Although everyone that is fanatical about college basketball is anxiously anticipating the all-day affair that is the first round of the NCAA Tournament, there are still a select few play-in games to be decided before the main event can commence. While these four contests may be lacking in terms of upset potential and overall competitiveness, they are still technically apart of the madness and provide a somewhat intriguing spark to what is always a fun-filled and intense tournament. Surprisingly, some of the following contests actually unleash a sleeping giant that goes from being completely overlooked to the beloved Cinderella Story that everyone clamors for every year during the postseason. At the very least, these first four contests are ideal for getting everyone into the spirit of March Madness and could very well provide some gritty and close contests to thoroughly enjoy until the all-day event officially gets underway.
LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds (16) vs. Radford Highlanders (16)
In the grand scheme of things, this contest is relatively meaningless in that it will set up either one of these teams to ultimately lose in the first round to a number one seed. Yet, despite this known futility, both of these programs will nevertheless compete valiantly to at least be apart of the national spotlight however briefly that it may be. Although the Blackbirds are god awful defensively (76.6 PAPG), they are able to cover up this deficiency somewhat as they are tenacious when it comes to rebounding the basketball (38.1 RPG) while four of their five starters average double-digit points per game. While the Highlanders may not have the physical playmakers to outrebound the Blackbirds (34.6 RPG) they are far better defensively (64.4 PAPG) and are above average when it comes to making free throw shots (72.3 FT%). Given that the Highlanders are adept defensively, it seems unlikely that the streaky offense of the Blackbirds will prevail in this contest.
Final Score: Blackbirds 63 Highlanders 69 Spread: Radford -4.0
St. Bonaventure Bonnies (11) vs. UCLA Bruins (11)
Underrated by pundits and fans alike throughout the season, the Bonnies’ are actually a highly efficient offensive team that is especially deadly from three-point range (39.8 3P%) and are sure-handed when it comes to making their free throw shots down the stretch of tight games (75.4 FT%). Although the Bonnies are not particularly proficient at holding down their opponents scoring wise, they perform fairly well when it comes to forcing turnovers (seven SPG). Similar to the Bonnies, the Bruins are fairly inept defensively but are incredibly prolific when it comes to shooting the basketball (81.9 PPG). Capable when it comes to shooting the three-point shot, the Bruins are reliant on their streaky shooters to run up the score as they lack the size to get to the basket in the half-court. Although the Bruins are an exceptional scoring program, the Bonnies are a bit more balanced when it comes to playing decent defense and are much better when it comes to hitting deep shots, which will be the deciding factor in this back and forth affair.
Final Score: Bonnies 78 Bruins 75 Spread: UCLA -3.5
Texas Southern Tigers (16) vs. North Carolina Central Eagles (16)
Despite their losing record, the Tigers valiantly fought hard in their conference tournament to receive their second consecutive berth to the NCAA Tournament. Thanks to their budding offense that had been fairly inconsistent throughout the season, the Tigers were able to win one shootout after another despite their serious issues when playing defense (79.7 PAPG). Although the defense of the Eagles is not much better than that of the Tigers (73.1 PAPG), they are far better at scoring the basketball consistently (82 PPG) and are able to do so by unselfishly finding their open shooters (18.2 APG), which has resulted in all five their starters averaging double-digit points per game. Even though they may lack the elite accuracy of some offensive-centric programs, the Eagles are effective when it comes to scoring because they are particularly swift and vigilant when viewing the court in both half court and transition situations. Without a competent defense, the Tigers have little to no chance at overcoming an opponent in the Eagles that are adept at taking advantage of porous defenses.
Final Score: Tigers 79 Eagles 91 Spread: Texas Southern -4.0
Syracuse Orange (11) vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (11)
Unsurprisingly, both Syracuse and Arizona State barely made the tournament. However, the reasons for these programs noticeable inadequacies could not be more different. For the Orange, their glaring issues stem from being anemic offensively (67.5 PPG) as they are woefully inaccurate when it comes to shooting from the field and from three-point range (41.8 FG%, 32.2 3P%). The main facet that most likely saved the Orange from being on the outside looking in was their stout defense that is underrated at garnering defensive rebounds (64.5 PAPG, 37.4 RPG). For the Sun Devils, their dramatic fall from grace was the result of a terrible defense (75.3 PAPG) and inconsistent shooting from three-point range (36.4 3P%). However, despite their wavering accuracy problems, the Sun Devils confidence has never faltered as they have still been able to score 83.5 points per game in spite of their inconsistencies. Even though the Orange have a capable defense, they have had issues at blocking out perimeter shooters, an area where the Sun Devils will relentlessly persist in pursuing until their shooters get hot from the field.
Final Score: Orange 75 Sun Devils 81 Spread: Arizona State -1.5