Over the course of the next few days leading up to March Madness, Jeremy and Sam will be releasing a breakdown of each of the first round matchups in the NCAA Tournament, along with second round matchups based on those breakdowns. This is meant to serve as a guide to help you understand each of the matchups and individual teams a bit better, in hopes of helping you pick the coveted perfect bracket. Yesterday, we started with the South region, and today we continue with the West region, which can be found in the lower left-hand corner of your bracket.
1 Xavier (RPI: 3, Kenpom: 14)/16 NCC/TS (RPI: 279/222, Kenpom: 309/249)
Xavier will enjoy an statistical overseed this year, compared to last year where they made the Elite 8 as an 11 seed. They’ll likely roll to a win over whomever they play in this first matchup, as 16 seeds are 0-132 against 1 seeds. Macura, Bluiett, and Kanter can take the game over at any point and should be a forceful trio for the length of their tournament run.
8 Missouri (RPI: 40, KenPom: 38)/9 Florida State (RPI: 42, KenPom: 35)
This is one of the more ‘meh’ 8/9 matchups in recent memory. Both teams were bounced out of their respective conference tourneys and have low RPIs. Florida State struggled against quality opponents, but are able to stay in games due to their excellent length. The result will likely come down to the availability of freshman Michael Porter Jr. If he plays, Mizzou has the clear advantage.
5 Ohio State (RPI: 20, Kenpom: 15)/12 South Dakota St (RPI: 46, Kenpom: 75)
South Dakota State will be a popular upset pick this year thanks in large part to Mike Daum. Arguably the best player in college basketball, Daum has led his Jackrabbits to three straight tournaments. The Jackrabbits shoot the ball well which is a key to this tournament. Ohio State is led by Keita Bates-Diop, who came out of nowhere to be a top player in the nation. The Buckeyes have not shown me they can win big games, so this will be a very interesting matchup.
4 Gonzaga (RPI: 24, Kenpom: 8)/13 UNCG (RPI: 73, Kenpom: 82)
Gonzaga will have to decipher a fairly good Spartans defense, which surrenders just over 60 ppg. Both are coming into the tournament hot, winning their respective conference tournaments while losing just one combined game in each of their last 24 combined contests. 13 seeds have just one win since 2014, and they likely won’t get another here.
6 Houston (RPI: 18, Kenpom: 17)/11 San Diego St (RPI: 63, Kenpom: 50)
Houston came one possession away from a victory over Cincinnati in the American title game. Rob Gray is a stud who can get buckets when they need them, and their defensive prowess is well-documented. San Diego State is no cupcake just because they needed a run in the Mountain West tourney to get a bid. They rebound with the best teams, and will be a tough first-round out. Houston has the edge, but it may not be a walk in the park.
3 Michigan (RPI: 12, Kenpom: 10)/14 Montana (RPI: 82, Kenpom: 71)
Michigan is one of the most consistent teams in March. Regardless of the events of the regular season, they always seem to make a push late in the year. They’re coming off their second straight improbable Big Ten tournament victory, and will be a trendy Final Four pick. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman is a stud who can have incredible shooting days and carry the Wolverines. They still have to get through Montana, however, which won’t be a walk in the park. The Grizzlies can rebound well and play a very pesky brand of defense. Michigan should move on if they play their style of basketball.
7 Texas A&M (RPI: 26, Kenpom: 30)/10 Providence (RPI: 32, Kenpom: 63)
A&M was aided in their seeding by the strength of the SEC. They shoot the ball poorly, and backed into the tournament after getting bounced in the SEC tournament immediately by Collin Sexton. Their frontcourt will need to play to its elite potential if they want to win. Providence really impressed some folks in the Big East tournament, beating Xavier and taking Villanova to OT in the championship game. If Providence can continue their hot play, they’ll win this evenly-matched tilt.
2 UNC (RPI: 4, Kenpom: 7)/15 Lipscomb (RPI: 102, Kenpom: 165)
UNC, fresh off a deep run in the ACC tournament, should have no problem with this matchup. As one of the least offensively efficient teams in the field, Lipscomb will have to be firing on all cylinders if they want to have a chance for the long shot upset. Unfortunately for them, they’ll have Joel Berry, Theo Pinson, and Luke Maye standing in their way. The Tarheels should roll into the next round with ease.
1 Xavier (RPI: 3, Kenpom: 14) vs. 8 Missouri (RPI: 40, KenPom: 38)
Even though Xavier is arguably by far the weakest of the 1 seeds in this bracket, there’s still a reason why they received a top line. Their high-powered offense will look to outscore a Missouri offense that will look completely different with the return of star freshman Michael Porter, Junior. Expect the Musketeers to advance to the second weekend, but don’t expect the Tigers to let them do it without a strong fight.
12 South Dakota St (RPI: 46, Kenpom: 75) vs. 4 Gonzaga (RPI: 24, Kenpom: 8)
South Dakota State may get through the Buckeyes, but Gonzaga is a whole other beast. The Bulldogs have just one blemish on their record this calendar year, and their only losses were to teams in the tournament or in the first four out. Gonzaga boasts 5 double-digit scorers, which will be more than enough to counteract Mike Daum.
6 Houston (RPI: 18, Kenpom: 17) vs. 3 Michigan (RPI: 12, Kenpom: 10)
Rob Gray turned quite a few heads nationally with his performance in the american tournament. However, Michigan has solid role player after solid role player to wear you down. Aside from Abdur-Rahkman, they have an ample 3-point shooter and solid defender in Duncan Robinson, and athletic big man Mo Wagner. Michigan hasn’t lost for a while, and it would be surprising for them to do so in the first weekend.
10 Providence (RPI: 32, Kenpom: 63) vs. 2 UNC (RPI: 4, Kenpom: 7)
Providence has been getting ‘hot at the right time’ over the course of the last week. Unfortunately for the Friars, so has their opponent. The Providence defense, which has been strong all year, will have a lot of trouble matching up with the strength of North Carolina’s offensive weapons, who will be constantly looking for ways to exploit the Friars’ man-to-man defense.
Continue to follow Maryland Sports Blog for more coverage on the road to the Final Four in San Antonio.