The NCAA tournament started with a bang on Tuesday night with the first set of First-Four games. In Game one, Texas A&M Corpus Christi outlasted Southeast Missouri State 75-71 in the first game between No. 16 seeds. Then Pittsburgh eked out a victory over Mississippi State as Jamarious Burton’s jumper with 14 seconds left a 60-59 win.
But day two was not as close though the games were relatively entertaining. Fairleigh Dickinson blew out Texas Southern in Game 1 on Wednesday. The nightcap wasn’t any closer as Arizona State ran over Nevada.
Let’s hope the second round of contests are more like Tuesdays than Wednesdays games. The following will examine my top 10 teams that could reach the Sweet 16 or higher.
1. Drake Bulldogs, No. 12 seed Midwest Region
Drake, making its sixth NCAA tournament appearance, faces No. 5 Miami (Fla.) in Albany (NY) on Friday at 7:15 p.m. (ET). The Bulldogs split their two games in their last tournament appearance in 2021 and own a 6-5 record overall. Drake and Miami are meeting for the first time.
Drake (27-7) earned the MVC automatic bid by dismantling Bradley 77-51 in the conference finals. The Bulldogs’ victory total is their second most in program history, and they have reached the 20-win plateau for the fifth straight year.
Drake has won three straight and 13 of 14. The Bulldogs are 1-1 in Quad I games, with their best victory coming against Mississippi State. If Drake can advance to the third round, they will play the winner of Indiana/ Kent State.
Missouri Valley teams have experienced considerable success in the NCAA Tournament recently. Since 2010, MVC teams are 12-6 in the tournament’s first round and have posted 23 tourney wins overall. Five times has an MVC team reached the Sweet 16.
Drake is a veteran team led by sophomore guard Tucker DeVries (19.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG) that ranks in the top 55 in both offensive and defensive rating. The Bulldogs are an outstanding shooting club at all three levels with a shooting slash line of .470/ 373/. They also don’t turn the ball over.
Defensively, the Bulldogs can guard all over the floor. While the Bulldogs aren’t a great rebounding team or don’t block a ton of shots, they also don’t give their opponents many chances at the free-throw line.
2. Kent State Golden Flashes, No. 13 Seed Midwest Region
Kent State (28-6) is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017 and making its seventh appearance overall. Kent State faces No. 4 Indiana Hoosiers on Friday. If the Golden Flashes advance to the third round, they will face the winner of Drake/Indiana.
Kent State defeated Toledo in the MAC championship game to earn its first NCAA Tournament since 2017 and the second trip under Rob Senderoff. The Golden Flashes rank in the top 70 in offensive and defensive rating.
While Kent State is not a great shooting team, the Golden Flashes have four players who make at least one 3-pointer a game. They also don’t turn the ball over.
It is on the defensive end where Kent State thrives. The Golden Flashes hold opponents to 40.3% shooting from the field and 31% shooting from beyond the arc. They protect the rim well and create offense off their defense.
A trio of seniors leads the Flashes. Speedy point guard Sincere Carry leads the way with 17.6 points a contest. Carry and backcourt mate Malique Jacobs, who averages nearly three steals a game, are outstanding on the defensive end.
3 Utah State Aggies, No. 10 Seed South
Utah State faces Missouri in the second round. Utah St., which has won seven of eight, fell to San Diego State in the Mountain West final. If Utah State can advance to the round of 32, they will face the winner Arizona/Princeton.
The Aggies are an outstanding shooting team that is No. 19 in offensive rating. They average 9.4 treys a game at a 39.3% clip.
Six-foot-1 guard Steven Ashworth leads five players in double-figures, averaging 16.3 points and 3.2 3-pointers at a 44.3% clip. Taylor Funk and Max Shulga are also averaging double-figures and one triple a game while making them at a 36% clip.
4 Boise State Broncos, No. 10 Seed West
Boise State opens tournament play against No. 7 Northwestern on a three-game losing streak. If BSU advances to round three, they will face the winner of UCLA/UNC Asheville.
All five Boise State starters average in double-figures, and the Broncos shoot it well from beyond the arc. The Broncos also protect the ball well. But they thrive on the defensive end, holding opponents to 41.3% from the field and 30.9% from beyond the arc.
5. VCU Rams, No. 12 Seed West
VCU opens up tournament play against No. 5 St. Mary’s. If the Rams advance to round three, they will face the winner of Iona/UConn.
VCU (27-7) has won nine straight games. The Rams are strong defensively, able to force bundles of turnovers and pressure opponents even after they cross midcourt. They are also big and athletic up front.
6. Pittsburgh Panthers. No. 11 Seed Midwest
Pittsburgh (23-11) earned its way to the second round with a hard-fought victory over Mississippi State. Pitt faces Iowa State on Friday, with the winner getting either Xavier or Kennesaw State.
The Panthers are a veteran team that loves to launch from deep. The Panthers average 9.2 treys a game at a 36% clip. Blake Hinson and Jamarious Burton average 15 points, leading four players in double figures.
Other Teams To Reach Sweet 16
7. Penn State Nittany Lions
8. USC Trojans
9 College of Charleston Cougars
10 Furman Paladins
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