2017 NCAA Tournament Preview: First Four

March 13, 2017

Before I begin writing any preview articles for the NCAA Tournament, I look back at what I wrote last year at this time. This is primarily done to remind myself the different segments that I want to cover and come to the conclusion that I really don’t have time to add additional sections.

But upon looking back this season, I came to find that I am in a very different place emotionally with regards to the bracket as a whole and the teams included in this year’s Big Dance. Not surprisingly, last year I was a proponent for more mid-majors to be chosen over the middling power conference squad. I did, however, correctly predict that one of those power conferences squads that everyone complained about would make a splash by the time the dust settled.

Remember Syracuse?

This season, I really don’t have any complaints. Maybe I didn’t watch enough college basketball. Or maybe calling myself a “King” has begun to have an effect on my way of thinking towards more than just my everyday activities. Honestly, though, I think my mood is heavily affected by the fact that the Committee appears to have gotten things right. There aren’t many harrowing snubs or teams that surprised everyone by sneaking into the Tournament. This makes sense when you consider that there has been a large contingency of teams in the “decent, but not great” contingency all season.

And although the Committee appears to have gotten things right, we’ll surely reconsider when the tournament is over and all of our brackets were in shambles after the second day. That’s just how it is. So if you go and take anyone’s predictions and bet the house on it, that’s your prerogative. In other words, don’t blame us.

But I digress. The madness is upon us, so I’m pleased to kick off my preview of the 2o17 NCAA Tournament with a look at the First Four games being played in Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday and Wednesday evening.

First Round Games to Watch

#11 Kansas State vs. #11 Wake Forest (Tuesday, following Mount St. Mary’s vs. New Orleans game)

Of the First Four games in this year’s Tournament, this is the one that appears to be the most even. It is a battle of opposite strategies, with Wake Forest looking to outscore the opponent and push the tempo while Kansas State would prefer to slow it down and bear down defensively. The Demon Deacons have been able to employ their strategy more consistently, however. Bruce Weber’s team is an absolute wild card, one night being able to shut down Baylor and the next losing by 30 to Oklahoma. It makes sense that, with this wide range of performances, the Wildcats were the last team to make this Tournament.

John Collins is a beast for Wake Forest in the block and will give Kansas State’s interior defense all it can handle. So it really comes down to which Wildcats team shows up in this game. Good Kansas State is a potential Sweet 16 buster. Bad Kansas State has no business being in the Big Dance in the first place.

#11 Providence vs. #11 Southern Cal (Wednesday, following North Carolina Central vs. UC-Davis game)

Does this matchup look familiar? Because it should. The last time these two played was in the 2016 Tournament, where Providence stole a first round victory out from under the Trojans with less than two seconds remaining in the game. The chance for redemption in Dayton is there for Southern Cal, which faced a tough stretch near the end of the season and may not be at its most confident right now. Providence is an experienced tournament team, but may have trouble dealing with the size of the Trojans.

If Andy Enfield can get his team into the right mindset heading into this one, the Trojans have the right combination of size and athleticism to punish Providence. If they do manage to win, Southern Cal would earn a date with SMU, whom the Trojans have already beaten this season. The Friars are scrappy and shoot well from behind the arc, though. Stealing another Tournament victory isn’t out of the question for the underdogs.

Team That Could Make a Run

Wake Forest

Finishing tenth in your league would normally be viewed as a disappointment, but the exception is when you are in the ACC. It doesn’t hurt, either, to have one of the best big men in the country at your dispense. The Demon Deacons have the most talented player in the First Four in 6’10” sophomore John Collins, who will challenge Kansas State’s approach of shutting down the interior quite aggressively. Wake Forest relies heavily on its big man, who is essentially a double-double machine, averaging 18.9 PPG and 9.8 RPG.

The Demon Deacons are an offensively minded squad and face the potential of playing two defensively minded teams in a row in Kansas State and Cincinnati. Collins is a stud and will figuratively carry the team as far as it goes in this Tournament, but the rest of the squad needs to step up if they want to make it past Dayton. This team routinely scores in the 90s and if they do so in the coming games, they could very well find themselves in a matchup with UCLA looking at a chance to advance to the second weekend. And wouldn’t that be a fun game?

My Picks

#16 New Orleans over #16 Mount St. Mary’s

#11 Wake Forest over #11 Kansas State

#16 UC-Davis over #16 North Carolina Central

#11 Southern Cal over #11 Providence

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