After 131 days of basketball, Selection Sunday is finally here. Tonight at 6 p.m. ET, 68 teams and their fans will find out where they start their potential journey to Minneapolis.
Championship Week has had plenty of twists and turns and excellent games as usual, with the bubble shrinking to a less chaotic state than it was one week ago. Florida has been the only team to really play its way into the field, while potential bid-stealer league favorites like Gonzaga, VCU, Nevada and Washington couldn’t seal the deal in their respective conference tournaments, shrinking the ever-changing bubble.
Maryland heads into the big dance teetering after a 69-61 loss to Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament. That loss dropped the Terps from a No. 5 seed to a likely No. 6 seed, although Maryland could still fall to a No. 7 depending on how the committee evaluates mid-majors like Wofford and Buffalo. Both are ranked higher in the NET, Kenpom and BPI, but the committee tends to peg mid-majors outside of Gonzaga a seed or two lower than they could be due to the lack of opportunities to get Quadrant 1 and 2 wins in conference play.
After looking at where Maryland could play last week, today I’ll be looking who the Terps could play in a few days. Matchups are crucial for the NCAA Tournament, and could be the difference between a once-promising season petering out or going on for a few more days. The potential opponents below are projected No. 10 and No. 11 seeds in my bracket.
I currently have St. John’s playing NC State in one of my First Four games, with Ole Miss and Indiana playing in the other. The Red Storm have been frustrating to watch, trading impressive wins for awful losses. However, Shamorie Ponds is one of the best scorers in college basketball, and can take over and win games by himself. St. John’s likes to push the tempo and excels at creating turnovers, but doesn’t have a rotation player over 6’7. Maryland would be the favorite in this matchup, but a First Four team has won a game every tournament since 2011.
The Wolfpack’s dreadful non-conference schedule has their status up in the air. Although Kevin Keatts’s squad doesn’t have a great win this season, their style of play could cause problems for Maryland. NC State likes to push the tempo, force turnovers and attack the offensive glass. That’s a recipe for a potential upset.
The Rebels burst into the tournament picture with a win over then-No. 22 Auburn on Jan. 9, and have stayed in the field ever since despite losing five of their last seven heading into the NCAA Tournament. Nothing really jumps out on Ole Miss’s KenPom page, but there are two statistics that could cause trouble for Maryland. The Rebels are 46th in opponent’s turnover percentage, which could be a problem for a team that had a turnover problem until recently. Ole Miss also shoots 78 percent from the foul line, which is good for fifth in the country. But the Rebels don’t get there a lot, and have a free-throw-to-field-goal attempt ration that’s 220th according to Kenpom.
I have Ole Miss a little lower than most bracketologists, as the Rebels are currently a No. 9 seed in the bracket matrix, so this matchup probably won’t happen.
The Ducks are the final bid stealer, demolishing Washington last night to take home the Pac-12 tournament title. This is a team Maryland will not want to face, as they are trending in the exact direct opposite of the Terps, Both teams play at a slow tempo, and Oregon has been a strong defensive team all season. Maryland can’t afford to get off to its usual slow start if this is the matchup, as the Ducks play at one of the slowest paces in the country.
I had Maryland taking on the Aggies yesterday, which would be a trendy upset pick. Mountain West Player of the Year Sam Merrill powers an offense that is great at sharing the basketball, and Utah State’s length makes it difficult for teams to score around the rim. Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year Neemias Queta has locked down the paint all season, averaging 2.4 blocks per game.
The Horned Frogs are another team that’s limped into the tournament, losing seven of their last nine games. Nothing really jumps out about TCU except for its assist to field goal ratio, which is No. 18 in the country, and its three-point defense, which is No. 22. It doesn’t have a standout win, and Jamie Dixon’s team is one some college basketball experts would like to see a quality mid-major like Belmont in the field over another average power conference squad.
The Rams looked to be cruising to an Atlantic 10 tournament title, until leading scorer Marcus Evans went down with a knee injury in a quarterfinal loss to Rhode Island. VCU coach Mike Rhoades told Jon Rothstein that Evans has no structural damage in his knee, and is working to be ready for the NCAA Tournament.
The Rams would be a different team without their leading scorer, but still have a deep rotation. Including Evans, VCU has nine players who average more than 14 minutes a game. In traditional VCU fashion, the Havoc defense is living up to its name. The Rams are No. 7 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency, and are ranked in the top 10 in opponents’ effective field goal percentage, turnover percentage, two-point field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage. That helps make up for a questionable offense that makes just 30.7 percent of its three-point attempts.
This is the matchup Maryland doesn’t want. Former Jim Boeheim disciple and Syracuse coach-in-waiting Mike Hopkins has taken over in Seattle. He runs his former boss’s trademark 2-3 zone, a defense the Terps have struggled against time-and-time again this year. Not only does Washington’s defense suffocate teams, it’s also forced turnovers on nearly one in four possessions this season. Even though the Huskies are 342nd in offensive rebounding percentage, according to KenPom, that won’t matter if Maryland reverts back to an almost season-long turnover problem.