I’ve covered the locks, now it’s time for the games that will continue to give me ulcers right up until tip-off. These are not my big upset picks, rather they are the games that will be the absolute closest games of the first round. Give a moment to vomit once again, and we’ll begin…
Ok I’m ready.
Midwest – (8) UNLV/(9) Northern Iowa, (7) Oklahoma State/(10) Georgia Tech
I know it’s awful cliché to peg an 8/9 game as a close call. I know, I’m risky… but this game involves two teams I thought could have made some noise in the tournament.
UNLV (25-8) finished as the runner-up in the Mountain West Conference Tournament, one of the toughest leagues in the country. The Rebels beat BYU twice, San Diego State once, and Louisville – all teams with very good backcourts.
Tre’Von Willis is the leader for UNLV. The 6’4’’ shooting guard averages 17.3 points per game.
Northern Iowa is a very dangerous team that was probably underseeded at eight. The Panthers (28-4) don’t have a star player like Willis to rely on, but they do have an experienced and balanced bunch. They did lose to lowly DePaul, but it was the second game of the season, so I don’t put any stock in that.
They do boast wins over Siena, Boston College and Old Dominion. All three of their conference losses were on the road, but they cruised in the Missouri Valley Tournament, winning all three games by an average of 15.6 points.
Pick – Northern Iowa -4
My eraser was worth the investment because of the Oklahoma State/Georgia Tech matchup alone. I constantly flip-flop who I think can win this game between two inconsistent teams with plenty of talent.
The Cowboys (22-10) rely heavily on two things: a) James Anderson, the Big 12 Player of the Year, and b) the three-point shot.
In the Cowboys’ two biggest wins of the season (Kansas State and Kansas), Anderson averaged 28.5 points. However, he turned it over eight times combined in those two games. There were five games this season where he turned it over at least five times.
Obi Muonelo and Keiton Page round out the perimeter for the Cowboys. Muonelo shoots 43.3 percent from three, while Page shoots 37.4 percent. With three good shooters like that, it’s hard to count the Cowboys out of any game.
Georgia Tech (22-12) is a mirror image of Oklahoma State. The Jackets’ premier players are all in the frontcourt, including freshman sensation Derrick Favors, who has an outside shot at being the top overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Along with Favors, Gani Lawal and Zach Peacock round out a fearsome trio. All three are physical players who own the boards. Oklahoma State does not really have an answer for that.
The guard play is what scares me away from Paul Hewitt’s squad though. Iman Shumpert could score 20 points, or he could go 0-for-10 from the field on any given night. He also turns the ball over far too often.
Georgia Tech ran through the ACC Tournament all the way to the finals, where it almost beat Duke. The only impressive win during the tournament run though was against Maryland.
Typically, the team with better guard play gets the edge when I make my picks, but the Cowboys don’t take care of the ball well enough to make me think they can overcome the Jackets’ post dominance.
Pick – Georgia Tech -3.5