Monday was the quietest day of basketball since literally December 26th, with only a single game on the schedule with the CollegeInsider.com Tournament tipping off (more below). As such, it was a day to breathe.
With a light day, as well as a relative lack of questions about this year’s bracket (though we’ll continue to point out the absurdity of Illinois State’s snub, Middle Tennessee State’s seed, Monmouth’s lack of even getting a look, and the committee’s general laziness in evaluating these type of teams), it allowed some time to let this year’s NCAA Tournament bracket marinate a bit. And here’s a thought: this year’s tourney has a lot of really good first round matchups.
We listed 10 of our favorites after a first glance at the bracket Sunday night, but there are certainly more than 10 good first round matchups this year. Having had a little more time to think about it, here are some more:
- South Carolina-Marquette. The Golden Eagles have virtually no inside game, but when they’re shooting it and moving it, it doesn’t matter. Watch the Gamecocks’ attempts to deny and hawk Marquette shooters all over the floor, but also watch to see if Sindarious Thornwell gets any help, or if USC sputters again like it has late this year.
- Michigan-Oklahoma State. A similar story, though the Wolverines have more inside and OSU has the offense to combat it. A stat to watch: Okie State shoots 78.7% from the free throw line, valuable if it leads late in a close game.
- Purdue-Vermont. First glance says the Boilermakers will overwhelm the Catamounts inside. But if UVM can keep Purdue to twos and not foul too much, just maybe they can put a scare into a team that had a bad NCAA experience last year.
- Arkansas-Seton Hall. Watching Angel Delgado go against Moses Kingsley inside will be worth the price of admission alone. Very curious to see who dictates tempo here, if the Pirates can make this a game won in the paint, or if the Hogs get it going up and down. If they do, then it’s worth following if SHU’s lack of depth comes into play late.
- Butler-Winthrop. The Bulldogs have some great wins this year, but also some very puzzling losses. Butler doesn’t have the size to overwhelm the Eagles, who shoot the three very well. Oh, and 5-foot-7 Keon Johnson can heat it up, and if he’s hot will quickly become a player the nation falls in love with.
- Arizona-North Dakota. Understand-we’re not picking UND to upset the Wildcats, but its talent is better than a 15 seed. Guards Quinton Hooker and Geno Crandall are good enough to make this entertaining.
- Ted Sarandis is back with his excellent College Basketball Tonight show, which we are hosting at Hoopville this year. And enjoyable listen throughout the tourney the past several years, you can listen to Sunday night’s show from after the NCAA selections right here.
- The first postseason game was played Monday night already, with Liberty advancing in the CollegeInsider.com tourney with a 73-64 win over Norfolk State. Ryan Kemrite (30) and Lovell Cabbil (25) combined for 55 of the Flames’ 73 points, shooting a collective 18 of 26 from the floor and nailing 10 three-pointers. Liberty has its 20th win of the season, quiet a turnaround from 13-19 last year.
- Another coaching change announced yesterday was Duquesne letting Jim Ferry go after five years. Ferry had a 60-97 record at the Pittsburgh school, one of the toughest jobs in the Atlantic 10. The highlight of his tenure might’ve been this year, when the Dukes knocked off city rival Pitt to end a 15-game losing streak in the City Game series. Ferry is a coach who has proven he can win, having had wild success at NCAA Division II Adelphi and also leading LIU to back-to-back NCAA tourney appearances in 2011 and 2012.
- One school has filled its coaching vacancy, as North Texas has hired Grant McCasland away from Arkansas State. McCasland had a successful first year in Jonesboro, leading ASU to a 20-12 mark, a tie for third in a tough Sun Belt and a win at Georgetown early on. McCasland is the second Sun Belt coach from the state of Arkansas in two years to leave after one season, as Chris Beard did the same going from Arkansas-Little Rock to UNLV and eventually Texas Tech last year.
- The most entertaining happening off the court Monday came from the Twitter account of Illinois State coach Dan Muller, whose team was not invited to the NCAA Tournament on the basis of questions about its schedule. Muller has been very clear about how his program tried to schedule any number of teams that are appearing in this year’s tourney but was rebuffed, and on Monday he used some creative animation to run a want ad on Twitter for non-conference games next year. The even better part was Mississippi accepted, with athletic director Ross Bjork tweeting back to Muller about the interest of Kennedy, who is not on Twitter, bless his heart. Muller quickly accepted publicly, and ISU and Ole Miss are working on a game for next year. Big-time credit to Kennedy and Ole Miss on this, and it should be noted the Rebels have been a major program in the past not afraid of playing teams like Middle Tennessee State, which in fact it played this year. The sport is better when schools like Ole Miss and coaches like Kennedy do this.
- The NCAA Tournament once again starts with its soft open. The first game of the tourney is Mount St. Mary’s against New Orleans, with the Mountaineers’ VCU-inspired defense and heavy ball screen offense against the inside-oriented Privateers. (6:40 p.m. Eastern, TruTV). UNO is a sentimental favorite to be sure and the best story in the tourney by far, but the Mount also is an excellent story, recovering from a 1-11 start against a brutal schedule to win the Northeast Conference regular season and tourney titles. The second game features Kansas State against Wake Forest, two teams we would not have in the field if it was our call-not with their combined 7-19 records against the top 50. Still, this is a solid matchup, especially Wake’s John Collins inside against the Wildcats’ D.J. Johnson, and these are two teams who haven’t been to the tourney for a couple years, so complacency should not be an issue.
- The NIT fires up with nine games tonight. Among the best ones: Richmond is at Alabama (9:15 p.m., ESPN2), as we get at least one more chance to watch T.J. Cline play; Indiana is at Georgia Tech (9 p.m., ESPN), with the lower-seeded Yellow Jackets hosting; College of Charleston travels to Colorado State with the Cougars’ defense against the Rams’ fun-to-watch Gian Clavell and iron seven-man rotation, and a capable Oakland team is at Clemson (8 p.m., ESPNU).
- The CIT continues with three more games, including St. Francis (Pa.) against Jacksonville, Houston Baptist at Campbell and a good one with Canisius at Samford.
Have a super Tuesday.