Robert Morris v. St Francis (NY), Northeast Conference (7pm, ESPN2/WatchESPN)
How did they get here: the top two seeds in the conference made it all the way to the title game in the NEC (which does not have Northeastern in it like it should). Robert Morris was 4-8 coming into conference play but went 12-6 in conference and 2-0 in the tournament to have a chance at the NCAA bid. Half of St. Francis's 10 losses are to teams with KenPom rankings worse than 200, but their 15-3 league record earned them to billing. The teams split a couple of close games during the regular season, each one winning on the other's court.
Strategic info: RMU was the best offense in the conference, thanks in large part to shooting 41.5% behind the arc in league play. They don't shoot a ton of threes though and struggle to avoid turnovers. St. Francis ran teams off the arc better than anyone in the league while somehow still allowing the highest percentage. Their 2P% defense led the NEC. St. Francis is not a great shooting team, but they rebounded almost 40% of the misses in conference play and RMU is a miserable defensive rebounding team.
Players to watch: F Rodney Prior led RMU in shots%, hit 40 threes in league play, and can generally score from all over. G Marcquise Reed is a very persistent slasher but can hit threes if left open. G Kavon Stewart led the team in assist rate at a very good 27.6%, but it was overshadowed by his TO% of 32.1%. For St. Francis, 5'10" G Brent Jones is a pesky defender and adroit ball distributor. F Jalen Cannon is their man inside, a monstrous rebounder who placed 3rd in the league with a 124.1 ORtg and led the team in shots%.
Green Bay v. Valparaiso, Horizon League (7pm, ESPN/WatchESPN)
How did they get here: the Horizon League puts eight teams in the tournament then hands double byes to the top two, which probably is more fair but less exciting. These teams got those byes. They split a couple of one-possession games during the year, with each team winning at home. Valpo went 13-3 in league play with all three losses being of the single-possession variety, and Green Bay - early season RPI darling - was right on their heels at 12-4. Neither team is a threat for an at-large bid though both have had very good years.
Strategic info: Green Bay rarely turns the ball over but can't shoot a lick from outside. They do most of their damage inside the arc and on the offensive glass. Valpo's D was 1st in the league in EFG% and 2nd in DReb%, so it's strength against strength at that end. On the other end, Green Bay really tries to turn opponents over and Valpo was next to last in the league in avoiding them. Valparaiso also likes to get onto the offensive glass. The uglier this game is, the more it favors Green Bay.
Players to watch: Green Bay begins with Keifer Sykes, a relentless attacker (31% shots%) without a completely accurate assessment of his own efficiency (49.2% EFG% in conference). Big men Greg Mays, Alfonso McKinnie, and Jordan Fouse all devour the glass, and Mays and Fouse can also score the ball well. Valpo's coach is Bryce Drew, which is awesome. They also boast 6'9" F Alec Peters, who can score from inside and deep and hits the glass well. G Tevonn Walker is a big part of their scoring and rebounding but is likely out with a right knee injury. Senior E. Victor Nickerson is 6'8", 180, can't rebound, and is second on the team in assist rate. PG Keith Carter was out due to a dislocated left big toe but has worked his way back onto the floor for the last several games.
North Dakota State v. South Dakota State, Summit League (9pm, ESPN2/WatchESPN)
How did they get here: two more top seeds advancing! SDSU was the top seed and won easily against Western Illinois and South Dakota to get here. They went 12-4 in conference on the year after going 9-5 in non-conference with two wins against non-D1 teams. NDSU also went 12-4 in conference but lost to SDSU by 10 after only beating them by 3. They do have a KenPom top 100 win over #98 Akron (sorry Brad). Neither team is a threat to win an at-large bid.
Strategic info: SDSU is the top offense and top defense in the league. They shot 41.2% from deep and shoot a ton of threes. They're not great at avoiding turnovers of hitting the offensive glass; NDSU defends the glass very well but doesn't really pressure the ball. For their part, the... let me look this up... Bison shoot 41.8% from deep but take a more modest number of threes. They rarely turn the ball over. SDSU (the Jackrabbits, if you care) defends very well inside the arc; North Dakota may have to lift if they want to win this one.
Players to watch: Jake Bittle runs the show for SDSU, focusing on trying to get to F Cody Larson, who eats from inside and dominates the boards. Guards George Marshall and Deondre Parks are 38-87 and 35-85 from deep in conference play, respectively. G Lawrence Alexander leads NDSU in shots% and minutes, scoring from inside and out and only coming off the floor if he breaks both legs and an arm. F AJ Jacobson and G Colin Dupree each played more than 80% of the team's minutes in conference. Jacobson is an efficient scorer and serviceable rebounder while Dupree leads the team in steal%.
Gonzaga v. BYU WCC (9pm, ESPN/WatchESPN)
How did they get here: by being the two best teams in a top-heavy league. The WCC has only 4 teams in the KenPom top 100, and BYU went 13-5 in it, somehow contriving to get swept by Pepperdine. A lack of really good wins has them on the bubble at this point, having edged Santa Clara and whipped Portland on the way to the final. A win tonight is the only sure path to safety for the Fightin' Mormons (someone double-check me on that nickname). Gonzaga has been dominant all year, with their only losses being in OT at Arizona and in their home finale to BYU; both losses came by a single bucket. San Francisco and Pepperdine both fell by the wayside in the WCC tournament.
Strategic info: both of these teams can really score the basketball. Both shoot the three well without relying on it. The first major difference is defense, in that Gonzaga actually plays it. They're 23rd in adjusted defensive efficiency where BYU is 134th. The other is pace: Gonzaga likes to play at an average tempo, but BYU really wants to speed up the game. It should be noted that the game between these two teams that BYU won was the slower of the two contests, but they defended Gonzaga fairly well that time.
Players to watch: if you haven't heard everything there is to know about Kyle Wiltjer twice by now, I trust you're enjoying the beginning of rumspringa. The rest of us know the 6'10" Gonzaga forward (and UK transfer, not sure if you know that) rebounds well, can score from all over, and is the focus of the Bulldogs' attack. The senior backcourt of Gary Bell and Kevin Pangos has combined for 117 threes and rarely turns the ball over, and (very) big men Przemek Karnowski and Domantis Sabonis are both efficient scorers and elite rebounders. BYU answers with 6'6" triple-double machine Kyle Collinsworth as the nation's best glue guy and 6'5" wing Tyles Haws as an efficient and prolific scorer. Junior guard Chase Fischer is 87-215 from three (40.5%, don't be shy son), and seniors Anson Winder - who has been battling groin and knee injuries - and Skyler Halford - who has been battling an awful first name - have combined to hit 87-205 (42.4%).