After hours upon hours of debate, projections, and Seth Davis once again railing against UNC being a one seed (a tradition unlike any other), we can actually start playing the games.
We all know Carolina is the one seed in the Midwest, but what do we know about the other teams in that region? We here at Tar Heel Blog will give you some knowledge about each team competing to get to Minneapolis out of this region. We’ll work our way from the bottom and get to the top, and we start with Carolina’s opponent on Friday.
#16 Iona Gaels (17-15, 12-6 MAAC)
The Gaels were able to win their conference tournament as the top seed, which probably tells you about the strength of the MAAC overall this season. They come in seeded as the 64th team and just barely kept from having to play in Dayton just for the right to come in.
So how do the Gaels like to play? Fast, as they rank 45th in overall tempo. It’s a smart strategy for them because, well, they need the possessions. Why? They rank 256th in offensive rebounding and 262nd in defensive rebounding. When they miss, even in a conference where they won and presumably face athletes of similar size, they don’t get the ball back. Their three-point defense is also atrocious, where they rank 299th (hat tip to Brian Barbour for the info in a tweet). A team that likes to run, can’t rebound, and can’t guard the three. That...doesn’t sound like a team that can fare well against Carolina.
Player to Watch: E.J. Crawford is a 6’6 junior and the team’s leading scorer at 17.9/game. He’s hitting 39% from three, 51% overall, and is the team’s second-leading rebounder at 5.1 per game.
Key Stat: While Iona is 17-15, they were 7-15 before going on a ten-game winning streak that included the conference tournament. To do that and win a pressure-packed conference tournament is impressive.
Record vs UNC: 1-3. They last played in 2015, a win, but the Gaels scored a win over the Heels back in the 2002.
#15 Abilene Christian Wildcats (27-6, 14-4 Southland)
The Wildcats get to celebrate their inaugural run in the NCAA by playing another group of Wildcats from Kentucky. They come from perhaps one of the more unique conference tournament structures. The Southland has eight teams, but seeds five through eight play, then those winners play three and four, then THOSE winners play one and two. ACU was the two seed so only had to win two games to get their ticket to this dance, and they did so easily with a 77-60 over fourth-seeded New Orleans.
The season hasn’t been easy for ACU, though. Back in February, ACU dismissed two players, one of whom was their leading score in junior Jalone Friday. The other player, B.J. Maxwell also put in almost 10 a game, so the Wildcats had to make up about 20 points a game to get to this point. To recover from that blow and take down their tournament is quite an accomplishment, and they hope to represent the Southland well.
Player to Watch: Junior Payten Ricks is the guy who guns the ball behind the arc. He’s hitting at a nearly 41% clip off of 196 shots on the season, and he’s only attempted 286 shots overall. So, of all the shots he takes, only about three shots per game are NOT from three. If ACU somehow wins, it’ll because Ricks went unconscious.
Key Stat: ACU does not have a single player that averages over 14 points a game, nor do they have anyone averaging more than 32 minutes a game. They are balanced, if anything, because even with those numbers they are averaging over 75 points a game.
Record vs. UNC: If both teams make it to the Elite Eight, it’ll be their first meeting.
#14 Georgia State Panthers (23-9, 13-5 Sun Belt)
If you’re a fan of college basketball, you know about Georgia State and their coach Ron Hunter. He’s been an entertaining watch on the sidelines, as the last time he was in the tournament he was rolling around with a torn Achilles and fell off his stool when his son hit the shot to upset Baylor. The team became a fun story to follow, and Hunter will return to the sideline able to actually walk around. Considering how they did last time, you wonder if he may bring back the stool as a good luck charm.
We’ll see if the Panthers have more of that magic, as they will face this year’s mid-major darling, Houston, in the first matchup.
Player to Watch: D’Marcus Simonds is the Panthers leading scorer at 18.4 points per game. The 6’3 junior guard is the one Georgia State leans on heavily to key the offense, as he’s logged 120 minutes more on the floor than anyone else on the team, for an average of almost 36 minutes a game.
Key Stat: The weight Simonds has to bear has shown up in his assist-to-turnover ratio. The Junior has 122 turnovers versus only 121 assists, making for a 0.99 total. For ASU to win, he has to take care of the ball.
Record vs. UNC: The two have only matched up once in the ‘82-’83 season, which Carolina won 99-55.
#13 Northeastern Huskies (23-10, 14-4 CAA)
You thought Boston College was the only team from Boston that could play in the NCAA Tournament? Northeastern, which is actually IN Boston, would like you to know that isn’t the case. This team is also likely to be a popular pick to provide a first round upset, mostly due to the fact that Kansas has had a lot go wrong for them this year and has a ton of head-scratching losses. It really isn’t because they have a big win from the regular season, as they’ve lost handily to both Virginia Tech and Syracuse.
The Huskies don’t lead the CAA in any real metric. They have seven guys averaging 19 minutes a game or more, and they just are a team that has a bunch of guys who gelled together to win their games, got the two seed in the CAA, and won the tournament. In short: it’s a team someone can easily take lightly, which makes them ripe to pull off an upset against a team that just hasn’t seemed to keep it together in Kansas.
Player to Watch: Junior Roland Jordan has scored the most points on the team this season, is hitting threes at a 41% clip, and has done it only playing about 31 minutes a game. Unlike a lot of teams with bombers like this, Jordan should have less wear and be able to withstand heavier minutes.
Key Stat: The Huskies rated ninth in rebounding...in the CAA. The CAA has ten teams. It’s cliche, but to win Northeastern will have to make shots because if they don’t, their opponent will likely get the ball.
Record vs. UNC: The two squared off in the ‘91 NCAA Tournament, which Carolina won 101-66.
#12 New Mexico State Aggies (30-4, 15-1 WAC)
The Aggies ran away with their conference this year and easily took down their tournament, winning 89-57 in the title game. So why are they seeded so low? The Aggies only played one Q-1 game, a loss against Kansas, and only four Q-2 games, where they were 3-1. The average NET of their wins was only 202. In short, while the numbers for New Mexico look impressive, it was built off the shoulders of a lot of bad teams. Unlike some teams that didn’t get into the tournament and put out a press release about it, though, they won their games.
In short, this team will likely be a popular pick for the 5/12 upset because folks will look at the record and be impressed. It still may happen of course, but there’s a reason New Mexico is this low.
Player to Watch: Junior guard Terrell Brown leads the team in scoring at 11.3 a game and is shooting the three at an impressive 43%. He’ll need score well above his average for the Aggies to move on.
Key Stat(s): Brown is the only player averaging over double figures, which in a way makes their record more impressive. They spread the love as nine players have appeared in more than thirty games and all have played at least ten minutes per game.
Record vs. UNC: The teams have only met once, back in the 1975 NCAA tournament. The Heels won that matchup 93-69
#11 Ohio State Buckeyes (19-14, 8-12 Big 10)
The Buckeyes were comfortably in the tournament despite having a losing record in the conference that is sending the most teams to the big dance. They were given the benefit of playing fourteen Q-1 games, even though they were 4-10 in them, but can claim a win against Cincinnati on the road. In truth, that the Buckeyes sport this type of record and not only were in, but comfortably so, speaks to just how weak the bubble was this year.
Ohio State managed to start the year at 13-1, which likely got them the invitation. Also, while they only won one game in the Big Ten Tournament, they played eventual champ Michigan State close in a 77-70 loss. Despite their record, they could easily be looked past by Iowa State, as they have plenty of experience hanging with top teams.
Player to Watch: Sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson followed up his 2018 All-Big Ten Freshman Team performance by leading the team in points and rebounds. His 14.4/6.8 clip helped keep the Buckeyes in plenty of games and will be a force to watch on this team in the next couple of years.
Key Stat: In a league where pace can rival a snail, the Buckeyes still managed to come in eleventh in the fourteen-team league in points per game at 69.6.
Record vs UNC: The Tar Heels have owned the Buckeyes to the tune of an 11-1 record. Ohio State’s only win came in the ‘92 Sweet Sixteen.