Inside the Bracket: Firepower in First Four
Tuesday (March 18)
NC State vs. Xavier – Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) player of the year T.J. Warren takes to the court. He averages almost 25 points a game and is the primary reason why the Wolfpack slipped into the Field of 68. Will he get enough help? That’s the question. Only one other N.C. State player, Ralston Turner, averages in double figures. Xavier is more balanced with three players averaging double-digits, led by Semaj Christian. All things considered, NC State is the hotter team and the trendy pick to win. But this will be a de-facto home game for the Musketeers who have played in UD Arena many times – host Dayton is a long-time rival and former A10 opponent. The pick: Xavier in a close one.
Albany vs. Mount St. Mary’s – The winner earns the right to battle the NCAA tournament’s top overall seed, Florida, Thursday in Orlando. The pick: After a run through the NEC, go with the Mount St. Mary’s. They’ll want to push tempo and are more likely to score in bunches.
Wednesday (March 19)
Tennessee vs. Iowa – Two heavyweights that are better than their won-loss records suggest. Both have played at a high level, note the Volunteers’ rout of Virginia early in the season. Consistency has been an issue. UT can succumb to scoring droughts. Iowa, meanwhile, can be allergic to playing defense. Iowa wants to speed up the game, Tennessee wants to grind it out. Biggest question for Tennessee: Will Antonio Barton make shots? If so, the Volunteers can hang around. Biggest question for Iowa? Will the Hawkeyes play on both ends of the court? If their defense shows up, it’ll help them push the pace and create shots. The pick: In a toss-up, Iowa breaks through and reminds us why we thought they were a Top 20 team.
Cal-Poly vs. Texas Southern – While Poly might be the hotter team, Texas Southern will have the best player on the floor in Aaric Murray. The winner gets a shot at Wichita State on Friday. The pick: Texas Southern.