It’s March Madness, the greatest time of the year. Looking for some help with your bracket? Don’t know which teams to believe in, in this crazy college hoops season? We’ve got your back. We’re breaking down every first-round game in the field of 68, plus looking ahead at which teams will make the run to the Final Four.
7. Dayton (25-7, 14-4/Atlantic 10)–They’re baaack. The Flyers have an invite to the Big Dance for the third straight year after rolling through the A-10 schedule, finishing at 14-4 and taking the league’s regular season title. In 2014, Dayton stunned the college basketball world by advancing all the way to the Elite Eight, knocking off Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford before falling to top-seeded Florida by ten. Last season, the Flyers beat Boise State in a play-in-game at home and took down 6th-seed Providence in Columbus before running out of gas against Oklahoma in the second round.
Head coach Archie Miller has done an outstanding job in building this program, and some of the reserves from the 2014 run have stepped into starring roles seamlessly. The Flyers are led by 6-5 junior guard Charles Cooke (15.7 ppg, 6 rpg), a transfer from James Madison. If you’re a college basketball junkie though, you’ve heard of Dyshawn Pierre (13 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.3 apg), a 6-6 senior forward who could play on any team in the country. You also know 6-2 junior guard Scoochie Smith (how could you not?), who puts up 11.7 points and 4.3 assists per game and has taken over a starting role with ease. 6-6 junior forward Kendall Pollard is another familiar tournament name (10.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg).
65.8 points allowed (39th)
38.6 rebounds per game (62nd)
10. Syracuse (19-13, 9-9/ACC)–It’s a real shame that this Syracuse squad cracked the field of 68 instead of teams like Monmouth, St. Mary’s and UAB, which were far more deserving. Ever since conference realignment shook up the college sports landscape, the selection committee has begun awarding at-large spots to mediocre power conference teams instead of quality mid-majors. It wasn’t that long ago when at-large teams like VCU and George Mason made runs to the Final Four; now, those teams aren’t getting that shot.
If we have to talk about the Orange (I mean, this team lost five of six to end the season and lost to St. John’s—St. Johns!), everything starts with leading scorer Michael Gbinije, who puts up 17.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. The 6-7 senior can score inside and out, and is a matchup nightmare for most teams. 6-6 freshman guard Malachi Richardson (13.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg) is also a three-point threat, and senior Trevor Cooney (12.8 ppg) does a nice job running the offense.
65.7 points allowed (37th)
PREDICTION: We just spent an entire paragraph trashing Syracuse, but that may work in the Orange’s favor. Often times the team that everyone goes crazy over making the field wins at least a game in the tournament. Whatever. Still, we’re taking Dayton, which is tougher, more confident and battle-tested. We think the Flyers advance here and then run into a buzzsaw in Michigan State in the second round.