with a trip to the Final Four hanging in the balance.

The Boilermakers easily defeated Old Dominion and defending national champion Villanova in the first two rounds, but they needed overtime to defeat Tennessee in the Sweet 16 on Thursday after blowing an 18-point lead. The Cavaliers, however, have been shooting at will in this Tournament as they easily dispatched Gardner-Webb in round one, edged Oklahoma in round two, and staved off a pesky Oregon team in the Sweet 16. These are two of the best offensive teams in this Tournament and they’ll likely have to outshoot the other in order to advance.

Top two seeds in East Region meet in heavyweight battle for spot in Final Four

Two legendary coaches in Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski will meet each other with a Final Four berth on the line Sunday.

The Michigan State Spartans (31-6) and the Duke Blue Devils (32-5) will face off in Washington, D.C. on Sunday to determine the winner of the East Region and which team moves on to the Final Four in Minneapolis. On Friday night, No. 2 seed Michigan State handled No. 3 LSU 80-63. Hours later, No. 1 overall seed Duke escaped with a 75-73 win over ACC rival and No. 4 Virginia Tech.

Izzo and Krzyzewski have a combined 19 Final Four appearances between them but only one will be able to add to their career total this year.

SEC rivals meet for the third time this season with a Final Four berth on the line

One SEC team is guaranteed a Final Four berth in 2019.

Auburn and Kentucky will clash for a third time this season in the Midwest Regional Final on Sunday. The Tigers are playing in the Elite Eight for the first time since 1986 and have never advanced to the Final Four. The Wildcats, on the other hand, are seeking their first Final Four appearance since 2015.

It’s safe to say that Auburn faces long odds to get past Kentucky. The Wildcats swept the Tigers in the regular season and are the last team to hand Auburn a defeat. It certainly isn’t impossible though with how Auburn has played up to this point.

Auburn has won 11 straight games. The two most recent victories were convincing blowout wins over No. 4 seed Kansas and No. 1 North Carolina. The Tigers are on a roll offensively, averaging 88.0 points per game in the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky has used defense to get to this point. The Wildcats are allowing 52.6 points per game to offset some average offensive performances. They scored just 62 points in wins over Wofford and Houston.

 

Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Corey Davis Jr, Zion Williamson and Carsen Edwards
Source: Getty Images North America

Here’s a look at all matchups set for the Sweet Sixteen.

Pick your Fantasy Sports Sweet 16 Winners Here

ACC foes meet for the second time this season with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line

A month ago, the Virginia Tech Hokies pulled off a 77-72 upset of the Duke Blue Devils. A lot has changed since the two teams met on Feb. 26 as they will play one another in the NCAA Tournament East Region semifinals on Friday night at Capital One Arena in Washington D.C.

Of course, Duke fans will be quick to mention freshman forward Zion Williamson, the ACC”s Freshman and Player of the Year, did not play in that loss in Blacksburg. However, Virginia Tech senior guard Justin Robinson also missed the game. Both Williamson and Robinson are expected to play on Friday.

The Blue Devils (31-5), who are the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, barely escaped their second-round matchup against UCF 77-76. Williamson scored 32 points and collected a game-high 11 rebounds in the victory.

The Hokies (26-8), are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1962 and just the second time in program history. On Sunday, No. 4 seed Virginia Tech defeated No. 12 Liberty 67-58 out in San Jose, California, to advance to the regional semifinals. Robinson had 13 points in the victory, one of four Hokies in double figures, as Virginia Tech outscored the Flames by 12 in the second half to overcome a three-point halftime deficit.

Streaking Ducks look to knock off top-seeded Cavaliers in Louisville

Virginia is finally living up to expectations in the postseason. Can the Cavaliers keep it going while facing an Oregon team that is embracing a rare underdog role? That’s a question that doesn’t offer an easy answer.

The Ducks aren’t your typical No. 12 seed. Injuries dropped Oregon from a preseason Top 25 ranking. Now healthy again, the Ducks have ripped off 10 straight wins and dominated Wisconsin and UC Irvine to get to the Sweet 16. They have won their first two NCAA Tournament games by an average of 18.5 points while holding their opponents below 40 percent shooting from the field.

Virginia seems capable of taking the next step forward after reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2016. The Cavaliers overcame a shaky first half to dispatch Gardner-Webb and were never really threatened by Oklahoma in the second round. They are winning with trademark smothering defense and patient offense.

Virginia and Oregon played a home-and-home series in 2010 and ’11. The Cavaliers won both games by an average margin of 14 points.

Seminoles, Bulldogs meet in Sweet 16 in West Regional for second straight year

The unofficial theme of the 2019 West Regional at Honda Center in Anaheim? Goin’ Back to Cali.

A year ago, Sweet 16 participants Florida State, Gonzaga and Michigan played in Los Angeles for the right to advance to the Final Four. The same three are back in Southern California, not far down the freeway in Anaheim. For Florida State and Gonzaga in particular, Thursday’s matchup is a case of deja vu. The two played in last year’s Sweet 16, with Florida State surprisingly dominant in a 75-60 win.

After coming one possession short of its first Final Four in almost a half-century, Florida State will look to rectify last year’s near-miss, starting with a redux of the 2018 Regional semifinal. For Gonzaga, the dream of a second Final Four this decade is still attainable.

A stark contrast in styles highlights this Sweet 16 rematch. Florida State comes in ranked No. 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom.com. Gonzaga, on the other hand, is No. 1 in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Tigers, Tar Heels meet in a matchup of two explosive offenses that like to pick up the pace

Auburn has proved its run through the SEC Tournament was no fluke. North Carolina has lived up to its billing and dominated as a No. 1 seed. Now the two clash in what could be one of the best Sweet 16 games we see on either Thursday or Friday.

The fifth-seeded Tigers have ripped off 10 straight wins to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003. Auburn hasn’t reached the Elite Eight since 1986. The Tigers have never reached a Final Four in their history.

The Tar Heels are looking to reach the Final Four for the third time in four years. North Carolina has had a great track record in Sweet 16 games under head coach Roy Williams. The Tar Heels have advanced to the Elite Eight eight times under Williams and have lost just once in the Sweet 16, falling to Wisconsin in 2015.

This is the second time these two teams have met in the NCAA Tournament. Auburn and North Carolina also clashed in the Sweet 16 in 1985. The Tar Heels won 62-56.

Tigers and Spartans clash in Washington D.C. with Elite Eight berth on the line

Four teams enter the nation’s capital fresh off a pair of NCAA Tournament wins. They haven’t all been pretty, they haven’t all been blowouts. But they’ve been wins, and in a time appropriately dubbed as “madness,” wins are simply the most important commodity to collect.

LSU makes its 10th appearance in the Sweet 16 and first since 2006. It has been a topsy-turvy ride for the third-seeded Tigers — who lost in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament to Florida — and have squeaked by in their first two NCAA Tournament wins by a combined seven points. Despite nearly blowing a double-digit lead to No. 6 Maryland, LSU pulled out the 69-67 win thanks to four players scoring in double figures, led by Skylar Mays’ 16 and Naz Reid’s 13.

In order to reach their first Elite Eight since 2006, the Tigers will have to contend with Michigan State, the Big Ten’s regular-season and tournament champion. The Spartans received a scare from No. 15 Bradley in the opening round, but they dispatched fellow Big Ten foe (and No. 10) Minnesota by 20 points in the Round of 32. The Spartans dominated the Gophers in most areas — including shooting 57 percent from the field (compared to Minnesota’s 30.5) and outrebounding them 45-19.

However, MSU committed 22 turnovers, its second-highest single-game total and just the third game this season with at least 20. If the Spartans want to make the most of their first Sweet 16 trip since 2015 (when the program also reached the Final Four), they will need to clean up that part of their game.

The two point guards squaring off might be some of the smallest players on the court, but they carry the biggest impact into this game. LSU’s Tremont Waters (5-11) led the SEC (and is third in Division I) with 2.97 steals per game, as the Tigers are a top-10 team in that category. On the other side, Michigan State’s Cassius Winston (6-1) is one of the best distributors in the sport. He’s dished out 7.5 assists per game — which tops the Big Ten and ranks third in Division I — and only Murray State standout Ja Morant (331 total assists this season) has more than Winston’s 271.

Boilermakers, Volunteers meet for the second straight season, this time for a spot in the Elite Eight

Purdue vs. Tennessee is not just one of the few Sweet 16 matchups that I correctly picked in my bracket this year. It also one could set the tone for the remainder of the NCAA Tournament.

Both the Boilermakers (25-9) and Volunteers (31-5) have more than held their own in one of the more competitive Tournament fields in recent memory. Purdue made short work of Old Dominion in the first round, then the Big Ten regular-season champs put the hammer down on defending national champion Villanova in the second round, beating the Wildcats by 26 points.

Tennessee, on the other hand, had to surge past a pesky Colgate team in the first round, then needed overtime to put away the Iowa Hawkeyes and not end up on the wrong end of a historic comeback. The Volunteers led by 25 with a little more than four minutes remaining in the first half and were up by 21 at halftime before Iowa stormed back. But Tennessee did what teams are supposed to do — survive and advance.

So now the question is can Purdue continue its Tournament domination, or will Tennessee find a way to outshoot and outscore another tough opponent? After facing Iowa, the Volunteers have an idea of what to expect against another Big Ten squad. This is UT’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 2014 and they don’t want to waste it. This is the third straight Sweet 16 berth for the Boilermakers but they haven’t been able to make it past this round. These two teams faced each other last season in late November, a game the Volunteers won in overtime (78-75) on the road.

Two of the nation’s best defensive teams collide in Orange County

Michigan’s run to the national championship game a season ago went through Southern California. The Wolverines return, this time opening the West Regional against an opponent that fell short of its Final Four dreams a year ago, Texas Tech.

This clash of Big Ten and Big 12 teams features two of the very best defensive squads college basketball has to offer, with two of the game’s premier coaches on the sideline. For Michigan’s John Beilein, 2019 marks the seventh Sweet 16 appearance of his illustrious coaching career and fifth such trip at Michigan. The well-tenured Beilein has implemented a fluid brand of unselfish offensive basketball that complements the Wolverines’ No. 2-ranked adjusted defensive efficiency.

Beard’s overall track record is much shorter, but the 2019 Tournament is the third in four years in which Beard has coached a team winning at least one game. He led Arkansas-Little Rock to an upset of Purdue in 2016, and now in just his third season at Texas Tech has led the Red Raiders to consecutive Sweet 16s.

The next step for Texas Tech is to advance to the Final Four, while Michigan pursues its third appearance in the last six years.

Teams’ first-ever meeting on the court is for a spot in the Elite Eight

The NCAA Tournament has brought about many first-time matchups through the years, and we’ll get another one on Friday night when the Houston Cougars take on the Kentucky Wildcats with an Elite Eight berth on the line. The Cougars under Kelvin Sampson are enjoying their first 30-win campaign since the “Phi Slama Jama” era of the early 1980s, while the Wildcats have been constant championship contenders under head coach John Calipari. And when these two forces collide it could be a historic occasion.

Houston (33-3) took out both Georgia State and Ohio State in the previous two rounds, winning by a total of 44 points. Kentucky (29-6) made short work of Abilene Christian in the first round, then survived a close game with Wofford last Saturday. This is the eighth Sweet 16 appearance for UK in the Calipari era, while the Cougars are playing in this round for the first time since 1984 when the team led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler went on to lose to Georgetown in the national championship game.

This will be the second SEC team that Houston has played this season. The Cougars beat fellow Sweet 16 participant LSU at home back in December. As for Kentucky, this will be the Wildcats’ first matchup with a team from the American Athletic Conference (AAC) since defeating Cincinnati in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament. This also will be the schools’ first-ever meeting.

Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Corey Davis Jr, Zion Williamson and Carsen Edwards
Source: Getty Images North America

Duke hopes to end in Minneapolis how they started… as the No. 1 team

Usually at this time of year, we’re all discussing whether Cinderella can continue their magical run through the NCAA Tournament. This year however?

Chalk. Lots of it.

While the field has been narrowed down from 68, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that those plucky little underdogs are nowhere to be found. All those high seeds — and there are plenty of them right now — mean this year’s edition of the Tournament could have one of its best-ever second weekends. From the Hall of Fame coaches to the future NBA lottery picks, there’s plenty of high-level basketball to be played over the coming days and the 2019 national champion will surely be the cream of the crop as a result.

Pick your Fantasy Sports March Madness Winners Here

How do all those remaining college basketball teams stack up against each other though? After taking in the first two rounds, here’s a re-seeding of those teams still left dancing in the Sweet 16:

1. North Carolina

The top seed in the Midwest is playing more like the top seed in the entire Tournament — and have been for over a month now. Their tempo can really be difficult to match and Roy Williams has been dialing up the right moves in March for a long time now, which is as good of an asset as it is having veterans like Luke Maye to go out and execute. Having Nassir Little break out during the first weekend only enhances the fact that the Tar Heels are playing like the team to beat.

2. Duke

Yes, the Blue Devils were lucky to survive and advance out of that second-round game against UCF. Here’s the thing though, just about every title-winning team has to say that they are both lucky and good at some point in this kind of tourney. We know Duke certainly is good with Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Tre Jones et al. and now we know they’re a bit lucky too. It’s a tough road but Coach K and company have to still like their odds of making it to Minneapolis.

3. Gonzaga

Five straight Sweet 16s is quite the accomplishment for Mark Few and this is one of his most well-rounded group of players yet. Brandon Clarke’s monster game against an athletic Baylor squad in the second round should help serve notice that while Rui Hachimura gets most of the attention, the Bulldogs can beat you a dozen different ways.

4. Virginia

You would have to forgive the Cavaliers for being a bit nervous during the first weekend given what happened last year to them in the first round. At the same time, you also have to give them credit for eventually finding their sea legs and looking a lot like the team who earned the No. 1 seed in the South for a terrific regular season. This is Tony Bennett’s best offensive-minded group yet and when you add that to their terrific defense, the time is certainly now for the elusive Final Four trip.

5. Michigan State

Another squad that seemed to be looking ahead a bit in the first round, the Spartans really showed what they are capable of in trouncing their conference foe Minnesota to make it to the Sweet 16. Tom Izzo’s sideline demeanor has been the focus of most talking heads but not enough has been paid to how well this group plays as a team. Their biggest obstacle is probably the fact that their Final Four road likely goes through Duke but this is an excellent all-around squad.

6. Michigan

The Wolverines probably look at the West region with a bit of deja vu given the similarities to last year but they know that a Final Four bid is there for the taking. They had one of the most effortless first weekends of anybody on this list and their defense is absolutely ferocious. John Beilein might be the best coach in the game at the moment and he’s got the squad to keep going well past the Sweet 16.

7. Texas Tech

The Red Raiders top-notch defense was on full display in that impressive clamp-down of high-flying Buffalo in the second round. They’ve got the horses on the other end though too, as Jarrett Culver keeps shooting up NBA draft boards with the way he’s playing on both ends of the court. Chris Beard has done a phenomenal job this season and could be saving the best for last.

8. Tennessee

In terms of talent, the Volunteers should be much higher on this list. But after getting pushed by Colgate and then letting Iowa storm back to force an improbable overtime, there are real concerns about the group from Knoxville and beyond. Admiral Schofield has the talent to be the best player in the Tournament but the way he pulled himself out of OT against the Hawkeyes combined with Rick Barnes as head coach leave Tennessee as quite the enigma at the moment.

9. Kentucky

Let’s face it, PJ Washington’s health holds back the Wildcats from really being the title threat that they looked like a few weeks ago. Credit to John Calipari though, he’s got his youngsters playing hard on both ends and really making sure everybody is comfortable in their role. They survived Wofford thanks to a (statistically impossible) off night from Fletcher Magee and will have to be better in all areas if they want to make it to the Twin Cities.

10. Purdue

Credit to Matt Painter’s crew, who just might be the hottest team on this list save maybe the Ducks. The offense is certainly clicking at a high level and there are threats to worry about even if Carsen Edwards isn’t the one going off like he’s in NBA Jam. Not just beating the defending champs but running them off the floor served notice that the Boilermakers need to be taken extra seriously by all the teams that stand in their way.

11. Florida State

It sounds as though Phil Cofer is not going to return to the court for the Seminoles, which is a tough blow for the team in terms of his senior leadership and because of the tragic loss of his father. Raiquan Gray has played solidly in his absence and Terance Mann is stepping up his game for this uber-athletic squad but there’s a big jump in level of play with the long trip West in the Sweet 16.

12. Houston

It’s incredible to believe that the Cougars are back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since Phi Slama Jama caught the attention of fans far and wide. While this group does seem a bit like a fish out of water amongst blue bloods and other power conference opponents, make no mistake — they can play. Corey Davis is really an underrated player and they’ve gotten all the right moves out of head coach Kelvin Sampson.

13. Auburn

The Tigers haven’t been on a run like this since Charles Barkley was in uniform on the Plains and not in the studio cheering the team on. The effort against Kansas was one of the most all-around impressive ones in this Tournament and Bruce Pearl has his guys playing hard every time out on the court.

14. LSU

The Tigers survived a thriller against Maryland to make it to the Sweet 16 and there’s no question they have the talent to make it to the Elite Eight and beyond. That said, they’re still a team without their head coach and without Will Wade, there certainly seems like there is a ceiling with this group. That’s not to say they can’t exceed expectations, just that they’re tempered a bit going forward.

15. Oregon

There’s something about the Ducks under Dana Altman when the calendar turns to March. He’s getting the absolute most out of his group, which is as hot as they come the last few games. Payton Pritchard is hitting big shot after big shot and nobody really wants to challenge Kenny Wooten. Yes, it’s a tall task being the only double-digit seed remaining but there’s certainly something brewing the last couple of weeks.

16. Virginia Tech

Hats off to Buzz Williams, who has the noted football school dancing in the Sweet 16 for the first time. The Hokies are a balanced group and have the benefit of knowing that they have beaten their upcoming opponent just a few weeks ago. They get the benefit of playing pretty close to home and that could be the difference even as they make the trip to Washington, D.C. as a noted underdog.

Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured (left to right): Corey Davis Jr, Zion Williamson and Carsen Edwards
Source: Getty Images North America

Here’s how the Sweet 16 looks

Need an updated 2019 NCAA Tournament bracket to embrace the full March Madness? We’ve got you covered, with a look at which teams made the Sweet 16 and which teams they beat to get there. 

Pick your Fantasy Sports March Madness Winners Here

Here are the 16 teams remaining in the tournament (alphabetical listing)…

Auburn

Duke

FSU

Gonzaga

Houston

Kentucky

LSU

Michigan

Michigan State

UNC

Oregon

Purdue

Tennessee

Texas Tech

Virginia

Virginia Tech

Here’s a complete rundown of the remaining 2019 NCAA Tournament schedule:

Thursday, March 28 & Saturday, March 30 – South (Louisville, Ky.) and West (Anaheim, Calf.) Regionals

Friday, March 29 & Sunday, March 31 – East (Washington, D.C.) and Midwest Regionals (Kansas City, Mo.)

Saturday, April 6 – Final Four (Minneapolis)

Monday, April 8 – National Championship (Minneapolis)

Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Jaylen Nowell
Source: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images North America

Take a look at the matchups set in the First Round Midwest Region.

Pick your Fantasy Sports March Madness Winners Here

Huskies and Aggies set to face off in Columbus

One of the better No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchups will be played on Friday as the Washington Huskies and the Utah State Aggies are set to face off against each other. The Huskies (26-8) are coming off of a loss to Oregon in the championship game of the Pac-12 Tournament while the Aggies (28-6) won the Mountain West Tournament to extend their winning streak to 10 in a row.

Washington made it all the way to the final game of the Pac-12 Tournament but the Huskies have had their issues recently. They are just 4-3 over their last seven games with all of those wins coming by no more than five points. But Washington doesn’t lack for talent as the team features Pac-12 Player of the Year Jaylen Nowell as well as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, Matisse Thybulle.

Meanwhile Utah State is in the midst of a 17-1 run that has the Aggies in the polls for the first time since the 2010-11 season. This also is the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.

Buckeyes take on the Big 12 Tournament champs in Tulsa

Two of college basketball’s premiere conferences will go head-to-head in the NCAA Tournament when the Big Ten’s Ohio State and Big 12’s Iowa State face off in the first round on Friday. While both teams haven’t been strangers to the Big Dance it’s been a few years since either has made a deep run. The Buckeyes (19-14) made it to the Elite Eight in 2013, were in the Final Four the year before that, and haven’t won a national title since back in 1960. The Cyclones (23-11) last made the Sweet 16 in 2016, the Elite Eight in 2000 but haven’t been to the Final Four since 1944.

Ohio State was the last of the eight Big Ten teams to get an invite to the Big Dance. The Buckeyes tied for eighth in the conference with a 8-12 record and after stumbling down the stretch (3-7 in their last 10), appeared headed for the NIT. But Chris Holtmann’s team’s total body of work, which includes wins over NCAA Tournament teams Cincinnati, Iowa, and Minnesota, was enough in the selection committee’s eyes. Another contributing factor to Ohio State’s late-season kid was the three-game suspension of Kaleb Wesson, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder.

Iowa State (23-11) won its way into the NCAA Tournament, taking the Big 12 Tournament title for the second time in three years to get the automatic bid. Steve Prohm’s team went 9-9 in the regular season, but took down higher seeds and fellow NCAA Tournament teams Baylor, Kansas State, and Kansas to cut down the nets in Kansas City. After a one-year absence, the Cyclones are back in the Big Dance and don’t want to be one and done.

Both of these teams have something to prove and the NCAA Tournament is the perfect stage to make that happen.

Pirates look to slow down the streaking Terriers

There probably isn’t a hotter team in the nation than Wofford heading into the NCAA Tournament. The Terriers own a 20-game winning streak and feature an offense that scores in bunches. Seton Hall gets the not-so-simple task of becoming the latest team to try and contain the Southern Conference champs.

Wofford earning a No. 7 seed is no fluke. The Terriers lost only to North Carolina, Kansas, Mississippi State, and Oklahoma during the regular season. They went unbeaten in conference play and have one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting teams.

Seton Hall teetered on the bubble with several bad losses before winning four of five and reaching the Big East Tournament championship game to nail down an at-large bid and a No. 10 seed. The Pirates are a strong defensive team, but also struggle on offense enough to cancel it out at times.

Seton Hall is seeking NCAA Tournament victories in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1993. A win for Wofford would be the school’s first in six NCAA Tournament appearances.

Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Markus Howard
Source: Drew Hallowell / Getty Images North America

Take a look at the matchups set in the First Round West Region.

Pick your Fantasy Sports March Madness Winners Here

Two of college basketball’s most exciting players lead their teams into an opening round showdown

At 25 and 24.6 points per game respectively, Marquette’s Markus Howard and Murray State’s Ja Morant are the two highest-scoring players in the 2019 NCAA Tournament field. They headline a first-round showdown on Thursday that has all the makings of a classic 12-over-5 upset.

Marquette limps into the Tournament with losses in five of its last six. Howard told reporters on Monday he was ready to go at full strength despite suffering a wrist injury in the Big East Tournament, and there’s no doubt the Golden Eagles need him. He went off for more than 50 points twice in the regular season, showing an offensive repertoire similar to that of Arizona State legend and longtime NBA mainstay Eddie House.

Howard’s an intriguing NBA prospect; so, too, is Morant. Morant burst onto the scene this season, generating draft talk in league with noteworthy names like Duke freshmen phenoms Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. The high-flying Morant and his Murray State teammates aren’t thinking about June’s draft, though. The OVC champions want to dance on.

Nevada, one of last year’s Tournament darlings who lost by one point to Loyola-Chicago in the Sweet 16, are the ones on upset alert.

On Thursday, the Florida Gators and the Nevada Wolf Pack will get together for a traditional No. 7 vs. No. 10 matchup in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

Although the Gators finished their SEC season with a 9-9 record, the club made it all the way to the semifinals of their conference tournament before losing to eventual champion Auburn.

Nevada, on the other hand, has been ranked in the Top 25 of both polls for the entire season (the majority of that time in the top 10) and has already collected 29 wins. The Wolf Pack were upset in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament by San Diego State and hope to avoid a similar fate on Thursday.

A pair of teams looking to put disappointing regular-season finishes behind them face off in Salt Lake City

Neither Baylor nor Syracuse are strangers to NCAA Tournament success during this decade. For that reason, their matchup on Thursday in Salt Lake City promises to be one of the must-see first-round games.

The Orange made Final Four runs in 2013 and ’16. They also reached the Elite Eight in 2012 and the Sweet 16 in ’10 and ’18. The Bears made a Sweet 16 run a year ago and in 2014. Before that, Baylor reached the Elite Eight in 2010 and ’12.

Both teams landed lower seeds after key injuries caused them to pile up losses late in the season. The Bears lost four straight coming into the tournament and the Orange dropped five of seven.

Baylor is making its fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance. The Bears earned their lowest seed since being awarded a No. 11 seed in 2008. Syracuse is in the 68-team field for the third time in four seasons. The Orange are a No. 8 seed for just the second time in their history after being awarded the same seed in 1999.

Sun Devils look to ride momentum of First Four victory when they take on the Bulls in Tulsa

Can Buffalo take the next step forward and solidify an identity as an emerging basketball power? That’s the question facing the Bulls as they take on Arizona State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

Arizona State enters the game with major momentum after crushing St. John’s 74-65 in the First Four on Wednesday. The Sun Devils held the Red Storm to 25 first-half points on 30 percent shooting and led by double digits for most of the game.

Buffalo is no stranger to facing Pac-12 teams in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulls obliterated Pac-12 champion Arizona in the first round a year ago as a No. 13 seed. This time around, everything is a bit different. Buffalo has taken on the role of the hunted instead of the hunter. The Bulls eclipsed 30 wins and rose to No. 15 in the final AP Top 25 Poll.

Adding an interesting wrinkle to the mix is that former Bulls head coach Bobby Hurley will be facing his old school for the first time. Hurley led Buffalo to the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015 before departing for Arizona State. He has sparked a renaissance in Tempe, leading the Sun Devils to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 1981.

Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Source: Brian Spurlock / USA Today Sports

Take a look at the matchups set in the first four.

Pick the First Four Winners Here

Winner of this game claims program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory and advances to face No. 1 seed Gonzaga

Since it’s implementation in 2011 some have treated the First Four stage of the NCAA Tournament as either an unnecessary play-in game or a glorified losers bracket. But for the two teams that will kick off this year’s First Four, it’s the first step in a journey towards a championship. When the Prairie View A&M Panthers (22-12) square off against the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (20-13) in Dayton, Ohio, you can expect the 2019 NCAA Tournament to get off to an exciting start. Both teams come into this game with plenty of momentum. And when you consider that the West Region’s No. 1 seed in Gonzaga is waiting on the other side, momentum is a good thing.

Prairie View A&M started their season slow (1-11) but has saved its best basketball for last. The Panthers have won 11 in a row, claiming their fourth SWAC regular-season championship in the process. They won their second SWAC Tournament trophy by outscoring the opposition 259-223 in three games to secure the conference’s automatic bid. Fairleigh Dickinson also enters the Big Dance on a hot streak, winners of eight in a row and 10 of their past 12. The Knights punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament by winning their sixth Northeast Conference Tournament title, beating regular-season champ St. Francis (Pa.) in the final.

Both teams are a combined 0-6 in the NCAA Tournament so one of these teams will make history on Tuesday night in Dayton.

Owls and Bruins square off in Dayton with a meeting against No. 6 Maryland at stake

For the ninth year since its inception in 2011 when the field expanded to 68 teams, the First Four will kick off the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday from Dayton, Ohio. With each day featuring a 16-seed matchup followed by a showdown between two 11-seeds, the First Four provides the perfect appetizer for the complete chaos that begins Thursday.

The first of those 11-seed games showcases two of the last four teams to earn at-large selections in Temple and Belmont. Both the Owls and Bruins were on the edge of their seats on Selection Sunday but were ecstatic to hear of their inclusion in the field of 68 despite losses in their respective conference tournaments, Temple in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) quarterfinals to Wichita State, and Belmont in the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) final to Murray State.

The winner of this First Four matchup — which will mark the inaugural meeting between the two programs — will square off with No. 6 Maryland in the East Region in Jacksonville, Florida, on Thursday.

The selection to the tournament snaps mini-droughts for both teams, as Temple is dancing for the first time 2016. Belmont is making its first appearance since 2015 and more importantly, its first ever as an at-large selection. Both teams are led by incredibly well-respected and experienced head coaches in the Owls’ Fran Dunphy (13th season at school) and Bruins’ Rick Byrd (34th).

The MEAC and Summit League Tournament champions square off with a date against Duke at stake

A pair of Division II powerhouses in the 20th century, North Carolina Central and North Dakota State meet on the grandest stage Division I basketball has to offer.

The winners of the MEAC and Summit League tournaments respectively have roots in D-II but are hardly newcomers to the March Madness scene. The 2019 NCAA Tournament marks North Dakota State’s fourth appearance in the field since 2009, although it’s the Bison’s first bid since ’15. They released the stranglehold South Dakota State previously held on the Summit’s automatic bid to earn their way in.

For North Carolina Central, 2019 marks the Eagles’ third straight appearance in the Big Dance, and fourth all-time dating back to ’14. NCCU alum LeVelle Moton has flourished coaching his alma mater and heads into Wednesday’s matchup in Dayton seeking another program milestone: Its first NCAA Tournament win.

Red Storm and Sun Devils meet for the second time in three years for the chance to face Buffalo on Friday

For the second straight season, Arizona State earned one of the last four at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament and will face fellow No. 11 seed St. John’s on Wednesday night in Dayton. Will the Sun Devils fare better in their return trip to the First Four? Or will the Red Storm break through with their first NCAA Tournament victory since 2000?

Both teams held a precarious spot on the bubble after piling up multiple bad losses outside the top quadrant. Arizona State seems to be back on track after winning six of its last eight games. St. John’s stumbled badly down the stretch. The Red Storm have lost five of their last seven games heading into the NCAA Tournament.

These two teams have played twice previously in the regular season and split those games. The Red Storm earned a 67-58 victory in 2010 while the Sun Devils prevailed 82-70 in ’17.

Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

10 Reasons to Be Excited for the 2018–19 College Basketball Season

Get started today! Join FanPicks and play NCAA Basketball 2018-19 season all the way to the National Championship

1. Duke’s Fab Freshmen

By now, you’ve heard the hype. If you’re not familiar with the Blue Devils’ freshman class—five-stars R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Zion Williamson and Tre Jones (brother of Tyus, who led Duke to the 2015 national championship), plus four-star Joey Baker—you will be, and very soon. Duke having a stellar recruiting class isn’t new, but its 2018 class is uniquely unprecedented. Barrett, Reddish and Williamson are all consensus top-five recruits, the first time ever that one school landed three of the top five in a class. And luckily for college hoops fans, the two schools that have the remaining two—No. 3 Nassir Little, of UNC, and No. 5 Romeo Langford, of Indiana—are both on the Blue Devils’ 2018–19 schedule. Four of the top five recruits in a single class all on a collegiate floor at once? Sign us up.

2. Joe Cremo and New-Look Villanova

The reigning champs are going to look mighty different this season. Gone are National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson, Final Four Most Outstanding Player Donte DiVincenzo and starters Mikal Bridges and Omari Spellman. But Jay Wright has supplemented returnees Eric Paschall, Phil Booth and Collin Gillespie with five-star freshman point guard Jahvon Quinerly, four-stars Cole Swider and Brandon Slater and a key transfer: Albany guard Joe Cremo. The Wildcats could turn out to be one of the winners of the grad transfer market due to the 6’4” Cremo, who averaged 17.8 points and shot 45.8% from three as a junior for the Great Danes, all while posting an excellent offensive rating. While there’s certainly a notable leap going from the America East to the Big East, he should bring scoring punch and a veteran presence to a coach and a program that is used to churning out high-powered offenses.

3. Louisville Resets Under Chris Mack

It’s a new era in Louisville, for the second straight year. But while last season was marred by turmoil, including Rick Pitino’s ouster just weeks before the season, the saga of five-star recruit Brian Bowen and constant negative attention on the program, the Cardinals can now attempt to start fresh under Chris Mack. Mack had great success at Xavier, leading the Musketeers to the NCAA tournament in eight of his nine seasons and reaching at least the Sweet 16 in four of them, and he brings immediate optimism to Louisville. While the Cardinals aren’t likely to contend for the ACC title in 2018–19, an NCAA tournament bid is certainly on the table, and Mack has already made inroads on the future of the program, nabbing the commitments of four top-100 recruits in the 2019 class.

4. What Will Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean Do for an Encore?

The Ramblers, and by extension Sister Jean, the nun who served as their No. 1 supporter and turned 99 years old over the summer, were the darlings of the 2018 NCAA tournament—and that was before they improbably made a run to the Final Four. The magic of that journey may be over, but don’t expect Loyola-Chicago to fade back into obscurity. Three of its starters and double-digit scorers are back: Clayton Custer, the Ramblers’ leader (and leading scorer), Marques Townes, whose dagger three helped sink Nevada in the Sweet 16, and Cameron Krutwig, who as a freshman went toe-to-toe with Michigan’s Moritz Wagner in the Final Four, scoring 17.

5. A Champions Classic for the Ages

Not only does the college basketball schedule start a few days earlier this year, but it kicks off with the annual Champions Classic doubleheader. Kansas and Michigan State will square off in one battle, then Duke and Kentucky will meet in the nightcap. In all, 10 of the 2018 class’s top 25 recruits are set to take the floor that night. The Spartans are the only team without any, but MSU will bring plenty of experience and cohesion to the floor to face a revamped Jayhawks roster, while the Blue Devils–Wildcats showdown will feature a bonanza of freshman and sophomore talent—plus Reid Travis.

6. The Romeo Langford Experience

He is only the fourth player in Indiana high school history to surpass the 3,000-point mark. Speakers invoked Oscar Robertson and Abraham Lincoln, among other luminaries, at his commitment ceremony. It would take a series of unfortunate events to keep him out of the 2019 NBA draft’s lottery picks. But for the next four months, Romeo Langford is the centerpiece of Indiana Hoosiers basketball, and a fan base hungry to return to national relevance will hang on every bucket as the pride of New Albany dons the crimson and cream. Langford isn’t the only five-star entering the fall with outsized fanfare, but he’s the only one whose arrival in college basketball has the feel of a multi-year culmination.

7. Revenge of the Hoos

How do you recover from being on the wrong side of an unprecedented tourney upset? There’s no blueprint for the journey Virginia is about to embark on, so it’s too early to tell whether it’s a good thing that the Cavaliers brought almost every contributor to last year’s infamous No. 1 overall seed back. Sharpshooters Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome will quarterback head coach Tony Bennett’s, methodical offense, sophomore X-factor De’Andre Hunter has returned to 100% health and Mamadi Diakite and Jack Salt have been groomed to take the next step on the interior. Some will advise you to ignore them until March; we say catch as much of a season fraught with narrative intrigue as you can.

8. Will Anyone Be the Next Trae Young?

Trae Young didn’t quite come out of nowhere last season—he was a five-star recruit and ranked 20th in his class—but few foresaw his meteoric rise to take over college basketball. He wasn’t even guaranteed to be a one-and-done before the season began, yet he left as one of the biggest locks in the class to depart for the NBA after one year. Along the way, he became a household name, even despite the fact that both he and Oklahoma cooled off from their absurd early-season pace. Every year, college hoops fans enter the season dreaming that one of their freshmen could have the kind of impact that Young did; the kind that can put a school on the map and make each game appointment TV. We know the obvious names in the class—ones like Zion, Langford, Little and Barrett—but will anyone transcend their ranking and take college basketball by storm?

9. The Lawson Bros in Lawrence

One of the biggest impact moves for the 2018–19 season came back in April 2017, when brothers Dedric and K.J. Lawson, formerly of Memphis, announced they would transfer to Kansas. And after sitting out the 2017–18 season, the two are now poised to play essential roles on a KU team that could be the preseason No. 1. The 6’ 9” Dedric could wind up the Jayhawks’ best player after averaging 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.3 steals as a sophomore for the Tigers, though his three-point shooting (27.0% on 3.5 attempts per game) needs improvement. K.J., a 6’ 8” guard/forward, averaged 12.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists as a sophomore at Memphis. While the pair may not garner quite the same stats on a loaded Kansas team, they’re expected to be instrumental as the Jayhawks shoot for their first national title since 2008

10. The Race for James Wiseman

The hottest in-season recruiting battle will likely be for the services of the No. 1 recruit in the 2019 class, James Wiseman. Wiseman’s recruitment is largely thought to be a tug-of-war between Kentucky and Memphis, though he recently announced a top five that also includes Kansas, Vanderbilt and Florida State. The intriguing part about Kentucky vs. Memphis is, of course, the coaching impact: the Tigers are the most recent former school of current Wildcats coach John Calipari, while new Memphis coach Penny Hardaway coached Wiseman in high school and could make him the centerpiece of the Tigers’ revitalization. We’re used to seeing Calipari pull in elite recruits, but he has his hands full in this highly-competitive race for the 7-footer.

Download the FanPicks Fantasy App. Click on the links below.

Posted in CBB, Top Fantasy Picks

Wolverines and Wildcats face off in the Alamodome for the national title

Villanova is one win away from its second national championship in three seasons, but its final hurdle appears to be a daunting one. Michigan owns the longest winning streak in the nation at 14 games and will attempt to upset the Wildcats when the teams square off Monday in San Antonio in the NCAA Tournament title game.

Villanova was a good 3-point shooting team in 2015-16 when it won the national championship (highlighted, of course, by Kris Jenkins’ championship-clinching 3-pointer at the buzzer), but the Big East champions have taken it to a new level this season. The Wildcats set a Final Four record with 18 3-pointers in Saturday’s semifinal victory over Kansas and have made at least 13 3-pointers in four of their five wins in this event. “It’s our best offensive team. We’ve had some good ones. This is definitely our best,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose squad hopes to hand Michigan its first loss since Feb. 6. The Wolverines defeated upstart Loyola Chicago on Saturday, rallying from a 10-point second-half deficit to move to the brink of their first title since 1989.

Enter the NCAA National Championship Tournament Bracket

 

TV: 9:20 p.m. ET, TBS

ABOUT MICHIGAN (33-7): The Wolverines won their final six regular-season games, followed by a 3-for-3 run in the Big Ten Tournament and a smooth surge through the first five games of the Big Dance, although they have yet to defeat a team seeded higher than No. 6 in this event. They have given up more than 63 points only once in this tournament and harassed Loyola into 1-of-10 3-point shooting and 17 turnovers, while Moritz Wagner (24 points, 15 rebounds) handled the bulk of the burden offensively. Charles Matthews added 17 points, but fellow starting guards Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Zavier Simpson combined for seven points on 2-of-17 shooting and must be better against the Wildcats’ talented backcourt.

ABOUT VILLANOVA (35-4): With Wooden Award finalist Jalen Brunson leading the way, the Wildcats are the top scoring team in the nation (86.8 points), which provides a nice contrast with the Wolverines, who are eighth nationally in points allowed (62.9). Brunson had 18 points against Kansas, second on the team to Eric Paschall, who recorded 24 points on 10-of-11 shooting (4-of-5 3-pointers), while Omari Spellman chipped in 15 points and 13 rebounds and Donte DiVincenzo had 15 points off the bench. Mikal Bridges, potentially the top NBA prospect in this year’s Final Four, had 10 points against the Jayhawks and is capable of erupting from 3-point range, as the junior has drained multiple 3s in 13 of the last 14 games.

TIP-INS

1. Aside from the Elite Eight, when he shot 0-of-7 from the arc against Florida State, Wagner is 9-of-15 from 3-point range in the NCAA Tournament.

2. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, Villanova is the fifth team to win its first five games by double digits. The only team in that group to lose the championship game was North Carolina (against Villanova) two years ago.

3. Villanova defeated Michigan en route to winning the 1985 national championship and won the last matchup in 2014, but this will be only the fourth meeting.

Download the FanPicks Fantasy App. Click on the links below.

Posted in CBB

Do the Aggies have another upset in them?

It’s been a pretty good NCAA Tournament for Michigan so far with two wins while getting to watch rival Michigan State fall to Syracuse as an upset. The Wolverines knocked off Montana and got a miracle long-range shot from freshman Jordan Poole to beat Houston. They have now won 11 straight games and have dispelled any issues with the long layoff after the early Big Ten Tournament.

Texas A&M meanwhile had to beat Providence and North Carolina to get here. The Aggies looked like the team they were back in November as they outmuscled the Tar Heels last time out, soundly beating the defending national champions by 21 points in Charlotte.

Enter the NCAA Sweet 16 Tournament Bracket

West Region: No. 7 Texas A&M (22-12) vs. No. 3 Michigan Wolverines (30-7)

Time: 7:37 p.m. ET (Thursday)

​Where: Staples Center (Los Angeles)

TV TBS

Keys for Texas A&M

Crash the boards like the Aggies have been in this tournament. They grab 34 percent of their offensive rebound opportunities and they are the bigger team in this matchup. Texas A&M took advantage of its size differential against North Carolina, out-rebounding the Tar Heels 50-34. Going into that game, North Carolina was one of the nation’s top teams on the glass, enjoying a rebounding margin of nearly 10 per game (9.8).

Michigan forward Moritz Wagner, the team’s leading rebounder (7.1 rpg), has been in a bit of foul trouble in a few games this season so he will need to be able to stay on the court or the Aggies could really have their way in the paint and on the boards. Robert Williams and Tyler Davis have the advantage down low over both Wagner and John Teske. But the Texas A&M big men also have to be aware of the Wolverines’ shooters, like Duncan Robinson, and guard all way out to the 3-point line at times. In the first two games, the Aggies have held opponents to 12 of 51 (23.5 percent) shooting from beyond the arc.

Keys for Michigan

Continue the great defense that the Wolverines played in Wichita, holding Montana and Houston to under 35 percent shooting from the field. Texas A&M has been hot as of late, especially from behind the 3-point line. After shooting 31.1 percent from the arc during the regular season, the Aggies made 10 of 24 attempts (41.7 percent) in the victory over the Tar Heels. Zavier Simpson has to be able to keep TJ Starks in check, as the Texas A&M guard poured in 21 points against North Carolina. He has had a high usage rate this season so Simpson will be busy. Finally, stay out of foul trouble. Wagner did not play that much last game and that can’t keep happening if the rest of the offense continues to slump.

Final Analysis

Points will be at a premium in this one. These two teams have similar strengths and weaknesses and the key could be who will start the fastest. As I said above, it’s imperative for Wagner to stay on the court and help battle Texas A&M’s bigs. I think in the end, we may see another upset from the Aggies, who are in better form right now than the Wolverines.

Download the FanPicks Fantasy App. Click on the links below.

Posted in CBB

Two of the 2018 Tournament’s Cinderella stories clash in the topsy-turvy South Region

One advanced on a pair of buckets scored in the final seconds. The other rallied from a combined 39-point deficit over two contests. Loyola-Chicago and Nevada provided some of the most memorable moments of this NCAA Tournament in their first four combined games. The two now meet with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.

Given their penchant for the dramatic this March, expect more fireworks.

This surprise matchup of the No. 7 seed and No. 11 seeds features a contrast in styles. Nevada scores as effectively as any team in the country, boasting an adjusted offensive efficiency rank of No. 6, per KenPom.com. Loyola, meanwhile, has made its bones on the defensive end. The Ramblers rank No. 27 in adjusted defensive efficiency, and with a per-game yield of just 62.2 points, are now the stingiest defense left in the Tournament.

Enter the NCAA Sweet 16 Tournament Bracket

South Region: No. 11 Loyola (Chicago) Ramblers (30-5) vs. No. 7 Nevada Wolf Pack (29-7)

Time: 7:07 p.m. ET (Thursday)

Where: Philips Arena (Atlanta)
TV: CBS

Keys for Loyola (Chicago)

Over its last seven games, the 62 points both Miami and Tennessee scored in Loyola’s First and Second Round wins were the most any opponent has mustered. A great defensive team all season long, the Ramblers have upped the intensity for the stretch run.

They have not necessarily done so generating a ton of turnovers; they forced 16 against Miami, but just seven vs. Tennessee. Loyola also hasn’t completely shut down the 3-point arc, with the Vols having hit 36 percent in the Second Round, and the Hurricanes connecting on 44 percent. However, the Ramblers’ ability to dictate tempo — extending possessions on both offense and defense — forced those games into a style better suited to them.

Loyola likely won’t be able to generate many turnovers, with Nevada ranked No. 1 nationally in turnover percentage, but the Ramblers can force the Wolf Pack to shoot deep in the shot clock. On the offensive end, taking high-percentage shots is critical for the Ramblers’ Elite Eight hopes; in losses, Loyola’s offensive output dips. Good looks at the basket are paramount with this team’s methodical style.

Four of Loyola’s primary rotation players (Aundre Jackson, Clayton Custer, Marques Towns and Cameron Krutwig) shoot 55 percent or better from inside the 3-point. Custer and breakout Tournament star Donte Ingram (48 points in the First and Second Round) shoot at least 40 percent from deep. The Ramblers need to maintain those steady numbers to advance.

Keys for Nevada

For the first time in this Tournament, Nevada enjoys a distinct advantage in terms of size and athleticism. This in stark contrast to a Mountain West Conference Tournament loss to San Diego State, and the First and Second Round contests in which the Wolf Pack fell behind big vs. Texas and Cincinnati. However, it’s more in line with the majority of the regular season, when Nevada won 26 games.

That bodes well for Thursday’s forecast. Brothers Cody and Caleb Martin complement one another nicely, with Cody scoring effectively on the interior, and Caleb connecting on 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip. Veteran Jordan Caroline plays a dynamic inside-outside game, and may be the Pack’s X-factor. Loyola could struggle to keep him off the glass and out of the paint, particularly with the Martins are effective early slashing and shooting from deep.

If not Caroline, sharp-shooter Kendall Stephens may hold the key to getting Nevada through the Sweet 16 and beyond. He’s one of the most consistent 3-point shooters left in the Tournament, hitting at a rate just below 45 percent. His ability to stretch the defense is just what Nevada needs to pull Loyola out of its tempo-controlling style and speed up the pace of play.

Critical for the Pack on Thursday, as it’s been all season, is avoiding foul trouble. Coach Eric Musselman does not typically go any deeper than six players in his rotation. If Loyola draws fouls early — which San Diego State accomplished in the MWC Tournament — Nevada may be in trouble.

Final Analysis

From Musselman’s high energy on the sideline — mirrored in the stands by daughter Mariah — to the enthusiasm of Loyola-Chicago’s Sister Jean, these two teams have provided some of the quintessential moments of the Tournament. It’s unfortunate one must go home, but the Final Four is oh-so-close.

Both teams have walked a tight rope to get to this point. Another nail-biter seems likely, especially with Loyola’s methodical style. Nevada must dictate pace, which its shown it can do in the first two rounds, but do so earlier. There won’t be any coming back if the Pack falls behind this Ramblers bunch big early.

Any of Nevada’s four primary weapons — the Martins, Caroline and Stephens — can go off. That gives the Pack an edge that should carry them into the Elite Eight.

Download the FanPicks Fantasy App. Click on the links below.

Posted in CBB

March Madness Round 64 Preview

St. Bonaventure vs. Florida

Sixth-seeded Florida hopes to find the best version of itself when it begins play in the NCAA Tournament against No. 11 seed St. Bonaventure in the first round of the East Region on Thursday in Dallas. The Gators owns impressive victories over Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Kentucky (two) and Auburn, but dropped five of their last eight games against non-NCAA teams before falling in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals against Arkansas.

“We have competitors, there’s no doubt about that. We see that every day at practice,” Florida senior guard Igor Koulechov told Floridagators.com. “Where we’re lacking sometimes is with our emotion.” As Koulechov said, it’s back to the rollercoaster for the Gators as they try to put strong performances on both sides of the floor together and make a run with a capable group that boasts four players averaging at least 11 points. St. Bonaventure will create quite a challenge after the Bonnies knocked off UCLA 65-58 on Tuesday in the First Four at Dayton, Ohio, for its school-record 26th win and first NCAA Tournament victory since 1970. St. Bonaventure advanced without big nights from its leading scorers – senior guards Jaylen Adams (19.4) and Matt Mobley (18.4), who finished with 22 points combined against the Bruins.

TV: 9:57 p.m. ET, truTV

ABOUT ST. BONAVENTURE (26-17): Mobley recorded 14 points Tuesday, but was 2-for-7 from 3-point range and 4-for-12 overall, while Adams missed 14 of his 16 field goals attempts and all five of his tries from behind the arc. Courtney Stockard (13.3 points) stepped up by scoring 26 and is averaging 23.8 over the last five contests, but the 6-5 junior lauded the team’s defense Tuesday. “We played the same defense all year,” Stockard told reporters. “UCLA is a good offensive team, high-scoring team. But. … we did a good job taking away their knowns, making them take contested shots.”

ABOUT FLORIDA (20-12): The Gators got hammered on the boards against Arkansas 43-28 and shot 41.7 percent from the field after winning the final three regular-season games in impressive fashion. Junior guard Jalen Hudson (15.3 points) scored 22.7 per game during those wins, but went 2-for-9 from the field against Arkansas while Koulechov (13.6 points) missed nine of 11 shots from the floor against the Razorbacks. Junior guard KeVaughn Allen (11.3) is averaging 14.8 points over the last four contests and experienced senior point guard Chris Chiozza (11.2 points, team-high 6.1 assists) runs the show.

TIP-INS

1. The Gators have played at least four games each of the last five times they reached the NCAA Tournament.

2. Adams went over 1,900 points (1,901) in his career last time out and is 12 assists shy of 600.

3. Koulechov has shot 20 percent or worse from the field in three of his last five contests.

Download the FanPicks Fantasy App. Click on the links below.

Posted in CBB

March Madness Round 64 Preview

Montana vs. Michigan

Third-seeded Michigan looks to continue its winning ways when it faces No. 14 seed Montana in the first round of the West regional on Thursday in Wichita, Kan. The Wolverines have ripped off nine consecutive wins, including four victories in four days in New York City to claim their second Big Ten tournament title in as many years, and hope a 10-day layoff doesn’t rob them of their momentum as they strive to advance to the second round of March Madness for the fourth time in their last five appearances.

“We got back to the gym to be competitive and get motivated for a really tough tournament,” Michigan forward Moritz Wagner told reporters. “We’ve been doing a great job and I don’t think this team needs a lot of help to be hungry.” Michigan is 11-4 in the NCAA Tournament since 2013 and hopes to make another deep run by taming the Grizzlies in the first-ever matchup between the teams. Montana went 16-2 in Big Sky Conference play before winning three straight in the conference tournament, including an 82-65 triumph over Eastern Washington in the final, to punch its Big Dance ticket for the first time since 2013. The Grizzlies have dropped 11 of their last 14 meetings with teams currently in the Big Ten and hope to notch their first win in the tournament since knocking off Nevada 87-79 in 2006.

TV: 9:50 p.m. ET, TBS

ABOUT MONTANA (26-7): Michael Oguine was named the Big Sky tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after averaging 21 points and five rebounds in wins against North Dakota, Northern Colorado and Eastern Washington. Oguine scored 15 of his team-leading 21 points in the second half while Ahmaad Rorie added 15 points and five assists to help the Grizzlies overcome a 10-point halftime deficit to win the conference tournament title. “We have a senior (Fabijan Krslovic) who has given his all to the program,” Rorie told reporters. “We didn’t want to play in the NIT as we wanted to get him in the tournament.”

ABOUT MICHIGAN (28-7): 
Wagner was named the MVP of the Big Ten tournament after averaging 15.7 points and 6.5 rebounds over four games at Madison Square Garden. Wagner scored 17 points while Muhammad-Ali-Abdur Rahkman, who was also named to the Big Ten All-Tournament team, added 15 points and four assists as the Wolverines knocked off Purdue 75-66 in the title game to avenge two regular-season losses to the Boilermakers. Starting forward Isaiah Livers suffered an ankle sprain early in the first half against the Boilermakers, but practiced during the week and is expected to be available Thursday.

TIP-INS

1. Michigan has held seven of its last eight opponents to fewer than 67 points.

2. Montana is 15-0 when scoring 80 or more points this season.

3. The winner will play Houston or San Diego State in the second round Saturday.

Download the FanPicks Fantasy App. Click on the links below.

Posted in CBB