NCAA Tournament Preview: 4 vs. 13 Games
UCLA (26-8, 12-6 Pac-12) vs. Tulsa (21-12, 13-3 C-USA)
UCLA Strengths and Weaknesses
The Pac-12 champion Bruins have been very efficient on the offensive end, posting the 10th best field goal percentage in the nation as part of an offense that puts up 81.8 points per game. Four of UCLA’s top-five scorers are underclassmen, and therefore have little tournament experience, since the Bruins were ousted in the first round by Minnesota last season.
Tulsa Strengths and Weaknesses
The Golden Hurricane, who ripped off 11 straight wins after starting the year just 10-12, are strong defensively. Tulsa allowed the second-lowest opponents’ field-goal percentage in the C-USA and hasn’t given up 70 points or more in regulation since January. James Woodward has led the charge for Tulsa with 15.7 points per game this year, but it lacks scoring depth. Only one other player (Rashad Smith) averages in double figures.
X-factor- UCLA’s Three-point Shooting
Out of 16 C-USA teams, Tulsa was fourth worst at defending the 3. That could be problematic against a UCLA team that had the third-best 3-point shooting percentage in the Pac-12.
Michigan State (26-8, 12-6 Big Ten) vs. Delaware (25-9, 14-2 CAA)
Michigan State Strengths and Weaknesses
Michigan State’s top four scorers have each missed at least three games this season, including a 10-game absence from Branden Dawson. However, the Spartans are finally healthy, and they looked dominant in the Big Ten tournament with everyone in the fold. Free throws often play a big factor in NCAA Tournament games, and Michigan State shot just 69 percent from the charity stripe this season, which was third worst in the Big Ten.
Delaware Strengths and Weaknesses
Delaware has three excellent scoring threats, as Devon Saddler, Davon Usher, and Jarvis Threatt all averaged at least 18 points per contest this season. Carl Baptiste adds a scoring presence down low with his 58 percent field-goal percentage. Though the Blue Hens are stocked with offensive talent, they struggle mightily on the defensive end. They allowed 75.1 points per game, which was worst in the CAA.
Michigan State looks to have a clear advantage on the boards; the Spartans were third in the Big Ten with a +5.1 rebounding margin, but the Blue Hens were second-worst in the CAA with a -2.4 rebounding margin.
Louisville (29-5, 15-3 American Athletic) vs. Manhattan (25-7, 15-5 MAAC)
Louisville Strength and Weaknesses
After winning the national championship last season Louisville knows what it takes to win in March. Louisville is playing very well as of late, capping it off with the American tournament title. The Cardinals do not have the post presence that they did during the NCAA tournament run last year. Finding a way to counter a lack of inside big bodies will be a difficulty for Rick Pitino in the tournament.
Manhattan Strengths and Weaknesses
In their last 12 games Manhattan is 11-1 and will ride a big rivalry win against Iona to get the auto bid into the tournament. The Jaspers will have momentum to use a kick-starter to a potential upset bid. However, Manhattan has yet to play a ranked team all season. Upsetting Louisville will be rather difficult since Manhattan hasn’t been in a big game situation like this yet.
X-Factor: Louisville Guard Russ Smith
Smith has been the leading scorer all season for the Cardinals with 18.3 points per game and has championship experience from last season.
San Diego State (29-4, 16-2 MWC) vs. New Mexico State (26-9, 12-4 WAC)
San Diego State Strengths and Weaknesses
SDSU’s difficult non-conference schedule versus teams like Kansas has prepared them to make a run in this tournament. With that said, inconsistency against talented teams has plagued the Aztecs. SDSU has a 3-3 record against teams whose RPI ranks in the top 50. These are the teams they will be playing in the tournament.
New Mexico State Strengths and Weaknesses
New Mexico State is a very smart team that doesn’t settle for poor shots and make the extra pass to get better shots and consequently are ninth in the country in field goal percentage. However, outside of Gonzaga and Arizona, New Mexico State has not been tested during the regular season.
X-Factor: San Diego State Guard Xavier Thames
Thames has averaged 16.8 points per game and has been far and away the best player for the Aztecs this season.
About the Contributors
Senior / Broadcast Journalism and Actuarial Science
In addition to his work as a broadcaster, beat writer, talk show host, and bracketologist for ComRadio, Bradford has completed production internships with the sports department of NBC 10 in Philadelphia and the Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics Video Department, in addition to a writing internship with Whiztix, a ticket-comparison site. He is currently interning with ESPN Radio 1450 AM in State College where he serves as a color commentator for State College Area High School baseball games and assists with the production of Penn State baseball broadcasts.
Senior / Broadcast Journalism
Mike Wargon is a senior from Roxbury, NJ majoring in broadcast journalism with a minor in general business.