This is what we have been waiting all year for! The madness is finally here! All the speculation and seeding is complete, and today marks the start of the NCAA tournament’s first weekend as we have a pair of first four games tonight. Last night we saw Fairleigh Dickenson pick up a win over Prairie View A&M as well as Belmont silence the haters by knocking off Temple. Today, we have the rest of the “first-round”, as there are games between St. John’s and Arizona State and North Dakota State and North Carolina Central.
We finished championship week on fire, and we will look to continue that momentum into the NCAA tournament today. For our daily pick, we will zero in on the game between the Red Storm and the Sun Devils.
The Arizona State Sun Devils will face the St. John’s Red Storm tonight in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Both of these teams were somewhat controversial picks to even make the tournament and will be playing for the right to place six seeded Buffalo in the next round. The Sun Devils are small -1.5-point favorites. The game total over-under is set at 153 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:10 PM PST from UD Arena in Dayton Ohio.
The Arizona Sun Devils spent almost the entire season sitting right on the bubble. So, it wasn’t at all shocking to see them as one of the final teams to make the field of sixty-eight when the brackets were announced last Sunday. The biggest thing hurting the Sun Devils was the overall weakness of the PAC-12. The league got three teams into the madness, but had Oregon not managed to win the PAC-12 tournament, they would have likely been left out, so for all intents and purposes, this was a two-bid league, and barely that.
So, when you look at the Sun Devils 12-6 record in league play, it is clearly not as impressive as it might seem on the surface. But that doesn’t mean the Sun Devils aren’t a solid squad. They had non-conference wins over Kansas, Mississippi State, and Utah State, and all three of those teams are in the tournament. And they did take care of business down the stretch as they won six out of their last eight games, with both losses coming to a red-hot and surging Oregon team. This team has shown they can compete against tournament level squads and come away with the victory.
The Sun Devils area a very balanced team that features four players averaging double-digit scoring. The backcourt duo of Luguentz Dort and Remy Martin made up one of the best combos on the west coast, and this team relies on the their great rebounding and solid shooting to win games.
If you ask me, I don’t think St. John’s should have gotten into the tournament. Similar to the PAC-12, the Big East was way down this year. And the Red Storm didn’t even finish with a winning record in league play! The Red Storm were awful on the road, and outside of two big wins against Marquette, did very little in the Big East.
Throw in the fact that St. John’s lost four out of their last five games, and I think there were teams that were certainly more deserving to be dancing. Kenpom has St. John’s at number eighty-one, further confirming the fact that they should not have made the cut. But at this point, that is all water under the bridge. Should St. John’s have gotten in? Probably not. But can they win now that they are here? Absolutely.
So, in a matchup of two teams from underperforming leagues, who wins? To me, this is a mismatch. Arizona State is clearly the better team. Both the eye test and the analytics tell me that, and when you look at how these teams were playing coming into March, the Sun Devils are the much hotter team. The Red Strom started the season out 12-0, with all of those wins coming against bad teams. They have been riding that hot start ever since.
I think that tonight, this team gets exposed as not being a tournament level squad. I think Arizona State wins and does so fairly easy. I doubt it will be a blowout, in the tournament, almost every game is close, but I also don’t think that St. John’s has much of a shot at all of pulling off the upset. Give me the Arizona State Sun Devils tonight in a first four game from Dayton, laying a point and a half!