2018 NCAA Tournament Preview: First Four

March 12, 2018
By K. Becks

As I’ve gotten older and my free time available to post articles on Around The Corn has dwindled, my ability to come up with an opening segment or two before diving into the meat of a post has suffered immensely. Not surprisingly, your ability to bullshit for a little bit before giving your opinion parallels how qualified you are to actually write about a particular subject.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m not sure I have watched enough college basketball this season to voice my thoughts on the internet. At least, the part of me that believes you should have some sort of expertise in order to publish your thoughts thinks this way. Fortunately for the other part of me that doesn’t care about this sense of integrity, that’s not how the internet works. So here I am, about to embark on the hopeless task of attempting to predict every NCAA Tournament game correctly.

In high school and college, I am pretty sure I took years off my life getting so worked up about the games that I had incorrectly chosen. Thankfully, that doesn’t really happen anymore, although this is in large part due to the alcohol that I consume while watching the games. What’s the quickest way to forgo the stress of losing? Another beer, of course!

I’m rambling now, but in short, the previous three paragraphs can be summed up as follows: I need shore up my journalistic abilities, I wouldn’t proclaim to be a college basketball expert this season and I’ll be drinking a lot over the next few weeks.

But, hey! Read my stuff about the First Four games being played in Dayton and the rest of the Tournament later on this week. It’s good bathroom reading material, so I’ve been told.

First Round Games to Watch

#11 St. Bonaventure vs. #11 UCLA (Tuesday, following LIU Brooklyn vs. Radford game)

Bonaventure is my chosen Confirmation name (and yes, I did choose it because of the basketball team. Seriously.), so by default I feel like I have a dog in the fight in this one. But I’m not the only one, it seems. The Bonnies represent the Atlantic 10 Conference, same as the Dayton Flyers, which call the arena where this game will be played home. Not only will the Bruins be coming halfway across the country for this game, but they’ll have to deal with what could realistically end up being a very pro St. Bonaventure crowd in Dayton. Recall a few years back when the Flyers got to play Boise State at home in the First Four? The crowd means something, even in the Big Dance.

UCLA is a very good team, however, and won’t lay down for the Bonnies. Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday create a terrific inside out option for the Bruins and beyond seldom used Amadi Ikpeze, St. Bonaventure has no one that can match Welsh’s seven foot frame. The Bonnies will look to create in the backcourt with a trio of seniors that is led by Jaylen Adams, who will be as good as anyone on the court in this game. The Pac-12 squad in this one may be able to muscle its way to victory, but if St. Bovanture gets the benefit of the crowd and can control the pace of play with its defense, this game will come down to possessions in the final minute of regulation.

#11 Arizona State vs. #11 Syracuse (Wednesday, following North Carolina Central vs. Texas Southern game)

Think teams aren’t excited just for the opportunity to play in the Round of 64? Check out Bobby Hurley’s reaction when it was announced that Arizona State was one of the at-large selections. Hurley didn’t have much time to party, though, as minutes later it was announced that his team’s opponent in the First Four round would be one of the most successful programs over the past two decades. Syracuse has been in a similar position before. In 2016, the Orange rode a No. 10 seed that many believed they didn’t deserve all the way to the Final Four.

It’s hard to believe that Arizona State is playing on Tuesday evening, considering that it had climbed to become a top five team that had already beaten Kansas and Xavier by mid-December. The Sun Devils stumbled down the stretch, though, winning just four of their final 10 and finishing eighth in a weak Pac-12. There is plenty of talent on the squad, and the four guard approach that coach Hurley employs could give an Orange squad that is No. 342 in the country in adjusted tempo according to KenPom. A clash of styles will ensue, but I believe the winner will have the best chance of any team that advances beyond Dayton to make some noise once the Tournament truly begins.

Team That Could Make a Run

Syracuse

It pains me to be writing this, but I’m taking the approach of choosing with my head instead of my heart here. The Orange may have finished in the bottom half of the ACC, but they are clearly battle tested and won’t be intimidated by any team in the Tournament. Jim Boeheim barely needs to motivate his players because the way that the media has been talking about them over the past 24 hours will be motivation enough. The zone defense is an effective way to subdue the first two teams teams that Syracuse could play, which is important because the Orange will need to keep the score close to have a chance to win. They aren’t a terrific shooting team but are irritatingly effective on the defensive end.

Beyond the second round, things will get very tough for the Orange in a region featuring Kansas, Duke and Michigan State. But in the aptly named “Region of Champions”, Syracuse could prove to be the Tournament’s biggest bracket buster. This methodical, defensive minded squad is led by a coach who has seen it all and been in a similar position before. Don’t be surprised if the Orange are responsible for your bracket being thrown in the trash by Sunday.

My Picks

#16 Radford over #16 LIU Brooklyn

#11 St. Bonaventure over #11 UCLA

#16 Texas Southern over #16 North Carolina Central

#11 Syracuse over #11 Arizona State

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