Tuesday, December 1, 2020

NCAA Tournament projection: First round East Region

March 24, 2020
<p>Maryland’s Anthony Cowan Jr. (1) shoots a three pointer over freshman guard Rocket Watts (2). The Spartans fell to the Terrapins, 60-67, on Feb. 15, 2020 at the Breslin Student Events Center.</p>

Maryland’s Anthony Cowan Jr. (1) shoots a three pointer over freshman guard Rocket Watts (2). The Spartans fell to the Terrapins, 60-67, on Feb. 15, 2020 at the Breslin Student Events Center.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

Yes, we don’t have March Madness, but because of great minds like Joe Lunardi at ESPN, we can have a glimpse at what the bracket may have looked like. In the latest State News series, we analyze and project what the NCAA tournament may have looked like, round by round, region by region.

Here is our projection of the East Region first round.

#1 Dayton vs. #16 Boston University

Preview: The Dayton flyers have found themselves back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017. The Flyers went out the first round that season but stand in a better place now, as a one-seed.

The Flyers are led by six foot, six inch redshirt sophomore Obi Toppin, who averages 20 points per game and 7.5 rebounds. His size and physicality contributed to the teams perfect in conference record. The Flyers have suffered only two losses this season, one to Kansas and one to Colorado, both of which were in overtime.

And then there’s 16-seeded Boston University. In a First Four matchup against Robert Morris, the Terriers came out victorious to claim their spot in the first round. This will be the Terriers' first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011.

Prediction: The Flyers ended their season as No. 3 in the AP poll, their highest ranking since the 1955-56 season. This one could get physical, as it's almost a game of two underdogs. Despite Dayton’s high seeding, their little experience in the tournament will be an interesting factor to watch for, but it won’t have much influence in this first round matchup. Dayton 76 – Boston University 65.

#8 Colorado vs. #9 Florida

Preview: Colorado ended their regular season on a five-game losing streak, not giving them much momentum for this first round matchup. The Buffs will appear in the tournament for the first time since 2016. Their most notable win this season came in an overtime victory over Dayton in late December. Colorado edges out Florida in rebounding per game with 37, as opposed to the Gators' 34.8.

The Gators enter with a stronger resume, ending their regular season by hanging with Kentucky an entire game before losing 71-70. Florida holds a .457 field goal percentage and .347 three-point percentage, both of which top those of the Buffs. The Gators are led by two pretty similar scorers with sophomore forward Keyontae Johnson and fifth-year forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. 

Prediction: The Gators have proven they can hang with the big guys and their more experienced resume will help them take this one. Florida 67 – Colorado 63.

#5 Butler vs. #12 Texas

Preview: Butler has seen some tough matchups this season, taking their most notable win over Villanova in February, but bringing others close like losing to Seton Hall by a basket later that month. The Bulldogs have a .460 field goal percentage. Senior guard Kamar Baldwin leads the team in scoring, averaging 16.2 points per game.

Texas took a victory over Richmond to secure their place in the first round. The Longhorns took 10-point margin victories over West Virginia and Texas Tech in their final games of the regular season, giving them some good momentum. The Longhorns shoot .428 overall and .334 from the three. Their leading scorer, junior guard Matt Coleman III, averages just 12.7 points per game.

Prediction: I originally thought we might see an upset with this one, but after looking closer, Butler edges out the Longhorns statistically on both sides of the court. It comes down to the fact that Butler has several key players that can produce offensively, and Texas simply does not. Butler 68 – Texas 66.

#4 Maryland vs. #13 Akron

Preview: Maryland enters with one of the most qualified resumes of the season. The Terrapins held on in a brutal Big Ten conference to clinch a share of the regular season title next to Wisconsin and Michigan State. Senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. leads the Terrapins with 16.3 points per game. Sophomore forward Jalen Smith also brings the heat, averaging 10.5 rebounds per game and shooting at .538 percent overall.

Finishing first in the MAC East, Akron punched their ticket to the tournament for the first time since 2013. Aside from a matchup again Louisville back in November, the Zips did not play a ranked team during their season. Redshirt junior guard Loren Cristian Jackson averages 19.9 points per game, with a .462 shooting percentage overall and a .428 percentage from three, leading his team.

Prediction: It’ll come down to the more experienced team in this one, and that has to be Maryland. Although they ended their season not as well as they started it, their endurance through a conference like the Big Ten this year will ultimately give them the leg up here. Maryland 75 – Akron 70.

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#6 Penn State vs. #11 NC State

Preview: Penn State finished in a tie for third in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions were on a roll during the heart of their season but seemed to almost fall off the edge at the end, losing five of their last six. Lamar Stevens and Myreon Jones are the two powerhouses of the squad. Stevens averages 17.6 points per game with 6.9 rebounds. Jones shoots .444 overall and .403 from the three to put him at 13.3 points per game.

NC State has seen some tough matchups during their season, which is what gave them the leg up against UCLA in a first-four matchup. The Pack shoots at .452 percent overall, led by four players who average points per game in the double digits. Redshirt senior C.J. Bryce leads the Pack with 13.3 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game.

Prediction: NC State holds the shooting advantage here, at .452 as opposed to the Nittany Lions .431. The Pack has a little bit more depth on their roster and the disappointing end to the Nittany Lions season will prove too hard for them to come back from. We have our first upset of the East Region. NC State 74 – Penn State 67.

#3 Villanova vs. #14 Hofstra

Preview: Similarly to the Big Ten, Villanova ended in a three-way tie beside Seton Hall and Creighton for first place in the Big East. The Wildcats shoot .441 percent overall and .359 from the three. They are led by sophomore forward Saddiq Bey, who is just one of the five Wildcats players who average points in the double digits. Bey shoots .477 percent overall and averages 16.1 points per game.

Hofstra punched their ticket after taking first in the Colonial Athletic conference. This will be their first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2001. Senior guard Desure Buie leads the Pride averaging 18.2 points per game with 3.7 rebounds. Senior guard Eli Pemberton sits just behind Buie, averaging 17.6 points per game.

Prediction:The competitiveness of the Big East will give Villanova the proper preparation and ultimate leg up in this matchup against Hofstra. The underdog won't come out victorious here. Villanova 78 – Hofstra 63.

#7 West Virginia vs. #10 Utah State

Preview: West Virginia ended their season with an upset win over Baylor, clinching a fourth of the tie for third place in the Big 12. The Mountaineers struggle from the three, shooting .286 percent, while only making .422 percent overall. Their leading scorer, freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe, averages just 11.2 points per game but snatches 9.3 rebounds. 

In one of the only conference tournaments to be completed before sports went on hold, Utah State claimed the Mountain West tournament title in a stand-out victory against San Diego State. USU upset the Aztecs 59-56, snapping SDSU’s perfect conference record. The Aggies are led by senior guard Sam Merrill, who averages 19.7 points per game and 4.1 rebounds.

Prediction: Although West Virginia saw some tougher matches throughout the season, their shooting struggles will hurt them here. With Utah State coming off of an electric win over one SDSU, they will have the momentum to take another upset here. Utah State 72 – West Virginia 70.

#2 Florida State vs. #15 Northern Kentucky 

Preview: Florida State finished first place in the Atlantic Coast conference over Louisville, Virginia and Duke. The Seminoles are led by sophomore guard Devin Vassell, who only averages 12.7 points per game, but he’s consistent, shooting .490 overall. The consistency on FSU’s roster has gotten them to where they are this season. As a team, they shoot .457 percent and defensively, snatch 35.5 rebounds per game.

Finishing second in the regular season Horizon League standings, Northern Kentucky came back to claim the leagues tournament championship with a win over UIC. NKU is led by senior forward Dantez Walton, who averages 16.1 points per game.

Prediction: Florida State’s consistency will shut down Northern Kentucky in this one. FSU’s experience will give them the upper leg they need to move on past this matchup. Florida State 75 – Northern Kentucky 61.

Second Round matchups:

#1 Dayton vs. #9 Florida.

#5 Butler vs. #4 Maryland.

#11 NC State vs. #3 Villanova.

#10 Utah State vs. #2 Florida State.

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