March Predictions, First 4 IN, First 4 OUT


March is here! Wow, that feels good to say. Last March, we were all pumped and had a teaser of the NCAA Tournament, but for the first time in my life, I went a March without watching College Basketball.

This year, I ask you to join me in being as glued to the television as possible for a 36-day challenge called March Madness that even extends into April, ending on Monday, Apr 5.

As we inch closer, a few conferences have begun tournament play. For the major conferences, that comes within the next 10 days as every league wraps up regular season play. Selection Sunday begins Sunday, Mar 14 and the First Four games on Thursday, Mar 18.

Every season we debate who should have gotten in and what seed a team should have been, and here is more of that with a look at eight teams total, the last four in and the first four out. To find stats and breakdowns on NET and Quad wins, you can go here.

LAST FOUR IN:

UConn Huskies (12-6, 9-6) NET: 36

On Feb 10, UConn’s season appeared to be very bleak and discouraging as the team fell to 8-5 overall. While that is not an abandon ship type of record, the Huskies started the season 7-1 SU with a two-point OT loss. Their 1-4 record over the previous five games put their season in jeopardy and their 5-5 Big East record was not helping.

UConn proceeded to win four of the next five games, all in conference play. The Huskies currently sit fourth overall in the Big East. UConn is trending so high over the last five contests that if the committee has them on the outside looking in, it is not by much. UConn has a NET rating of 36 and has an impressive resume over Quad 3 and 4 teams.

QUAD 1: 2-3

QUAD 2: 3-3

QUAD 3: 4-0

QUAD 4: 3-0

BEST WINS: USC (61-58 Neutral), Xavier (80-72 Away)

WORST LOSSES: None

UConn has also impressed on the road this season, going 5-3, beating five teams all ranked below them in the conference. However, versus Villanova, Creighton and Seton Hall, UConn is 0-4 on the season, no matter the location. All of UConn’s losses this season have come to talented opponents and even the Providence loss can be excused without James Bouknight in the lineup.

Story continues

UConn finishes the regular season at Seton Hall (3/3) and versus Georgetown (3/6) for senior night. If they split those two games and are knocked out of the Big East tournament before the Final Four, they will likely toe the line of making the big dance. UConn will need a sweep and a win or two during the conference tourney for convincing.

The Huskies are known for their defense this season. UConn ranks 5th in block percentage (15.2%) and top 65 nationally in a few defensive categories ranging from adjusted efficiency (30th), effective field goal percentage (33rd), two-point percentage (62nd) to three-point percentage (49th).

In conference play, UConn is top four in all of those categories. The Huskies allow 62.0 points per game over their last four contests, with one team surpassing 62 (Villanova 68). The Huskies received James Bouknight back after too many missed games if you ask UConn supporters. Bouknight has averaged 20.7 points and 6.5 rebounds in his first four games back. The Huskies are 8-2 in games played with him this season and 17-11 with him last season.

Three Big East teams made the 2019 March Madness tournament with St. John’s as a play-in for the first four. UConn could be that play-in team unless they continue to turn some heads and stay hot entering March.

UConn could be a sneaky squad to make the Final Four at +1000 odds. Colorado, Michigan State and LSU have identical odds and this Huskies team is built more for a March run than either of those three squads.

With Bouknight and this defense, UConn could make some noise this month. The Huskies have not made the NCAA Tournament since 2016 when they were a No. 9 seed that lost in the second round.

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Duke Blue Devils (11-9, 9-7) NET: 59

The Duke Blue Devils are on the rise, but an OT loss to Louisville halted them in their tracks. The Cardinals could be an easy team to put here, too, as they are in a similar boat with the Blue Devils. Duke won four straight games before the Louisville loss. That winning streak could not have come at a better time as Duke was 7-8 (5-6) and the talk of the college basketball community.

The Blue Devils now sit two games over .500, with two games remaining in the regular season. Both are road games at Georgia Tech (3/2) and North Carolina (3/6). Both games are impactful in whether or not Duke will get into the NCAA Tournament and right now, they need more Quad 1,2 and 3 wins.

QUAD 1: 1-3

QUAD 2: 5-3

QUAD 3: 2-3

QUAD 4: 3-0

BEST WINS: Virginia (66-65 Home), Clemson (79-53 Home)

WORST LOSSES: Miami (77-75), Pitt (79-73)

Duke has had some embarrassing losses this season, but once Jalen Johnson left the program, the Blue Devils won three of the following four games. Offensively, Duke is peaking at a good time, but not the right time. They will need to carry their 75.4 points per game average over the last five outings into the ACC Tournament and beyond.

Defensively, Duke will have problems sooner rather than later. They allow 37.4% from three (316th) and a 52.1% effective field goal percentage (259th). In the last four games with Johnson, Duke allowed 77, 91, 93 and 53 points in each game. Since then, Duke has permitted 60, 65, 71 and 80 (OT) points.

This latest Duke squad looks capable of making a run behind Matthew Hurt, DJ Steward and Wendell Moore Jr., but only if they get the matchups to do so. This Duke defense could collapse over the last few games and the season be a what could have been type of season rather than what it should have been.

If Duke beats at least Georgia Tech or North Carolina and avoids an early exit in the ACC Tournament, they should have a spot in the NCAA Tournament. If anything but a sweep over the last two regular season games and the previously mentioned scenario happens, Duke will need a ton of assistance making the tournament.

Drake Bulldogs (24-3, 15-3) NET: 42

The 2016 March Madness Tournament was the last time the Missouri Valley Conference received two bids to the big dance. This season, there is a chance two teams make as Loyola-Chicago and Drake are both worthy of consideration.

Both teams seem destined to meet in the MVC Championship on Sunday, Mar 7, but they still have a ways to go. Drake finished the regular season as the No. 2 seed, one game back. Drake would have tied for first if not for their loss to Bradley to end the regular season. The Bulldogs ended the season on a 5-1 tear after a shaky four-game stretch that resulted in two wins and two losses.

Drake finished the regular season ranked 21st in adjusted offensive efficiency (113.6) and 100th in defensive (98.3). The Bulldogs limited opponents to 29.5% from three this season (20th) and shot 37.0% themselves (46th). It will take streaky shooting for this Drake squad to make noise in the conference tourney as both Loyola-Chicago and Missouri State rank first and second in the league in defensive efficiency.

Missouri State is the No. 3 seed in the MVC this season and they are the only other opponent besides Loyola-Chicago that ranks in the top 100 of Kenpom’s rankings. Loyola-Chicago leads the country in defensive efficiency (86.5) and Missouri State ranks 10th in defensive rebounding percentage (21.8%).

Drake lacks the big-name opponents to get them into the dance as a sweep over Missouri State and a split with Loyola-Chicago might not be enough.

QUAD 1: 1-1

QUAD 2: 4-0

QUAD 3: 6-2

QUAD 4: 11-0

BEST WINS: Loyola-Chicago (51-50 OT Home), Missouri State (68-61, 78-73 Away)

WORST LOSSES: Valparaiso (74-57 Away), Bradley (67-61 Away)

The fear for Drake should not be making the NCAA Tournament but not winning the MVC as this conference tournament is sink or swim for the big dance. Drake could realistically be looking at an undefeated season if they did not run into the few problems they had towards the middle and end of the year.

However, 24-3 is impressive and they are going to have to do some serious convincing, even in a loss to Loyola-Chicago. If Missouri State wins the MVC, Drake can kiss their chances goodbye as Loyola-Chicago (NET: 16) will get the nod before them.

Drake won two games in the MVC Tournament last season and won their first round matchup in 2019. The Bulldogs need to repeat that success in order to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Wichita State Shockers (13-4, 9-2) NET: 66

The Shockers have been one of the many teams that have suffered from postponements and one lengthy layoff. Wichita State has not played since their 68-63 win over Houston on Feb 18. That hiatus has hurt them in what was arguably the best basketball of the season for the Shockers.

Wichita State won five straight games before COVID hit, extending their conference record to a league-best 9-2. Houston sits in second at 13-3 and Memphis third at 10-3. Wichita State has two road games to end the regular season at Tulane (3/3) and Temple (3/6).

Both teams rank ninth and 10th in the AAC league standings. Wichita State must win both games to lock up the No. 1 seed in the conference. Wichita State has enough wins in the bottom Quads (3, 4) but will not have a chance for any Quad 1 or 2 wins until Houston, Memphis, Cincy or SMU in the Big East Tournament.

QUAD 1: 2-2

QUAD 2: 2-2

QUAD 3: 5-0

QUAD 4: 2-0

BEST WINS: Houston (68-63 Home), Ole Miss (83-79 Away)

WORST LOSSES: None

If Wichita State does lose in the Big East Tournament, which most people expect, I like them to be one of the final four to eight teams to get in the big dance. If they drop a game or two versus Temple and Tulane, they could be in trouble as the committee will not be forgiving for COVID-related teams.

At 13-4 and No. 1 in the AAC, Wichita State seems like an obvious choice to get in, but they are far from a lock. Wichita State has only lost to Missouri, Oklahoma State, Houston and Memphis this season. An impressive list to lose to if you ask me.

Houston has one game remaining versus Memphis on Sunday, Mar 7. By then, Houston will know what their seeding in the AAC Tournament will be with a win or loss. Wichita State, pending the final two regular season matchups, seems like a favorable squad to make the cut over these next four teams.

FIRST FOUR OUT:

Michigan State Spartans (13-10, 7-10) NET: 77

The Spartans keep coming so close to making us say yes, they are back, but repeatedly they let us down. Michigan State (MSU) went on a three-game winning streak before the loss at Maryland, which knocked them off their high-horse after wins against Illinois, Indiana and Ohio State.

MSU had two separate stretches of three consecutive losses or more. if MSU cannot win their last three games, those stretches will where to point fingers. MSU has a home game versus Indiana (3/2) and a home-and-home series to end the year with Michigan (3/4, 3/7), a dangerous schedule indeed.

MSU had a 20-day break due to COVID with games on Jan 8 and Jan 28. The Spartans are 5-6 since returning and 1-5 away from East Lansing.

MSU beat Indiana 78-71 earlier in the season, so avoiding a loss in what is a must-win situation is necessary. If MSU drops the Indiana game, their season is over unless they do the unthinkable in the Big Ten tournament or versus Michigan.

QUAD 1: 4-9

QUAD 2: 2-1

QUAD 3: 4-0

QUAD 4: 3-0

BEST WINS: Ohio State (71-67 Home), Illinois (81-72 Home)

WORST LOSSES: Northwestern (79-65)

MSU is 3-7 on the road this season and 2-7 in Big Ten play. All of MSU’s losses have come to impressive opponents outside of Northwestern and their play lately has made us forget about their 2-7 stretch in December and January. While three wins in the last four games is nothing to wow over, they did beat three impressive opponents.

The Spartans’ entire season will likely rest on two games versus Michigan, who is a top-five team in the country in everyone’s eyes. I expect the Spartans to sweep the Hoosiers and keep one of the games versus the Wolverines close before losing both.

MSU lost a few too many games versus conference opponents on the road to earn a bid in the NCAA Tournament but they did make it interesting the last week or two.

Xavier Musketeers (13-5, 6-5) NET: 48

This Xavier team has just played their way out of March and out of my pockets as they have laid down repeatedly. Xavier was 11-2 before COVID impacted their team, giving them a nearly two-week break. Since then (Feb 13), Xavier is 2-3, with both wins coming at home.

At home this season, Xavier is 11-2 and the tournament team we all imagined them to be. On the road, it is a different story for most teams that feast on non-conference schedules. Xavier went 7-0 in non-conference action, beating some talented teams (Oklahoma, Cincinnati, Toledo) but is 6-5 in conference play.

Xavier is 1-3 in Big East road games this season, with two to finish out the season. Trips to Georgetown (3/2) and Marquette (3/6) end the regular season and determine whether the Musketeers earn a No. 5 seed or worse. Xavier beat Marquette 91-88 in the Big East opener on Dec 23, 2020, and has yet to play Georgetown this season.

QUAD 1: 2-2

QUAD 2: 4-3

QUAD 3: 5-0

QUAD 4: 2-0

BEST WINS: Creighton (77-69 Home), Oklahoma (99-77)

WORST LOSSES: None

With a win over Creighton in the last outing, Xavier saved the season and kept their postseason hopes alive. Xavier has the resume to get into March right now with a 2-2 record in Quad 1 wins, 4-3 in Quad 2 and a combined 7-0 record in Quads 3 and 4. Xavier has lost to Creighton, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and UConn this season.

All five teams are conference opponents that have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament. All five teams are good losses to have on your resume if you are going to have them.

Xavier lost the Big East tournament’s opening round to DePaul last season and earned an NIT invitation in 2019. Xavier was a No. 1 seed in 2018’s March Madness Tournament and lost to Florida State in the second round. If Xavier makes it, do not expect them to do much in the tournament.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (13-12, 6-12) NET: 69

Last week, this team had a shot. This week, not so much.

Minnesota threw away their season, continuing the losing streak, extending it to five consecutive games. Minnesota dropped games to Northwestern and Nebraska in their last two and their last two home games as well.

The Gophers allowed 72 or more in four of their last five games and fell apart offensively, struggling to find the bottom of the net, unless we are talking about Marcus Carr. With two contests versus Penn State and Rutgers to end the season, you can count Minnesota all but out of the NCAA Tournament. With two home losses to Illinois and Northwestern, Minnesota threw in the white flag on the season.

Minnesota lost to Rutgers already too and the previous meeting with Penn State in 2019-20. Expect two more losses from the Gophers as they have become fade material after their last few games.

QUAD 1: 4-10

QUAD 2: 1-0

QUAD 3: 5-2

QUAD 4: 3-0

BEST WINS: Michigan (75-57 Home), Ohio State (77-60 Home)

WORST LOSSES: Nebraska (78-74 Away) Northwestern (67-59 Home)

It is kind of remarkable that Minnesota beat Michigan and Ohio State but lost to Nebraska and Northwestern. That summed up Minnesota as they looked like a contender at times but away from home, a pretender.

Minnesota is 0-9 on the road this season, which was detrimental to the rest of the year. No matter what you do, that winless record will haunt you and Minnesota’s 6-12 Big Ten record does not help either. The Gophers season ended on Thursday and Saturday’s loss at Nebraska was the exclamation mark on it — the final two games will not matter much, if at all.

Syracuse Orange (13-8, 7-7) NET: 56

Syracuse has been another team that has been terrific at home, going 11-1 but subpar on the road at 2-7. The Orange lacks that signature win this season as the two best victories they have are over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, both at home.

Going through Syracuse’s schedule, they have not played many challenging home games. Their schedule was set up well to have them run through the bottom of the ACC at home.

Syracuse beat Miami, NC State and Boston College. All three teams dealt with serious COVID issues, limiting their bench to a few practice squad or non-scholarship players. Syracuse collected five of their seven conference wins against those three squads.

QUAD 1: 4-10

QUAD 2: 1-0

QUAD 3: 5-2

QUAD 4: 3-0

BEST WINS: Virginia Tech (78-60 Home), Notre Dame (75-67 Home)

WORST LOSSES: Pitt (63-60 Home, 96-76 Away), Georgia Tech (84-77 Away)

Syracuse dropped some embarrassing games to Pitt and will have to avoid being swept by North Carolina (3/1) and Clemson (3/3) to end the season. Syracuse’s NCAA Tournament hopes rest on at least splitting the final two games of the regular season and making some noise in the ACC Tournament.

Syracuse has won three straight opening-round matchups in the ACC Tournament. They will have to keep that same energy this season, or their year will end in a first-round exit amid one of their best home seasons in program history, with no fans, I might add.

Syracuse is another team that will play you tooth and nails at home but away or on a neutral court, they are not the same. With at least five teams getting into the NCAA Tournament from the ACC, expect Syracuse to be one of the teams right outside the bubble.

Editor’s Note: Get an edge with our premium Betting Tools that are packed with live odds, betting trends, predictions, player prop projections, our extensive Edge Finder and much more. And don’t forget to use promo code VAUGHN10 to get 10% off. Click here to learn more!



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