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 Crimson Tide may be a force to be reckoned with on the gridiron, but they ended up in the 8-9 game after losing 15 times on the basketball court this season. Their resume boils down to beating URI, Texas A&M, Auburn twice, Tennessee, and Florida. You may notice almost all of those teams happen to reside in the SEC, which sheds light on the fact that the Tide beat practically no one in non conference, but did manage to lose to Minnesota at a neutral site and UCF at home. To be fair to the committee, they had Alabama as a 10 on their S-curve, but bumped them up to replace Butler on the 9 line due to Villanova being the 1 seed.
#5 West Virginia
If you tuned in to ESPN on Sunday night, you were treated to John Calipari, a coach we are well versed in hating here, whining on and on about how the committee did his team wrong. He, of course, didn’t really have a point, but Bob Huggins, another coach we are well versed in hating here, has every right to be unhappy with his seeding. WVU is one of two teams to have faced down the Virginia juggernaut and come out ahead this year, and added a nice win over Missouri in the non-conference as well. They beat the #3 see in this region twice and made the Big 12 final. Meanwhile, Wichita State is a seed line above them, sporting exactly one (1) win against an at-large team in this year’s field. It is not so much the Shockers are overseeded, it is more that they provide an easy reference to show how badly the Mountaineers were robbed.
Easy to Like
In the changing college basketball landscape of one-and-done players, there is something nice about a team that put a roster together and saw them grow into success. The Razorbacks run out a trio of senior guards who value the ball and will absolutely light you up if you walk away from them at the three point line. They press incessantly, which keeps things interesting, and rarely dither when they have the ball. Mostly, though, they are playing Butler which instantly makes them lovable.
Fun to Watch
Do you like fast paced, high scoring offense? Unless your name is Mick Cronin of course you do! The Thundering Herd combine the 3rd shortest average length of possession in the country with the 28th highest EFG% to make themselves a whirlwind of high level scoring activity. The drawback being, of course, they play practically no defense, meaning they do things like lose 114-104 in regulation to William & Mary. Still, when they get hot, they are really hard to stop, win or lose. The best part is, the entertainment doesn’t stop when the whistle sounds with delightful nutjob Dan D’Antoni being equal parts charming, odd, and just plain fun when he has a microphone in his face.
Easy to Hate
Honestly, I can’t really think of any reason to hate any of these tea... JUST KIDDING IT’S BUTLER!
Oh, Butler. Where to start? They play in a barn, which their fans seem to think is a charming throwback to Indiana basketball’s old-school roots. It’s not. You are in a real conference now, and playing games somewhere where the clock doesn’t even work should be a source of non-stop embarrassment, not pride. Their fans blather on about “The Butler Way” as if it means something other than “we had all of our success because Brad Stevens was a baby faced genius and now we are watching our national relevance diminish with each passing coach that bolts to the first decent job offer he gets.” Their fans tricked JP’s poor sweet grandmother into giving them his phone number so they could harass a college kid because he is good at basketball and they don’t like that. For their fans, every loss becomes a rush to take the moral high ground against whatever band of hooligans dared defeat their precious Bulldogs. Kelli Dunham. Rotnei Clark. Tyler Lewis. The list goes on.
Also, I don’t care for their uniforms.
Let’s talk about the Florida Gators for a second. These guys have been all over the place this year. They beat UC and Gonzaga early on, but also managed to get pounded at home by Florida State, only beat James Madison by 9, and dropped league games to Georgia, Ole Miss, and Vandy. Their regular season ended by thrashing Kentucky, after which they sort of hung around with Arkansas for three quarters in the SEC tournament before bowing out. They could go out and give Villanova a game in the Elite Eight, or get run off the court by the Bonnies. These guys are dangerous no matter how you pick them on your bracket, because if they are making jumpers they can beat anyone and if they are missing they're probably gonna lose.
#4 Wichita State v. #13 Marshall
This will be one of the best games to watch of the first round. These are two teams that love offense and could not care less about defense. The Shockers don’t like to push the pace quite like The Herd do, but they are way more efficient in their use of the ball. What they are not is good at defense, especially when it comes to forcing turnovers. Marshall doesn’t get many second chances, but they are built on the first shot of a possession going in. If they can get as many possessions as they want to, they can very well pull off the SHOCKER (I give you that, and I am not even paid to do this). Either way, this one will be fun to watch.
Player to Watch
Time to talk about one of the best point guards in the country. This is a guy who has hit some big shots for his team this year as they battled for a conference title before having their bid derailed by injuries. That’s right, I’m talking about
Jalen Brunson Keenan Evans.
Evans is the go-to guy for a Texas Tech team that has exceeded expectations this year, in no small part due to their talisman’s ability to create and make his own shot. Tech has won the last 8 times Evans has made at least one three point attempt and they are 12-1 when he scores at least 20. He gets to the line at the second best rate in the Big 12 and shoots over 80% when he gets there and, on top of all his offensive talents, plays into the Red Raiders’ rugged defensive style. He was named first team all-Big 12 despite battling turf toe late in the year and exactly the type of catalyst that can carry a good defensive squad deep into a tournament.