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.
It’s really kind of hard to argue that anyone in this region is overseeded. If you wanted to make an argument it might be for the team that has one top 20 KenPom win and only went 1-2 against the RPI top 25 and yet still came down with a #1 seed. You don’t want to make that argument though, do you? Even if you did, you’re arguing against a team that won the third best conference in the nation outright, went 8-4 against the RPI top 50, and posted an RPI of three. Like I said, this region seems solid.
The Cougars are 3-2 against the RPI top 25 (I’m citing RPI because the committee does), is 17th in the KenPom, beat #2 UC, beat #7 Arkansas by 26, is 20th in the Massey, and 17th in the BPI. For all of this they get the same seed as Miami.
Easy to like
They are senior led, they play with a barely controlled swagger and fire, and they feature Trevon Bluiett, the kind of senior guard/forward that can get hot and carry a team through the tournament. Cheering for the underdog is all well and good, but sometimes it’s better to be hated than to be loved. These guys are the embodiment of that. No team in the tournament owns who they are quite like the Musketeers. And no, I’m not impartial here at all. Frankly though, if I were a neutral, this is the kind of team I would like. Throw in Bill Murray and the Mack girls behind the bench and there’s literally no reason to not love Xavier. Everyone does. Trust me.
(Want to own who you are like the Musketeers do? Buy a super classy shirt celebrating the Big East championship.) #shamelessplug
Fun to watch
#12 South Dakota St.
The Jackrabbits play fast, take a lot of threes, make a lot of threes, and feature 6-9 junior forward Mike Daum, who is both a monster on the glass and has launched 198 threes, of which he’s made 43%. That these guys have become a trendy upset pick does nothing to change the fact that they could still sneak up on just about anyone they play. Their first round opponent, Ohio State, defends the three point line well, but will not enjoy the Jackrabbits pace.
Easy to hate
Take your pick
It’s been said that relentless hating is my thing, and this bracket is something of a hater’s pipe dream. Let’s just start at the top and work down. #5 OSU has Chris Holtmann, who is an excellent coach and seems to be a top notch person. This doesn’t absolve them from having the most obnoxious football fanbase in the nation. Also, Greg Oden intentionally fouled Justin Cage and, since this is sports, there is no reason to ever forgive that.
Next you get to #4 Gonzaga. Prior to last year they had accomplished less than Xavier and somehow stolen the national underdog spotlight that should have belonged to the Musketeers. Then came the Adam Morrison game. Then, with both teams vying for their first ever Final Four last year, they made Trevon Bluiett cry. Unacceptable, so let’s hate them, too. We’re just getting warmed up here.
#10 Providence. Part of the question about the move to the Big East was who Xavier would pick up as a conference rival. Butler was the easy and obvious choice, but for every Dayton there has to be a Saint Joseph’s. Providence is that team in the Big East. Not quite as good as the top teams, with a coach who garners praise but is a clear step below the best in the conference. Add in a fascinatingly angry fanbase (seriously guys, Rhode Island seems fun, why so mad?) and you get yet another team it’s deeply enjoyable to sports hate.
Finally, #2 UNC. A haven for fairweather fans? Check. A long and distinguished history of brazen cheating? Check. A coach implicated in pay for play? Check. Half of one of the most neutered and made for tv “rivalries” in college basketball? Check. These guys aren’t even mildly likable. Unfortunately, they are really good at basketball.
The Tigers take more than 45% of their field goal attempts from behind the arc and they make 39.2% of them. Combine that with a game shortening tempo of 65.6 and you have a team that can knock down enough shots that each possession becomes extremely valuable. Defensively they contest every shot and try to grab enough rebounds to keep teams from feasting on second chance points. They can be beaten by bad teams, and boat raced by good ones, but they’re also very capable of forcing Kentucky into .86 PPP or adding to the seven games this season in which they’ve shot 50% behind the arc.
#6 Houston v. #11 San Diego State
This is why being underseeded can be so dangerous. Houston is good, but the team they get rewarded with for being a #6 seed is a buzzsaw right now. SDSU is finally healthy for the first time all year, and to prove that they obliterated Nevada, 24th in the nation in KP, in the Mountain West tournament. The Aztecs are athletic, they defend, and they haven’t lost in a month. Houston is also athletic and they also defend, but they are capable of the inexplicable, such as losing to Tulane. This one should be good.
Player to watch
Let’s circle back to Mike Daum. Here are the things he leads his conference in: Usage, Shots %, DR%, and fouls drawn. He’s in the top 10 in offensive efficiency, true shooting, turnover rate, free throw rate, free throw percentage, and three point percentage. Throw in 12th in minutes, 12th in OR%, and 13th in block rate and you’ve got a pretty decent player. Daum doesn’t just roll over a subpar conference either. When he faced fellow tournament team and 74th ranked Buffalo, he went for 34/6/0. Against Colorado he poured in a cool 37/12/0. South Dakota is 69th in the KenPom and, obviously, SDSU’s rival. Needing to get by them to get into the big dance, Daum went for 25/11/0. The kid can absolutely play some ball.