Welcome to Banners’ coverage of the 2018 NCAA Tournament! Here we will give you the same info that you can get hundreds of other places on the web processed slightly differently and with our own slant as you prepare to immerse yourself in all things college basketball in the most glorious four days on the sporting calendar. We will break the bracket down region by region to get you completely prepared to pick and, more importantly, root with the best information available.
The South tips off early on Thursday and boasts the team that has been the best in the nation for much of the year. It also has three of the top five defenses according to the Pomeroy rankings, but there are some sneaky good offenses down the bracket. The road out of this region runs through Virginia, and I would suspect they’ll be the ones standing a couple of weekends from now.
#6 Miami (FL)
The Canes are a classic team from a big conference that got in with a decent record, making mid-majors mad. They were hanging around the wrong side of the bubble in the middle of February, but they managed to win their final four conference games by a total of eight points. You have to go back to the first week of February for the last time they won by more than one possession and back to January for their last double-digit win (against an abject Pitt team). This team walked the tightrope in a good conference all year; a couple bounces going the other way throughout the course of the season and they’d be at home right now. Their seed looks even more inflated when you consider that there are five teams ahead of them in the KenPom who were left out of the tournament completely.
You can make a couple of quibbles, namely around Creighton, but this is a more or less well-seeded region (aside from Miami). It’s hard to say anyone really got dealt a worse hand than they earned on the balance of their performance.
Easy to Like
After he was shuffled out of Texas despite being the best thing that ever happened to its basketball program, Rick Barnes landed at a Tennessee program left in shambles by Donnie Tyndall. In three years at the helm, he has resurrected the team into a defensive powerhouse. They’re a little bit hit or miss on offense, but they share the ball really well and play with a decent balance.
Fun to watch
Here’s the thing about me: I like watching offense. Nevada is a treat for the eyes in that regard, because not only are they a top 10 offense, but they also allow their opponents to play offense pretty much unopposed. A top-50 tempo, the third-best offensive turnover rate in the nation, and an almost 40% mark from deep as a team make these dudes a real hoot.
Easy to Hate
Hey, do you hate everything you just read about Nevada? Boy do I have a team for you! UC loves nothing more than to drag games down into the muck and make them an insult to the memory of Dr. James Naismith. Their offense is 54th in the nation, and it’s only that high because they’re a very good offensive rebounding team. They post a pitiful 51.6% EFG%, “good” for 149th in the country. They’ll go as far as their second-ranked defense takes them, and it will take them as far as they can use it to ugly up games.
This one begins and ends with Bob McKillop, a coach who I firmly believe is one of the greatest offensive minds in basketball. This year’s Wildcats squad almost never turns the ball over and is 11th in the nation in EFG%. Their defense is more a concept than an actual part of their strategy, but they’ll feed buckets to anyone out there. They’re an excellent and prolific three-point shooting team and they make their FTs; a team that comes out tight against them might find it getting late early.
#6 Miami (FL) v. #11 Loyola-Chicago
Even aside from the obvious fact that Miami will likely be a bit cowed by Loyola’s still-relevant 1963 national championship, there’s plenty of intrigue in this matchup. Loyola is an excellent shooting team, putting up the eighth-best EFG% in the nation and landing easily inside the top 25 in shooting percentage both inside and beyond the arc. Miami doesn’t force enough turnovers to make much of Loyola’s weakness in that area telling. If this one comes down to Loyola trying to shoot themselves back into it, keep in mind that the Canes shoot just 66% from the line as a team.
Player to Watch
Khyri Thomas, Creighton
Everyone knows about DeAndre Ayton, but Khyri Thomas is a special kind of player. The 6’3” junior guard is first and foremost an absurd perimeter defender. Greg McDermott assigns him to the opponents best guard or wing and basically doesn’t have to worry about it. He has also developed into a really reliable offensive player, improving his EFG% from 53.7% as a freshman to 63.4% (34th in the nation) this year. Marcus Foster rightly gets the bulk of the Bluejays’ press and possessions, but Thomas will be the key to Creighton’s hopes of making it to the second weekend. Tune in when this kid plays.