Villanova Looks to Repeat/collegehoopsdigest

By Josh Adams, @NCAAHoopsDigest

(Post will be updated throughout the day)

It’s here!! 

Like Christmas, your birthday and your dog’s birthday all at once, March madness is upon us. 

There are several teams that could stake a claim as the favorite to win the tournament but their are several small conference teams that could bust your bracket by the end of the weekend. We’ll do our best to predict the winners but again, we will not be held fiscally responsible nor provide bus fare back from Las Vegas if we’re wrong. 

Games start at 12:15, let’s get this started. Hope you get your beak wet:

12:15 (12) Princeton vs (5) Notre Dame 

Princeton (23-6) the Ivy League champions are one of those lower seeded teams that could do some real damage. Unfortuntely for the Tigers, their road ends early against Notre Dame (25-9). The ACC Tournament runners up are a veteran team led by Bonzie Colson who was dominant in the ACC final. Winner: Notre Dame 72-65

12:40 (12) UNC Wilmington vs (5) Virginia 

UNC Wilmington (29-5), the Colonial Athletic Association Champions are fundamentally sound and run an up-tempo offense.  The Seahawks take care of the ball where they’re ranked #2 in KenPom on turnover rate on offense. Virginia (22-10) runs a methodical offense that keeps the score low. It’s a contrast in styles that will be won by game tempo. Give Virginia the slight edge as Tony Bennett’s squad will frustrate the Seahawks on defense. Winner: Virginia 68-65

1:30 (13) Winthrop vs (4) Butler 

Winthrop (26-6) returns to the tournament as Big South champions and they have a special player in Keon Johnson. We’ve covered the Eagles all season and Johnson has been the rock of this team for the entire season. At 5’7″, Johnson might be small in stature but he gets to the free throw line and can be deadly from the three point arc, hitting them at a .400% clip (94-235). Butler (23-8)  has defeated Villanova twice this season and coach Chris Holtmann’s veteran Bulldogs are tenacious in getting after loose balls and causing turnovers. Kelan Martin has been the go-to guy for Butler all season and he presents a matchup problem for the Eagles with his ability to slash to the hoop at small forward. The Bulldogs have had problems scoring in their last two games and I see an upset here. That’s how much I think Keon Johnson will become a household name in this tournament.  Winner: Winthrop 71-67

2:00 (16) South Dakota State vs (1) Gonzaga 

The number one seed in the west, the Gonzaga Bulldogs (32-1) look towards Phoenix and the opportunity to break through to the Final Four. South Dakota St. (18-16) hail from the Summit League and won the conference tournament. Their prize? A date with one of the best teams in the storied history of Gonzaga. The Jackrabbits will have no one able to body Zags center Przemek Karnowiski and the Bulldogs should advance easily. Winner: Gonzaga 90-72 

2:45 (13) Bucknell vs (4) West Virginia

Bucknell (26-8) has had a terrific season as Patriot League champions and had an upset over Vanderbilt in November. The Bison have the size to match up with a major conference team and power forward Zach Thomas shoots 50% from the field and 81% from the foul line. West Virginia (26-8) gave #1 seed Kansas a loss in January. The Mountaineers Jevon Carter is one of the finer scoring point guards in the nation. There’s upset potential in this game but West Virginia is simply too talented to bow out quickly: Winner: West Virginia 92-78

3:10 (13) East Tennessee State vs (4) Florida 

East Tennesse State (27-7) won the Southern Conference and head coach Steve Forbes is a hot name on the coaching carousel.  Clearly the best team in the Southern, TJ Cromer dropped 41 points in the conference semifinal vs Samford. The Gators lost their center John Egbunu to a season ending injury. It’s left a gap in the middle for Florida that can be exploited. Guard KeVaughn Allen is one of the best athletes in the SEC.  Small forward Canyon Barry is versitile and has the Barry pedigree at the free throw line. I like the Gators to advance: Winner: Florida 75-63

4:00 (12)Middle Tennessee St. vs (5) Minnesota 

Middle Tennessee St (30-4) had an excellent non-conference record with beating tournament teams UNCW and Vanderbilt. Center Reggie Upshaw has been outstanding in the postseason. Minnesota (24-9) had a successful regular season but had a stretch where they lost five consecutive Big 10 games. They rebounded to win their next 8 conference games that earned them a NCAA bid. Nate Mason is one of the best guards in the Big 10. I do smell an upset in this one.  The Gophers don’t shoot the ball that well and MTSU will capitalize on that. Winner: Middle Tennessee St. 77-73

4:30 (9) Vanderbilt vs (8) Northwestern 

Vanderbilt (19-15) struggled at times this season as their offense has been hot and cold all season. They have defeated Florida twice in the last two weeks which should give the Commodore fans hope heading into the dreaded 8/9 seed game. You may have heard that Northwestern (23-11) has made their first NCAA Tournament in school history. Wildcats coach Chris Collins has his team playing smart basketball and have wins over Wisconsin, Michigan and Rutgers. Shooting guard Scottie Lindsey was outstanding in the Big 10 Tournament. I see Northwestern advancing, which should make all the Medill alumni in sports journalisim a reason to crow. Winner: Northwestern 68-66

Night Games

6:50 (11) Xavier vs (6) Maryland

Xavier (21-13) is one of the seven teams out of the Big East Conference to get a bid to this years big dance. Trevon Bluiett is a dynamic guard for the Musketeers and J.P. Macura does the little things that help his team win games. They had a six game losing streak in February and needed a strong Big East Tournament showing to get into the NCAA Tournament this year. It’s been a tale of two seasons for Maryland as they had a 7 game winning streak in Big 10 play but lost six out of there last ten games. Melo Trimble continues to be the one constant in the Terps lineup and can take over a game by himself. I think it will be a short stay for the Terps in this year’s tournament but tonight won’t be the night they lose. Winner: Maryland 63-60

7:10 (16) Mount St. Mary’s vs. (1) Villanova 

They’ll be someday when a #16 beats a #1 but tonight won’t be that night. Mount St. Mary’s (20-15) the NEC champions simply don’t have anything close that will stop number one overall seed Villanova (30-4) and their Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson backcourt. Winner: Villanova 90-61

7:20 (10) VCU vs 7 (St. Mary’s) 

This game personfies what the tournament is all about with a game between two teams from opposite sides of the country that play contrasting styles. VCU(26-8) isn’t far removed from a memorable run from the first four to the final four. While Shaka Smart left for Texas, Will Wade has filled his shoes amicably in leading the Rams to continued success in the Atlantic 10. Mo Allie-Cox is the dominant player on defense for the Rams who create “havoc” for their opponents on offense. St. Mary’s (28-4) beat Atlantic 10 opponent Dayton earlier this season. The West Coast Conference runner up has 6’11” Jock Landale, a offense and rebounding machine. He had a double-double (22 points 10 rebounds) against BYU in the West Coast Conference Tournament. I was going to give VCU the edge but they game will take place in Utah, closer to St. Mary’s fans and timezone. Winner: St’ Mary’s 77-74