The Bloodbath Region
Ayo Dosunmu vs. Cade Cunningham Sweet 16 matchup? Hold your horses Oklahoma St. fans, there is a log jam in the first round of this region. There are so many games to look at in the Midwest, but let’s look at two games with particular spoiler potential. Loyola-Chicago (8) vs. Georgia Tech (9) and then, let’s go with some Cinderella dreams with Liberty (13) vs. Oklahoma St. (4).
Deeper Dive into Loyola-Chicago (8) vs. Georgia Tech (9):
Sister Jean is happy to be dancing again, but the ACC tournament champion Yellow Jackets are magma hot at the end of their season. Tech has won 8 straight, including topping a talented Florida St. team to win the ACC tournament. Led by two Seniors, Forward Moses Wright, and Guard Jose Alvarado. Isolations from their backcourt and above average 3pt shooting make them a dangerous matchup. Alvarado himself averaging 4.5 3PA a game and hitting them at a 39% clip, while playing with energy on the defensive side of the floor. The average height on this team is 6-4. So, they like to run and gun, and the stats show with 75.5 PPG to 70.0 Opponent PPG. The Yellow Jackets will need to be red hot to top possibly the best 8 seed in the nation.
Loyola-Chicago also won their conference tournament, but they are looking to find the magic slipper they had in 2017-2018 when they danced their way into the Final Four. They play a tough pack-line defense, that gives up an astounding 55.5 PPG, making them the best in the Nation. That stat will meet some skepticism as it is inflated by their weak conference, but do not incorrectly assume this team can’t defend. Plus, this is a matchup nightmare for Tech, as the Ramblers love to dump the ball inside to their Senior big man Cameron Krutwig. Krutwig leads the team in PPG with 15. If Loyola-Chicago wants to win they need the same production from Krutwig. This should be a great game, and I am going with the Loyola-Chicago here because of that superior defense and their ability to get points in the frontcourt against this undersized Georgia Tech team. Hopefully for Sister Jean, Loyola will keep dancing.
Oklahoma St. (4) vs. Liberty (13):
The popular 13 seed over 4 seed is strong in this one. The Liberty Flames have the recipe for a team that can bust brackets. The Flames could not be more appropriately named. As they are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country. 4 out of the 5 starters on the Flames shoot at least 37% from downtown. If these shooters can get hot the Cowboys will be in deep trouble. The Flames match their deep 3-point shooters, with stifling defense. They only allow 59.6 PPG and are cruising as of late winning their last 12 straight. Calling this game an easy Cowboys win would be a mistake.
On the other side, this is a talented Oklahoma St. team, boasting the player with the potential to takeover this tournament. Cade Cunningham might be the most valuable player to any singular team this March. His 20.2 PPG on 45% FG% leads the team. This an Oklahoma St. team that will hope to get their backcourt going early and often to stave off the hot shooting from the Flames. I am leaning towards the Flames here, but this can truly come down to the last possession. Oklahoma St. could run out of options if the Flames play their tight defense and shoot the rock like they have all season.
Other Interesting Matchups:
Syracuse (11) vs. San Diego St. (6)- Always be wary of the sneaky Syracuse 2-3 zone in March. Without the capable players, San Diego St. could be in for a tough matchup.
Clemson (7) vs. Rutgers (10)- Rutgers has some solid players in the backcourt with Ron Harper Jr., and Jakob Young. Plus, some solid wins in the Big 10 this year. This is a tough game to call because of both teams’ inconsistencies throughout the season. I think Rutgers has a more talented roster and Clemson must be reeling a bit after a loss to a bad Miami team in the ACC tournament.