This is becoming a bit of a tradition: I tell you about the First Four, and you learn a little bit (and probably fail to follow my advice). Two years ago, I picked both 11-seed games correctly…and completely whiffed on both 16-seed games. Last year, I picked both 16-seed games correctly…and completely whiffed on both 11-seed games. This year, I decided I’m going to go 4-0. Why not??
Prairie View A&M vs Fairleigh Dickinson
What an incredibly interesting matchup. These are two *perfectly* matched teams on the surface — Kenpom ranks the Prairie View A&M Panthers as the 209th team in the country, while the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights checks in at 208th. The Panthers, however, have won 21 of their last 22 games and feature a style of basketball that relies heavily on getting to the foul line, forcing turnovers, and getting up and down the floor quickly. The Knights are far slower, with a more balanced offensive attack and a sharp-shooting backcourt (shooting 40.5% from beyond the arc). The Panthers are elite in some areas but struggle in others, while the Knights seem to have fewer weaknesses. In a game against two closely matched teams, I’ll take the one with a more balanced attack. Plus their name is cooler.
Prediction: Fairleigh Dickinson
Up Next: 1-seed Gonzaga
Will they advance? No. But at least they’ll have fun.
North Carolina Central vs North Dakota State
If you’re looking for the ultimate 16-seed, North Carolina Central should be on your radar. This is the Eagles’ third-straight NCAA tournament as a 16-seed and their fourth NCAA tournament appearance in the last six seasons. North Dakota isn’t exactly your average 16-seed. The Bison, who finished 5 games behind South Dakota State in the regular season Summit League standings, benefitted from a conference tournament upset that sent SDSU packing in the first round. The Bison took advantage, hitting 34 out of 70 three-pointers over three games to take the Summit League auto-bid. Looking at the teams head-to-head, you’ve got to like North Dakota’s offensive firepower, which is likely to be too much for the Eagles to handle with few answers on the offensive end.
Prediction: North Dakota State
Up Next: 1-seed Duke
Will they advance? Even more nope. If you think Virginia proved that 1-seeds aren’t automatic locks for a win, I encourage you to watch Zion Williamson destroy whoever wins this game.
Temple vs Belmont
I’ll cut to the chase: Belmont is not only the overwhelming fan-favorite in this matchup, but they are a favorite to be the Cinderella of this tournament. Temple is a much less exciting pick, but they are certainly more battle-tested. Both are lengthy teams that like to push pace, yet rarely turn the ball over. Don’t be surprised if Temple makes this a game, and don’t be surprised if they win it if it comes down to the wire—the Owls are 4-0 in overtime games this season. However, Belmont is just too good at shooting the ball, and Temple isn’t going to get many second chances against Belmont’s rebounding bigs.
Up Next: 6-seed Maryland
Will they advance? This could be an interesting one. Maryland loves to slow the game down, which Belmont saw against Purdue in an early-season 73-62 loss. This would be strength-vs-strength, as Maryland relies on altering shots and grabbing defensive rebounds instead of forcing turnovers, and Belmont is extremely good at making shots. If you’re looking for a trendy upset, this is near the top.
St. John’s vs Arizona State
If you want to take advice on any of these games, I suggest you take it from this one: Arizona State is going to win this game. After a 12-0 start, St. John’s has struggled to get back on track, finishing the season 9-12 and limping into the tournament after a 32-point loss in the Big East tournament to Marquette. While Arizona State has been a bubble team for most of the year, they also have all the weapons to beat St. John’s — the Sun Devils may not make many shots, but they rebound the heck out of the ball and get to the free throw line more often than 348 of the 353 teams in the nation. Unfortunately for the Red Storm, those are two of their biggest weaknesses.
Prediction: Arizona State
Up Next: 6-seed Buffalo
Will they advance? Buffalo is one of those teams that seems too good to be true — they are 31-3 this year, have a blazing efficient offense, and are considered under-seeded by many national analysts. But aren’t they just a mid-major? They can’t honestly be *that* good can they?
Yes. Yes they can. And they will beat Arizona State, likely pretty handily.