If the first two real games of the NCAA Tournament are any indication, we could be in for one epic treat of a tournament. Dayton rallied late last night and fended off a wayward buzzer beater attempt to nab the one-point win and advance into the main bracket against Providence Friday night. I am sure the late rally will spark some more outrage that the Flyers were playing on their home floor, but unless you want the NCAA to intentionally over-seed them (in their estimation, in mine, Dayton probably earned a #10 anyhow) or move the First Four to a new location (bad, bad idea with how hard it is to generate interest for this game) then chalk this one up as an odd outlier and an anomaly.
Alas – we are ready to get going to REAL today; eight games in the morning and eight in the afternoon, all delightfully staggered more than ever so you shouldn’t have to miss a single moment of pivotal action. So tell your family, spouse, significant other, job, that you will see them in 96 hours. It’s time for some Madness.
Today’s Free Pick: NCAA Tournament AFTERNOON SESSION
Ole Miss Rebels vs. Xavier Musketeers -3
Ole Miss has closed this line as momentum gathers after word of their ridiculous 62-point second half to knock off BYU, even after the Cougars staked a 17-point halftime lead. Winning generally makes any team “seem” better in the short term, but I think this is a fortunate break for the Muskies. BYU would have been a difficult matchup, as their bigs can pop and shoot perimeter shots and Xavier’s bigs, especially Matt Stainbook, is a little less mobile and more anchored to the basket.
Both teams have god athletes and a couple of shooters. Both teams have some quality size. But I’ll take the overall talent of Xavier, as well as the benefit of not having played a track meet and then flown to Jacksonville less than 36 hours ago. There is some precendent for Play-In winners getting hot and making a run (VCU) but I don’t think the Rebels are that team. Think of Tuesday’s second half as a bizarre departure from the norm. Brace yourself for the inevitable regression to that same norm tonight.
Ohio State Buckeyes -4 vs. VCU Rams
The Rams are known for conjuring up some March magic, especially under Shaka Smart. However, the Final Four run is pretty far in the rear-view mirror, and the last two years comprised of an early million-point loss to Michigan in a 4/5 game and a first round upset loss to Stephen F. Austin. The tables have turned for the Rams; no longer the hunter and now the hunted.
Meanwhile, Ohio State is the biggest favorite of any lower (worse) seeded team. Despite being the #10 to VCU’s #7, they are a four-point favorite. For good reason. Yes, the Buckeyes have a ton of losses, but if you WATCH this team play (much like Texas) you can clearly see they can play. Plus, they have D’Angelo Russell, the most electric scorer in the tournament. He is more than capable of dropping a near triple-double and carrying to Bucks to a win. If they didn’t have Arizona looming in Round Two, I’d like Ohio State as a potential noise-maker in the field, but for now, I’ll take them, despite laying four to win and cover in their opener. The loss of Briante Webber is ENORMOUS today, as it would have been amazing to have him guard Russell. Yes, they won the A-10 tourney without them. But by and large this has been a different team since losing their leader and best defender.