First Round Games of Friday, March 21
All games on CBS
BJCC Arena (Birmingham, AL)
Matchup: #15 Seed American (21-11, 10-4 Patriot) vs. #2 Tennessee (29-4, 14-2 Southeastern), 12:15
Rankings: American, #159 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 8 in Patriot); Tennessee, #14 (1st of 12 in SEC)
Pomeroy Prediction: Tennessee, 83-63 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 4%
Prospectus: The Eagles won the Patriot League for the first time this season, knocking off Colgate 52-46 in the final to advance to their first ever NCAA tournament. Tennessee won the regular season SEC title, but failed to capture its first conference tournament championship since 1979, falling to Arkansas 92-91 in the semifinals. The Volunteers are an interesting case, in that their defense to a large extent relies upon forcing turnovers--Tennessee ranks 23rd in the nation in opponent turnover percentage, and a glance at the team's Game Plan page reveals that the Volunteers' defensive correlation between opponent turnover percentage and efficiency is a very high -0.66. As has been discussed by Ken Pomeroy, the Volunteers are therefore vulnerable against a team that takes care of the ball very well, because turnover percentage is more in the control of the offense than the defense. Unfortunately for the Eagles and the upset-minded, American is not that team--in fact, it is one of the poorer ball-handling teams in the country, turning it over on 21.3 percent of possessions. Tennessee's pressure defense, therefore, could create serious havoc for American's ball handlers. Another way to beat Tennessee is to shut down its prodigious three-point game by stymieing senior shooting guard Chris Lofton, who has knocked down 113 of a remarkable 284 three-pointers attempted on the season (40 percent). Again, however, American is not the team to do this--the Eagles are in the bottom half of Division I in both three-point percentage allowed (35.1) and opponent's percentage of field goal attempts from three-pointers (35.5). In other words, it could be a long afternoon for the Eagles, especially since their main strength on offense--the nation's third-best three-point shooting percentage, 41.2--is going up against a Tennessee unit which ranks 19th in the country in three-point field goal percentage defense, as the Volunteers have allowed opponents to shoot just 31 percent from deep. American is led by two sub-6'0 guards, point guard Derrick Mercer, who leads the club in minutes and assist rate, and shooting guard Garrison Carr, who leads in possessions used and shots taken, offensive rating, and eFG% (57.5), and who has bettered even Lofton in the three-point shooting department, knocking down 129-of-284 on the season, an outstanding 45 percent.
Matchup: #10 Seed South Alabama (26-6, 16-2 Sun Belt) vs. #7 Butler (29-3, 16-2 Horizon League), 2:45
Rankings: South Alabama, #75 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 13 in Sun Belt); Butler, #32 (1st of 10 in Horizon)
Pomeroy Prediction: Butler, 67-62 in 61 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 29%
Prospectus: The Jaguars tied for the Sun Belt regular season title with Western Kentucky at 16-2 and gained the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament by beating Western Kentucky twice, but fell in the semifinals to No. 4 seed Middle Tennessee St. The team's strong regular season work was rewarded with a 10 seed, however, and a date with Horizon League champion Butler. South Alabama is making its eighth appearance in the NCAA tournament, and first since 2006, while Butler has also been 8 times, including last year, when the Bulldogs were a No. 5 seed after a 27-6 season. This year's Butler squad, despite entering the tournament with a better record, is not quite as good as last year's edition, which lost in the Sweet 16 to eventual champion Florida. Last year Butler was the best team in the nation at protecting the ball, and this year the team ranks eighth, turning it over on just 16.6 percent of possessions. The Bulldogs also take almost exactly as many three-pointers as they did last year--in 2007 48.8 percent of their field goal attempts were from deep, and this year that figure is 48.6. The Jaguars run an entirely different offense, as they shoot three pointers far less frequently, on about one third of their field goal attempts, and rely instead upon strong two-point shooting (53.2 percent), offensive rebounding (they grab a very healthy 39 percent of their own misses), and getting to the free throw line (32.5 free throw attempts per 100 field goal attempts, 12th highest rate in the nation). South Alabama has one of the best little-known players in the country in 6'4 senior Demetric Bennett, who is seventh in Division I in offensive rating amongst players using 24 percent of possessions or more--one spot behind 6'7 Butler freshman Matt Howard, who has taken over the mantle belonging to the Bulldogs best offensive player from senior shooting guard A.J. Graves. Both these teams have better offenses than defenses, so this one should be a high-scoring affair. South Alabama also got a big break from the selection committee, as although it is the lower seed, it will be playing this game in its home state, and a partisan crowd will likely be on hand to cheer USA on.
Matchup: #11 Seed Saint Joseph's (21-12, 9-7 Atlantic 10) vs. #6 Oklahoma (22-11, 9-7 Big 12), 7:10
Rankings: Saint Joseph's, #55 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 14 in Atlantic 10); Oklahoma, #36 (6th of 12 in Big 12)
Pomeroy Prediction: Oklahoma, 66-64 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 42%
Prospectus: The Hawks return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004, the year they received a No. 1 seed and lost in the Elite Eight to No. 2 Oklahoma St. This year's edition has a very good offense--second best in the A-10 behind Xavier--but is prone to getting cut up on defense, as it was by Temple in the Atlantic 10 championship game, a 69-64 loss in which Saint Joseph's gave up 1.16 points per possession. The Hawks' top four in percentage of minutes played all shoot at least 53.8 eFG% from the floor, and the squad collectively ranks 17th in the country with a 54.6 eFG%. Oklahoma is not as good offensively, but the Sooners are much more solid on the other side of the ball, and are particularly strong at shutting down the opposing three-point game. Oklahoma has one of the most physical forces in college basketball, 6'10 freshman Blake Griffin, who is in the national top 35 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, and shoots 56 eFG% from the floor on a team-leading 309 two-point attempts. Saint Joseph's also has a 6'10 team leader, senior Pat Calathes, but Calathes has about as different a skill set from Griffin as two players the same height can possess. Calathes used to be a guard before a growth spurt, and he has excellent ball-handling skills for a player his size, and a great touch from the outside. Calathes has hit 73-of-181 three-pointers this season, whereas Griffin has attempted just two triples. The more likely Saint Joseph's cover for Griffin is 6'9 junior forward Ahmad Nivins, who is more of a classic low-post player, having hit 160-of-248 two-pointers (64.5 percent) on the season.
Matchup: #14 Seed Boise St. (25-8, 12-4 Western Athletic) vs. #3 Louisville (24-8, 14-4 Big East), 9:40
Rankings: Boise St., #131 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 9 in WAC); Louisville, #9 (2nd of 16 in Big East)
Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville, 83-65 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 5%
Prospectus: The Broncos pulled off a neat trick in the WAC tournament, beating two teams on consecutive days that had both swept Boise St. in the regular season. The Broncos knocked off Utah St. by 10 in the semifinals and then took down New Mexico St. in triple OT to win the conference championship for the first time and advance to their sixth NCAA tournament. Boise St. is third in the nation in three-point percentage, at 56.1, 20th nationally in two-point shooting, at 39.6, and second overall in eFG%, at 57.3. Louisville, however, is seventh in the country in eFG% defense, and is nearly equally good at defending against two-point and three-point attempts. The Cardinals' main mark will be 6'6 junior Reggie Larry, who leads the team in percentage of possessions used and shots taken, as well as defensive rebounding percentage and block percentage. Larry has shot 56 percent on his 357 two-pointers, forming a deadly inside-the-arc combo with senior forward Matt Nelson, who has converted 65 percent of his 299 twos. Larry, Nelson, and the rest of the Broncos average 72 possessions per 40 minutes, the 24th fastest pace in the nation.
RBC Center (Raleigh, NC)
Matchup: #16 Seed Mount St. Mary's (25-8, 12-4 Northeast) vs. #1 North Carolina (32-2, 14-2 Atlantic Coast), 7:10
Rankings: Boise St., #131 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 9 in WAC); North Carolina, #5 (1st of 13 in ACC)
Pomeroy Prediction: North Carolina, 90-65 in 75 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 2%
Prospectus: The Mount beat Coppin St. 69-60 on Tuesday in the NCAA tournament play-in game in Dayton, and now gets to play the team seeded No. 1 overall in the tournament field. A four seed in the NEC tourney after a 15-14 regular season, the Mount beat Quinnipiac, No. 1 seed Robert Morris on the road, and No. 3 Sacred Heart, also on the road, to win its third Northeast championship, and head to the NCAA tournament for the third time overall and first since 1999. The Mount's two best players are guards Jeremy Goode and Chris Vann. A 6'0 senior, Vann has hit 39 percent of his 217 field goals attempted, which has helped him post a 54.7 eFG%, highest on the team among those playing at least 60 percent of minutes. Mount St. Mary's 5'9 point guard, Jeremy Goode, ranks in the top 30 in assist percentage (helping on 35.1 percent of teammates' baskets while on the floor). Goode is also one of the best in the country at getting to the line, with 239 free throws attempted against 298 shots, a 80.2 rate that ranks him 23rd in Division I. Goode got to the line 11 times and hit nine free throws against Coppin St., helping him rack up a game-high 21 points.
Mount St. Mary's has a much better defense than offense, and the team's strength is making opponents miss, particularly from three-point range, having held opponents to a 46.5 eFG% this season. The Tar Heels are the best offensive rebounding team in the country, collecting 42.5 percent of their own misses on the season, which has led to an adjusted offensive efficiency of 1.23 points per possession, third best in the country. That offensive rebounding bodes ill for a Mount St. Mary's team that has rebounded just 67.3 percent of opponents' misses. The key players on the offensive glass for the Tar Heels are juniors Tyler Hansbrough (12.5 OR%) and Danny Green (8.6), as well as sophomore Deon Thompson (10.0).
Matchup: #9 Seed Arkansas (22-11, 9-7 Southeastern) vs. #8 Indiana (25-7, 14-4 Big Ten), 9:40
Rankings: Arkansas, #40 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 12 in SEC); Indiana, #19 (3rd of 11 in Big Ten)
Pomeroy Prediction: Indiana, 72-69 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 36%
Prospectus: The Razorbacks came up with their biggest win of the season last Saturday by beating Tennessee 92-91 in the SEC tournament semifinals, but then lost the next day 66-57 to a Georgia team that had played two games on the previous day. Indiana is also coming off a bad loss, having fallen 59-58 to Minnesota in the Big Ten quarterfinals on a miraculous last second shot by Blake Hoffarber. The Hoosiers have struggled since Dan Dakich took over for Kelvin Sampson as coach after Sampson was forced out over NCAA recruiting violations, and have lost three of their past four games. Indiana fell at Penn St. in overtime in the regular season finale, and two games previously was blown out by Michigan St. in East Lansing by 29 points. Can the Hoosiers pull everything together, and get on the same page as their new coach in order to make a run in the tournament? To do so, Indiana will have to deal with an Arkansas squad that rates fourth in the country in Effective Height. Indiana's tallest player is 6'9 senior forward D.J. White, but the Razorbacks have four players taller than that, including 7'0 senior center Steven Hill. Indiana actually shoots better from two-point range than Arkansas, however, thanks to White's 60 percent (205-of-338) and freshman Eric Gordon's 53 percent (111-of-208). Gordon has shot almost an equal number of three-pointers (202, hitting 70), and has also attempted 271 free throws, or nearly nine per game. Arkansas has not been good at keeping foes off the line this year, so Gordon and White might generate a good deal of offense by drawing contact inside.
RBC Center (Raleigh, NC)
Matchup: #10 Seed Davidson (26-6, 20-0 Southern) vs. #7 Gonzaga (25-7, 13-1 West Coast), 12:25
Rankings: Davidson, #33 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 11 in Southern); Gonzaga, #28 (1st of 8 in WCC)
Pomeroy Prediction: Gonzaga, 71-70 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 44%
Prospectus: This game might well be the best one of the first round--it was picked by three of seven Basketball Prospectus writers as having that potential. Again, however, the frustration with this pairing for college basketball fans is that both teams don't have the chance to advance, as the committee pitted two of the best non-BCS teams in the country against each other, rather than giving them the chance to knock off the big boys in the first round. This game would be even better if it occurred in the round of 32 or even the Sweet 16. Davidson, which won the Southern Conference for the third year in a row, went undefeated in conference play this year--a perfect 23-0 when you count the SoCon tourney--and has won 22 straight games. The last time the Wildcats lost, in fact, was last year--December 21 by a point at North Carolina St. The story for Davidson of course begins and ends with Stephen Curry, the 6'2 sophomore shooting guard and son of former NBA player Dell Curry, who has been the fourth best offensive player in the nation this season as measured by the offensive rating of those using 28 percent of possessions or more. Curry does have help, however, and it comes in the form of 6'2 senior point guard Jason Richards, who is 10th in the nation in assist rate (helping on 38.1 percent of teammates baskets while on the court) and who has shot 50.6 eFG% on the season. Davidson's defense is also just as good, if not better, than its offense, and is a unit that relies on strong defensive rebounding and generating turnovers.
Gonzaga, which lost in the West Coast Conference championship game to San Diego, has a foil for Richards in junior point guard Jeremy Pargo, who is 41st in the country in assist rate and who has a 53 eFG%. The Bulldogs, also a team well-balanced between offense and defense, are the fifth tallest team in the country by Effective Height, thanks to 6'10 freshman Austin Daye and 6'11 junior Josh Heytvelt. Gonzaga shoots 53.6 percent on its two-pointers, the same percentage as Davidson, and the two teams also have virtually the same three-point percentage, but the Wildcats fire much more often from deep--Curry has shot 317 threes by himself, while the Bulldogs' leader is Matt Bouldin, who has hit 46-of-125.
Matchup: #15 Seed MD Baltimore County (24-8, 13-3 America East) vs. #2 Georgetown (27-5, 15-3 Big East), 12:25
Rankings: MD Baltimore County, #145 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 9 in America East); Georgetown, #8 (1st of 16 in Big East)
Pomeroy Prediction: Georgetown, 76-57 in 60 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 4%
Prospectus: MD Baltimore County won the regular season America East title this season for the first time since moving over from the Northeast Conference in 2004. Previously, it had finished at 4-14 in conference play in 2004, 5-13 in 2005, 5-11 in 2006, and 7-9 last season. The Retrievers didn't stop with the regular season title, and took their first America East conference tournament as well, which secured their first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament. MD Baltimore County drew the Hoyas, who are looking to return to the Final Four after losing to Ohio St. in the national semifinals last season. UMBC has the nation's second lowest turnover rate on offense, and Georgetown doesn't force turnovers on defense, so you can expect that the Retrievers will be able to get a shot off almost every time down the court. Whether they can make those shots will be a different story, for the Hoyas rank first nationally in eFG%, allowing teams to shoot just 40.4 percent from two-point range and 30.1 percent from three. Testing that defense will be the Retrievers' trio of seniors, guards Ray Barbosa and Brian Hodges and forward Cavell Johnson. The three each have offensive ratings above 110, use at least 23.8 percent of team possessions, and take between 26 and 27 percent of the shots while on the floor, and the two guards, Barbosa and Hodges, also have identical three-point percentages (37.7). Those three are also part of UMBC's short seven man rotation, as the squad plays its starters more than all but eight other Division I teams.
A bigger problem for the Retrievers than Georgetown's defense will be how to handle its offense--the Hoyas shoot 56.3 eFG% from the floor, and UMBC allows 1.09 points per possession by adjusted efficiency. The Retrievers have no one taller than 6'9 to match up against Georgetown's 7'2 center Roy Hibbert, who has hit 60 percent of his 280 two-pointers this year.
St. Pete Times Forum (Tampa, FL)
Matchup: #13 Seed Siena (22-10, 13-5 Metro Atlantic) vs. #4 Vanderbilt (26-7, 10-6 Southeastern), 7:20
Rankings: Siena, #113 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 10 in MAAC); Vanderbilt, #48 (4th of 12 in SEC)
Pomeroy Prediction: Vanderbilt, 79-71 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 22%
Prospectus: The Saints split the MAAC title with Rider, but gained the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament by virtue of beating the Broncs twice in the regular season, and took them down a third time in the tourney title game to advance to their fourth NCAA tournament. Siena is a dangerous team--the Saints beat Stanford in the non-conference season--which has three excellent offensive performers in sophomore forwards Edwin Ubiles and Alex Franklin and junior Kenny Hasbrouck, as well as a solid point guard in sophomore Ronald Moore (28.3 assist rate to 18.7 turnover rate) and a three point specialist in the 5'9 senior Tay Fisher, who poured in six three-pointers in the championship win over Rider. The common theme for all those players is a low turnover rate--Ubiles, Hasbrouck, Franklin, and Fisher, as well as junior forward Josh Duell, all rank in the national top 325 in protecting the basketball, and Siena is fourth in that category as a team, behind Texas, UMBC, and South Carolina. The Commodores also have a strong offense, and Vanderbilt scores via the long ball, with a three-point percentage of 40.4, which is eighth best in D-I. Unfortunately for Siena, the Saints are not particularly adept at playing perimeter defense, meaning that senior Shan Foster (133-of-281 three-point attempts, 47 percent), who is fourth in the country with a 67.4 eFG%, or fellow-senior Alex Gordon (75-of-185 from deep), could be in for a big day. The Saints will probably need to generate a bunch of turnovers to have a shot at the upset--an upset which is a definite possibility, according to the Basketball Prospectus staff picks. Siena ranks ninth in the nation in steal percentage and has induced a turnover on close to a quarter of opponent possessions.
Matchup: #12 Seed Villanova (20-12, 9-9 Big East) vs. #5 Clemson (24-9, 10-6 Atlantic Coast), 9:50
Rankings: Villanova, #51 in Pomeroy Ratings (9th of 16 in Big East); Clemson, #13 (3rd of 12 in ACC)
Pomeroy Prediction: Clemson, 75-67 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 22%
Prospectus: The Wildcats just barely snuck into the NCAA tournament as the eighth best team in the Big East, and they'll be hard-pressed to stick around after today, for Clemson is the superior team on both sides of the ball. Both of theses teams' offenses are powered by offensive rebounds, and Villanova has a good shot at collecting quite a bunch of those, because the Tigers have a split personality when it comes to rebounding--eighth in the nation on the offensive glass, but just 288th on the defensive. Clemson's other major strength is defending the three-point line, and the Wildcats don't shoot well from deep (34 percent). The Tigers also force a fair amount of turnovers, as do the Wildcats.
Clemson is playing in its first NCAA tournament game since 1998, when their coach was Rick Barnes. Under Oliver Purnell, the squad has improved every year. Purnell's first season was 2004, which resulted in a 10-18 overall record and 3-13 mark in the ACC. In 2005 the Tigers reached .500 overall, got to five ACC wins, and made it to the NIT, losing in the first round. In '06 the Tigers improved to 19-15 and 7-9 in the ACC and made it to the second round of the NIT, and last year they went 25-11, with the same 7-9 ACC mark, and made it to the NIT finals before falling to West Virginia. This year Clemson broke through, going 24-9 and finishing with its first winning season in the ACC (10-6) since 1997. Villanova, meanwhile, has been to the tournament every season since 2005 under coach Jay Wright, advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2005 and the Elite Eight the next year.
St. Pete Times Forum (Tampa, FL)
Matchup: #12 Seed Western Kentucky (27-6, 16-2 Sun Belt) vs. #5 Drake (28-4, 15-3 Missouri Valley), 12:30
Rankings: Western Kentucky, #64 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 13 in Sun Belt); Drake, #24 (1st of 10 in MVC)
Pomeroy Prediction: Drake, 74-67 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 25%
Prospectus: Another mid-major matchup in the first round pits the champions of the Missouri Valley and the Sun Belt against each other. The Hilltoppers were the beneficiaries of South Alabama's loss in the Sun Belt quarterfinals, as Western Kentucky did not have to play the team it lost to twice during the regular season, and consequently cruised to the title over Middle Tennessee. The Hilltoppers are returning to the tournament for the first time since they won back to back to back Sun Belt conference tournaments from 2001 to 2003. Drake, which was the surprise winner of the Missouri Valley conference this season under first-year coach Keno Davis, has not been to the tournament since it went to the Elite Eight in consecutive years in 1970 and 1971 (of course, back then the field was comprised of just 25 teams).
Western Kentucky is powered by 6'5 senior Courtney Lee, who is in the same class in terms of offensive rating in a high percentage of possessions used as Stephen Curry, Michael Beasley, and D.J. Augustin. The Hilltoppers also have a defense that turns opponents over on nearly a quarter of their possessions, but Drake as a team has turned it over on just 18 percent of its trips, the 27th lowest turnover percentage in the country. Drake's top six in percentage of minutes played all have an offensive rating of 109.7 or higher, and the team is fourth in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, at 1.21 points per possession, an efficiency that is masked by a slow pace (62.8 possessions per 40 minutes).
Matchup: #13 Seed San Diego (21-13, 11-3 West Coast) vs. #4 Connecticut (24-8, 13-5 Big East), 3:00
Rankings: San Diego, #117 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 8 in WCC); Connecticut, #21 (4th of 16 in Big East)
Pomeroy Prediction: Connecticut, 73-61 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 11%
Prospectus: Ken Pomeroy picked this game as the most likely one involving a 13 or higher seed to end in an upset, so you'll want to tune in to see whether the Toreros can make it happen. San Diego is coming off an upset of Gonzaga in its conference championship game, which was the second time in the past six seasons that the Toreros snapped a streak of four straight Gonzaga WCC titles. San Diego's best player is 6'7 junior Gyno Pomare, who leads the team in eFG%, rebounding, free throw rate, turnover rate, and block percentage. Unfortunately for the Toreros, Pomare is also their tallest player, along with Chris Wright, besides freshman Nathan Lozeau, who plays sparingly. That means that UConn's monster in the middle, 7'3 center Hasheem Thabeet, would seem to have the chance to operate virtually unimpeded down low in this one. Thabeet is not yet an offensive player, getting his points mostly on putbacks or easy dunks, but he does frequently get to the free throw line and is of course a game-changing force on the defensive end, blocking 13.1 percent of the shot attempts that go up while he is on the floor. The Huskies as a team rank first in the nation in block percentage (and second in two-point field goal percentage defense), with Thabeet and forwards Jeff Adrien and Stanley Robinson all helping the Huskies knock away nearly one of every five opponent field goal attempts. It will be interesting to watch how veteran coach Jim Calhoun utilizes sophomore shooting guard Jerome Dyson in this one--since Dyson came back from a nine game suspension, the team's leading scorer before he hit the bench has averaged less than 18 minutes played in five games and taken less than four shots per contest.
Alltell Arena (North Little Rock, AR)
Matchup: #10 Seed St. Mary's (25-6, 12-2 West Coast) vs. #7 Miami FL (22-10, 8-8 Atlantic Coast), 12:30
Rankings: St. Mary's, #46 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 8 in WCC); Miami FL, #47 (5th of 12 in ACC)
Pomeroy Prediction: Miami, 70-69 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 49%
Prospectus: Finally, a mid-major in the middle of the bracket gets a crack at a BCS school! This one is a toss-up game, featuring a team with a slightly stronger defense than offense (St. Mary's) going against a team with the opposite profile in Miami. Neither team played very well down the stretch, but both were rewarded with at-large berths. St. Mary's makes its fifth NCAA tournament appearance, and will be looking for its first win since 1959, while Miami makes its sixth, and last picked up a win in 2000. The Gaels' defense is good at making opponents miss, with a 30.3 three-point field goal percentage defense, and 44.5 eFG% defense, which ranks 14th in the nation. The Hurricanes hold their opponents to 44 percent two-point field goal shooting, but have allowed a 35 percent conversion rate from beyond the arc. On offense, Miami is a strong rebounding squad that gets to the line frequently. The Hurricanes' top three in percentage of minutes played, Jack McClinton, James Dews, and Brian Asbury, all have offensive ratings above 110, while the Gaels have the player with the best eFG% in the country in senior guard Todd Golden (68.3). Golden is a three-point specialist who has shot 54-of-118 from beyond the arc, and taken just eight two-point shots all season. St. Mary's best players are forwards Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan, as well as freshman point guard Patrick Mills.
Matchup: #15 Seed Austin Peay (24-10, 16-4 Ohio Valley) vs. #2 Texas (28-6, 13-3 Big 12), 3:00
Rankings: Austin Peay, #170 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 11 in OVC); Texas, #7 (2nd of 12 in Big 12)
Pomeroy Prediction: Texas, 82-60 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 3%
Prospectus: The Governors won the Ohio Valley regular season and took the tournament as well for the first time since 2003, gaining a measure of payback for the disappointment of last season, when they won the regular season title but fell in the conference tourney and thus failed to make it to the dance. Texas meanwhile lost to Kansas in the Big 12 title game for the third straight season, but was rewarded with a No. 2 seed anyway. Texas turns it over less frequently than any other team in the nation, and the Governors are also strong with the ball, ranking 33rd in that category, with turnovers on 18.3 percent of possessions. Austin Peay is also first in the nation in steal percentage, generating a steal on 14.2 percent of opponent possessions, while the Longhorns have had it stolen at a lower rate than every team but UTEP, so it will be interesting to see whether the Governors can disrupt Texas' ball handlers at all. Playing no one taller than 6'6, Austin Peay is one of the shortest teams in the country, and might be badly hurt down low by the Longhorns' assortment of larger bodies, including 6'9 junior Connor Atchley and 6'7 sophomore Damion James. Austin Peay's best player is 5'9 senior Derek Wright, who ranks in the national top 100 in assist percentage (29.9) and top 20 in steal rate (4.7) while also leading the team in minutes played and shooting 52.9 eFG% from the floor.
Matchup: #9 Seed Oregon (18-13, 9-9 Pacific 10) vs. #8 Mississippi St. (22-10, 12-4 Southeastern), 7:25
Rankings: Oregon, #37 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 10 in Pac 10); Mississippi St., #34 (2nd of 12 in SEC)
Pomeroy Prediction: Mississippi St., 72-71 in 68 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 47%
Prospectus: Two at-large teams from power conferences face off here, in what will be an excellent battle between Oregon's strong offense (fifth in the nation in adjusted efficiency, at 1.21 points per possession), and Mississippi St.'s stingy defense (0.88 adjusted defensive efficiency, 16th best). The Bulldogs are the best team in the nation at defending against two-pointers, as they remarkably hold opponents under 40 percent from inside the arc, and are also strong against long range shots, resulting in the nation's third lowest eFG% allowed (42.4). Oregon shoots 53.9 percent from two and 40.1 percent from three, for an overall eFG% of 56.3, also third best in the country. The game will feature an outstanding matchup between Oregon's 6'9 forward Maarty Leunen, second in the country in offensive rating and fifth with a 67 eFG%, and Mississippi St.'s own 6'9 forward, Jarvis Varnado, who has blocked 16 percent of all opponent shot attempts while on the floor, the fourth best rate. As a team the Bulldogs are second in the country in block percentage behind Connecticut.
Matchup: #16 Seed Texas Arlington (21-11, 7-9 Southland) vs. #1 Memphis (33-1, 16-0 Conference USA), 9:55
Rankings: Texas Arlington, #186 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 12 in Southland); Memphis, #3 (1st of 12 in C-USA)
Pomeroy Prediction: Memphis, 87-59 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 1%
Prospectus: Memphis, used to blowing out its Conference USA brethren, has another opportunity for an easy win against the champion of the Southland conference in this, the final game of the first round. Texas Arlington reached the NCAA tournament by virtue of three straight wins in the Southland tourney. The Mavericks finished at just 7-9 in the conference during the regular season, but beat three teams that finished above them in the standings in the span of four days to capture their first Southland tournament title, and make their first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament. The team's best player is 6'7 junior Anthony Vereen, who leads the Mavericks in percentage of possessions used and shots taken, as well as offensive rating. It should be a serious struggle to score for UT Arlington against the Tigers, owners of the nation's best raw defensive efficiency (0.86 points per possession allowed), as the Mavericks rank just 202nd in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, and have turned it over on 24 percent of their offensive possessions.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.