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2018 NCAA Tournament: Eight must-see first round matchups


While there were certainly areas in which the selection committee could be criticized for its work on this year’s bracket, there’s no denying the fact that there are some intriguing matchups set for the first round.

Games involving the eight and nine seeds tend to rate among the most suspenseful, as one would expect, but there are other matchups to be considered as well.

Below are eight — two from each region — of the best matchups of the first round.

Games involving the teams playing in the First Four were not picked here, which means no Florida vs. St. Bonaventure or UCLA (a game that can be good regardless of which team the Gators get).

No. 4 Wichita State vs. No. 13 Marshall (East Region, Friday)

In its first season in the American, Wichita State won 25 games and on Selection Sunday received a lot more respect from the committee than they’ve received in past seasons. That being said, the Shockers have themselves a tough matchup in 13-seed Marshall. The Thundering Herd, back in the tournament for the first time since 1987, love to play fast, spread teams out and fire up three-pointers with Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks being the team’s top two offensive weapons.

Wichita State doesn’t lack for scoring talent, with Landry Shamet leading the way on the perimeter and Shaq Morris being an incredibly tough matchup due to his physicality and ability to step out away from the basket. That, especially with Wichita State’s struggles in defending the three, should make for a fun game Friday afternoon in San Diego.

No. 7 Arkansas vs. No. 10 Butler (East Region, Friday)

There are some solid 7/10 matchups in the bracket, with this battle between the Razorbacks and Bulldogs leading the way. Arkansas is experienced on the perimeter, with Anton Beard, Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon leading the way offensively. In the post, Arkansas has a freshman center in Daniel Gafford who’s become a bigger name in the eyes of NBA Draft types as the season’s progressed. Lastly, the uptempo style the Mike Anderson’s team plays can be quite the adjustment for teams that are not too familiar with it.

While Arkansas likes to ramp up the pressure, Butler plays in the half-court more often than not. In senior Kelan Martin the Bulldogs have one of the best forwards in the country, not just the Big East, and guard Kamar Baldwin is no slouch either. Defensively, LaVall Jordan’s team has done a good job of keeping their opponents off the offensive glass but defending the three has been an issue. Arkansas, on the other hand, is one of the best perimeter shooting teams in the country. Given the difference in styles, this could wind up being one of the first round’s best games.

No. 8 Seton Hall vs. No. 9 NC State (Midwest Region, Thursday)

The storylines for this matchup are interesting to say the least. Seton Hall has four seniors in its rotation, veterans who would like nothing more than to cap their careers with a deep NCAA tournament run. On the other side is an NC State team that, while it has some experienced players of its own, has surprised many simply by reaching the tournament in Kevin Keatts’ first season at the helm. It wouldn’t be fair to label this a “house money” situation for the Wolfpack, but they may be dealing with less pressure than the Pirates. As for the talent on the court, the matchup between Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado and NC State’s Omer Yurtseven should be an interesting one.

Delgado’s averaging 13.3 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, getting better at dealing with double teams as his career’s progressed. Yurtseven’s made significant strides from his freshman to sophomore season, and he enters the tournament averaging 13.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Both teams have talent across the board, and the matchup between playmakers Khadeen Carrington and Markell Johnson could determine the winner. Also worth keeping tabs on: the health of Seton Hall’s Desi Rodriguez, who made his return to the lineup in the Big East tournament after missing three games with an ankle injury.

No. 7 Rhode Island vs. No. 10 Oklahoma (Midwest Region, Thursday)

Given the team’s nosedive in Big 12 play, there were questions as to whether or not Oklahoma would make the NCAA tournament. Not only are the Sooners in the field, but they won’t have to play in the First Four, either. First up for Trae Young and company is a Rhode Island squad that won the Atlantic 10 regular season title and reached the final of the conference tournament. Rhode Island may not have an individual option as explosive as Young can be on the offensive end of the floor, but their perimeter attack is experienced, tough and talented.

The “Batman and Batman” combination of E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell lead the way, with Jeff Dowtin Jr., Jarvis Garrett, Stanford Robinson and Darron “Fatts” Russell are key members of the rotation as well. This afford Dan Hurley the option of using multiple players on Young, ensuring that the freshman has to deal with a relatively fresh defender for much of the game. How Young deals with this, and which of his teammates manages to step forward, will determine the outcome. But for the perimeter matchup alone, this is a nice way to start Thursday’s slate.

No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Davidson (South Region, Thursday)

John Calipari’s young Wildcats should be confident after they managed to win three games in St. Louis to take home the SEC tournament title. But they’ll be up against a Davidson squad that did the same in the Atlantic 10, and unlike Kentucky anything less than the automatic bid would have meant the NIT (or worse) for Bob McKillop’s team. Davidson has a host of capable perimeter shooters, and in senior forward Peyton Aldridge and freshman guard Kellan Grady they’ve got two players who have led the way offensively.

Davidson is a tough team to defend because of their spacing and player/ball movement, but it should be noted that Kentucky has been one of the best teams in the country at defending the three. Offensively Kentucky has seemingly determined who should be doing what, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander being the team’s best playmaker, Kevin Knox its best scorer and the other members of the rotation (most notably P.J. Washington, Quade Green and Wenyen Gabriel) stepping forward when needed. If Jarred Vanderbilt is unable to return after missing the SEC tournament due to an injury that would hurt, but it isn’t an issue that Kentucky cannot overcome. How Kentucky goes about defending Davidson — and vice versa — is what makes this such a fun matchup.

No. 6 Miami vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago (South Region, Thursday)

The Hurricanes took a hit personnel-wise when Jim Larranaga announced that Bruce Brown won’t be available due to the foot injury he suffered in late January. Miami did end the regular season well, winning its final four games, but to not have the sophomore guard on the court could prove costly against a balanced Loyola-Chicago attack that is also good defensively.

Experienced guards Clayton Custer, Donte Ingram and Marques Townes lead the way for the Ramblers, and when you add in Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year Ben Richardson, Porter Moser’s got the pieces needed to match up with Miami’s talented perimeter attack. The key for Miami could be the play of senior JaQuan Newton, who struggled a bit in the games immediately following his move to the bench but has since improved his play. If you like guard play (Miami’s Chris Lykes is incredibly fun to watch), this is a game you need to watch.

No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 South Dakota State (West Region, Thursday)

After playing in just nine games last season due to injury, all Keita Bates-Diop did this season was win Big Ten Player of the Year. His play is just one reason why, in Chris Holtmann’s first season at the helm, the Buckeyes are back in the NCAA tournament after they missed out in both 2016 and 2017. But the matchup Ohio State drew is a tough one, with the Jackrabbits being led by two-time Summit League Player of the Year Mike Daum.

“The Dauminator” is averaging 23.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, shooting 46.2 percent from the field, 42.1 percent from three and 85.6 percent at the foul line. Given his size (6-foot-9, 245 pounds) and ability to step away from the basket, Daum is an incredibly tough matchup for opposing teams. Freshman guard David Jenkins Jr. and senior guard Reed Tellinghuisen should not be overlooked either, and the same can be said for Ohio State’s Jae’Sean Tate and C.J. Jackson. How the Buckeyes and Jackrabbits account for the league players of the year on the other side should be fascinating to watch.

No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Providence (West Region, Friday)

After they came back to blow out West Virginia in their season opener, Texas A&M had the look of a team capable of making a run to the Final Four. Things haven’t gone as planned since, with Billy Kennedy’s team being impacted by injuries and suspensions for much of the season. But the Aggies are back in the tournament, and in Tyler Davis and Robert Williams they’ve got a couple pros in the post. How Providence deals with those two will be interesting to watch, as they’ll need a big effort from leading scorer Rodney Bullock on both ends of the floor.

What may also help Providence inside is the recent play of Nate Watson, as the freshman stepped up during the Big East tournament. Where the Friars may have an edge is on the perimeter, with senior point guard Kyron Cartwright leading the way and there being multiple contributors capable of supplementing his efforts (Alpha Diallo being one). Ed Cooley’s team doesn’t lack for toughness, which will be key as they go up against a Texas A&M team that’s been quite good on the offensive glass.

The end was disappointing, but Kentucky’s season outpaced all expectation

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In yet another example of what makes March Madness the greatest and most unpredictable sporting spectacle on the planet, Kentucky’s run to the Sweet 16 this season is going to be looked at as a disappointment.

Who saw that coming back in January?

Who thought that this team had second weekend potential when they were in the midst of the first four-game losing streak of John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington?

And please, show me who, at that point in time, predicted that Kentucky media would be calling a loss in the Sweet 16 “the worst loss” in the Calipari era back when there were actual discussions being had over whether or not the Wildcats were going to get into the NCAA tournament?

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns in college basketball

Kentucky lost on Thursday night. The fifth-seeded Wildcats fell to the ninth-seeded Wildcats of Kansas State in a game that turned into drama-filled slugfest down the stretch. The final score was 61-58. Kentucky had two shots at the end of regulation to force a tie or take the lead. They also gave up an offensive rebound to a 6-foot-3 no-name with 40 seconds left that led to the game-winning bucket.

The narrative is going to be that Kentucky choked this game away, that their inability to run offense — and P.J. Washington’s free throw yips — cost them the Final Four that seemed a given Thursday morning and a pipe dream on Selection Sunday.

The truth is that Kentucky was a flawed basketball team that got hot at the right time before running into a team that executed a game-plan to perfection while getting the benefit of a couple of bounces and whistles going their way.

And let me be perfectly clear: In no way, shape or form am I saying that Kentucky or Big Blue Nation should be happy with this loss. It should be disappointing. It should hurt — more so for the players than the fans, but whatever. The bracket broke perfectly for them. Everyone in their region was a cinderella. We weren’t wrong in thinking that Coach Cal’s kids were the heavy favorites to get to San Antonio out of Catlanta.

But we need to say that while also acknowledging this: There is a reason that Kentucky was a No. 5-seed this season.

This was a flawed basketball team.

They were young. They didn’t have enough shooting. Their offense was entirely too predictable, even when they were winning. If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox weren’t carrying the load for them on that end, they didn’t really have anywhere to turn. And on Thursday night, they ran into a team that had the personnel and a game-plan to take away Kentucky’s two go-to guys.

Kansas State is not overly talented, but what they have in abundance are tough, athletic and older guards that are going to put in a shift on the defensive end of the floor. Kentucky fans may not know who Barry Brown is, but I guarantee you that fans of every Big 12 team can tell you just how good he can be. I guarantee that coaches in the Big 12 can tell you just how annoying their guards are, and those little guards played that role to perfection.

To put it another way, it wasn’t a fluke that Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to make plays off the dribble the way he has for the last two months of the season. It wasn’t an accident that Kevin Knox struggled to find a way to get the looks he had become accustomed to getting coming off of Kentucky’s circle sets.

And in a 40 minute basketball game, when one team matches up well with another, something as simple as Xavier Sneed catching fire and Washington going 8-for-20 from the foul line will get you beat.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because the real point that I am trying to make here is that this particular Kentucky team just wasn’t all that good. They were young. They were injured. They had their flaws masked by the improvement of a couple of kids who played out of their minds for long stretches of the season, and I just don’t think that’s something that should be overlooked.

Maybe this is just my mindset as a fan. I enjoy the ride more than I need to celebrate the ending. Give me a reason to tune in every game. Make me excited to have the monotony of a week broken up when the ball tips. I’m good.

And I think this Kentucky team accomplished just that.

But two weeks ago, no one thought this team had a shot of getting to the Elite 8. Two months ago, every Kentucky fan would have taken a trip to the second weekend in a heartbeat.

The ending sucked.

No doubt about it.

But this team kept fighting and kept improving and, in the end, lost because someone took makeup remover to the cosmetics that Calipari applied.

Be disappointed, but don’t lost sight of the big picture.

VIDEO: Townes’ late 3 seals Loyola’s win over Nevada

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Nevada was faced with a dilemma. The Wolf Pack were down just one possession – just one point – and were on defense with with a five-second differential between the game and shot clocks.

Foul and extend the game or play it out and hope for a stop?

Nevada opted to play it straight-up, and Loyola hit them with the worst-case scenario – a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.

The 3-pointer from Marques Townes made it a two-possession game and the clock all but ruled out the possibility for two possession.

And that’s why Loyola is now in the Elite Eight.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Saturday’s tip times, TV channels, announcer pairings

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Half the spots in the Final Four are up for grabs Saturday. Be sure you know where your TV needs to be before the nets are cut down.

Atlanta:Ā Brian Anderson, Chris Webber and Lisa Byington

  • 6:09 p.m. – No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Loyola, TBS

Los Angeles:Ā Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Dana Jacobson

  • 8:49 – No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 9 Florida State, TBS

VIDEO: This is the shot that ended Kentucky’s season

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Barry Brown has spent all season being underrated.

And Kentucky found that out the hard way on Thursday night.

This bucket with 18 seconds left gave Kansas State a lead they would never relinquish in a win over Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Florida State advances past Gonzaga to Elite Eight

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Florida State was an afterthought heading into the season in an ACC that was as loaded as it was top-heavy.

They were a No. 9-seed in the NCAA tournament in part because they were able to pick off North Carolina and Clemson at home by a combined three points.

They needed three overtimes to hold off Miami and Syracuse at home. They needed a win over Boston College on Senior Night to avoid heading into the ACC tournament with a losing record, and they ended up going and losing in the first round of the ACC tournament to a Louisville that never really sniffed the bubble and parted ways with their interim head coach as soon as their NIT run ended.

They were almost universally picked to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Missouri because everyone knew Michael Porter Jr. was back and secretly hoped that the potential top five pick might actually make some noise as a collegian before his run came to an end.

The Seminoles have been written off and ignored for the entire college basketball season.

And now they are a win away from the Final Four.

Terance Mann scored 18 points and Florida State held fourth-seeded Gonzaga to 35 percent shooting as the Seminoles advanced to their first Elite 8 since 1993 with a 75-60 win on Thursday night. The Seminoles will advance to take on No. 3-seed Michigan with a trip to the Final Four on the line. They have not been to a Final Four since 1972, which was the last Elite 8 before their last Elite 8.

Put another way, the program that has been ignored all season long has been to precisely one Elite 8 since 1972.

That’s a long time to be irrelevant.

So I guess it’s time that we all started to pay attention.

And here’s the interesting part of this: The Seminoles are actually a fun team to watch this year. This is not the kind of grind-it-out Florida State teams that we have become accustomed to with Leonard Hamilton at the helm of this program. They don’t try to play as many enormous human beings at one time as they can. Florida State plays a lot of small-ball. They have a lot of physical, athletic and switchable defenders. They press. They try to force turnovers. They get out and run in transition. They haveĀ a coupleĀ dudes; Mann and Braian Angola and M.J. Carter. They’re not exactly VCU and they’re not exactly West Virginia and they’re not exactly last season’s South Carolina, but there’s a little bit of all of them there.

And that’s what did Gonzaga in.

The Zags entered this game short-handed, as their starting five-man Killian Tillie was unable to go due to a hip injury that he aggravated during warmups, but that would not have made all that much of a difference in the Staples Center.

The issue was guard play.

Florida State’s pressure simply overwhelmed Gonzaga’s guards. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell were a combined 10-for-36 from the floor and had a nightmare-of-a-time trying to get the ball into the lane. The Zags committed 13 turnovers, trailed by 12 within the first ten minutes of the game and never really made a run keeping this thing within striking distance.

If there was an issue with Tillie being out, it came when Gonzaga tried to space the floor.

The Zags were playing without enough shooters, particularly in the front court. That clogged the paint and made it difficult for the likes of Johnathan Williams III and Rui Hachimura to get some space down there to operate. Perhaps the most telling stat on Thursday — more than Gonzaga’s 34 percent shooting or the 5-for-20 that they shot from three — was that the Zags were 8-for-27 on layups on the night.


For 27.


And it makes me wonder just how Michigan is going to be able to handle this group, but that’s neither here nor there.

We’ll get to it in time.

For now, it is time for the Seminoles and their fans to basket in this moment.

They were right, we were wrong.