Alright, folks. March Madness is here. Al broke down the 16-11 seeds earlier today. I’ll continue that countdown for #10 through #6 seeds. Interesting quirk to these guys? At least two of these teams will be eliminated in the first round. Wofford and Seton Hall face off in, as will Utah State and Washington.
Let’s dive in.
#10 Seton Hall Pirates (20-13, 9-9 Big East)
Seton Hall may have finished with a 9-9 conference record, but they hold seven wins against Q-1 teams. Only 14 teams had more Q-1 wins than the Pirates. They did more than take advantage of a stronger conference, where they beat Marquette (twice), Villanova, and St. Johns — they also beat Kentucky and Maryland before Christmas, and dropped a close 70-65 game against Louisville. So, these fellas can hang with good teams. They can also drop winnable games against mediocre teams, like losing twice to Depaul. Teams like Seton Hall are what make March so tricky. They can beat anyone or they can lose to anyone. At a minimum, they’ve been tested throughout the season.
Player to Watch: Junior guard Myles Powell averages 22.9 points while taking almost 9 three-point attempts per game. He only averages 36% from deep, so this isn’t rocket science. Keep Powell from getting hot and any team can cruise to a comfortable win. Let him get some early confidence and the Pirates will hang around all afternoon.
Key Stat: As a team, the Pirates only hit 32.4% of their three-point attempts. That’s 272nd in the nation. Aside from Powell’s high-volume shooting, Myles Cale’s (38%) is the only other player hitting above 30% from three.
Record against UNC: The Heels hold a 4-1 advantage, but the teams haven’t played each other since November of 1997.
#9 Washington Huskies (26-8, 15-3 Pac-12)
The Huskies won the Pac-12 regular season title. That deserves kudos, but the Pac-12 was also, arguably, a garbage conference this year. Washington finished 45th in the NET with just two (2!) Q-1 wins. I have no idea what the NET really means, but Washington was also outside the top-50 in the BPI and KenPom. They lost non-conference games to Virginia Tech, Gonzaga, and Auburn. Their only win over a NCAA Tournament team was a regular season victory over Arizona State. They lost to Oregon three times, and Oregon needed to win the conference tournament just get an automatic bid. All of that aside, they play a funky zone because their head coach, Mike Hopkins, is Jim Boeheim’s former top assistant.
Player to Watch: Freshman forward Noah Dickerson is averaging 12.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. The common theme in North Carolina’s losses has been losing the battle of points in the paint while giving up more than 30 points near the bucket. Shut down whatever inside game the Huskies possess, and the Heels shouldn’t have trouble.
Key Stat: Their defensive efficiency sits at 96.3, good for 20th in the country. Part of that success is helped by their defensive turnover rate, which sits at 24.1%. Opponents commit a turnover one out of every four trips down the court. They’re basically Syracuse in purple uniforms.
Record against UNC: Carolina leads the all-time series 2-0. They last met in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, which UNC won 86-83.
#8 Utah State Aggies (28-6, 15-3 Mountain West)
Utah State split the season series with preseason darling, Nevada. The Aggies tied for the regular season title and then won the Mountain West tournament. How good they really are depends on what you think of Nevada and Utah State’s schedule. Their best win outside of Nevada might be Saint Mary’s? Along with losses to Houston and Arizona State, there isn’t much to write home about. Outside the top-30 in KenPom’s metrics in both offensive and defensive efficiency, they are a true question mark. Competitive enough to be included, with enough questions about their true ceiling.
Player to Watch: Junior starting guard Sam Merrill leads the team in scoring (21.2 ppg) and assists (4.2 apg). He does it on over 14 field goal attempts a game, with almost half from behind the arc. Only one other player, freshman center Neemias Queta, averages double-digit scoring.
Key Stat: Utah State only allows opponents to grab 22.2% of potential offensive rebounds. That’s fifth best in the country, so limiting second chance points is a high priority for them. They have grabbed 1002 defensive rebounds on the season. That’s the second most defensive rebounds in the country. Of course, North Carolina has the most, with 1016.
Record against UNC: This would be the first meeting between the two programs.
#7 Wofford Terriers (29-4, 18-0 Southern Conference)
UNC fans are familiar with the Terriers from South Carolina. After dropping a home contest to them last year, the Heels returned the favor in the season opener in November. Wofford recovered from that respectable showing, and reeled off 29 more wins. Their only other losses were to Kansas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi State. With no remarkable wins on their resume (unless you count South Carolina or Furman), their season was more about not losing to lesser teams than truly being giant killers. Regardless, going undefeated in conference is noteworthy. They’ll provide a nightmare inside/outside threat to the bracket.
Player to Watch: I’ll go away from public sentiment, and ignore Fletcher Magee. The key to Wofford’s success will be 6-8 forward Cameron Jackson. Second on the team with 14.6 ppg and leading the team with 7.4 rpg, 1.5 spg, and 1.0 bpg, he’s the Robin to McGee’s Batman. An inside-outside punch makes them unique to most mid-major upstarts.
Key Stat: Their 18-0 record in conference play won’t get enough attention, but that is a difficult thing to do. The foundation for that success was built in the non-conference season. They had the seventh toughest non-con schedule according to KenPom. UNC, Kansas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Mississippi State certainly validate that ranking.
Record against UNC: North Carolina won the last matchup, a 78-67 road victory in November. They are 2-1 against Wofford all time. All three games have been over the past four seasons.
#6 Iowa State Cyclones (23-11, 9-9 Big XII)
The Cyclones finished fifth in the Big XII, using key wins against tournament teams Baylor, Kansas State (twice), Kansas (twice), and Texas Tech. They dropped five of their final six regular season games, including a three-game losing streak to close the season. They regained their composure to win the Big XII tournament. Iowa State may be slightly over-seeded at #6, but they aren’t strangers to success against top-tier competition.
Player to Watch: Marial Shayok will get the publicity with 18.2 ppg and 38% from three, but Nick Weiler-Babb makes this team go. Averaging 9.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.0 apg, and 1.4 steals per game, he is involved in all facets of the game. Stopping him should be the top priority.
Key Stat: According to KenPom, their AdjO of 119.0 is ninth-best in the nation. That efficiency will make them dangerous. However, their inconsistency can be traced to the AdjD. Sitting at 97.1, just 59th in the nation, they often find themselves having to play catch-up.
Record against UNC: North Carolina is 3-1 against Iowa State. They last met in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, when the Heels gave up a late lead and lost 85-83 in the second round.