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.
5. Purdue (26-8, 12-6/Big Ten)–Purdue could be a popular pick to make a run to the Sweet 16, as the Boilers enter the NCAA’s winners of five of six. They also advanced to the Big Ten championship game after pounding Michigan in the semifinals. This is an underrated team, with as much size up front as anyone in the nation, with two seven footers contributing big minutes. Seven-foot, 261-pound center A.J. Hammonds is a giant man inside, and he’s skilled too, leading the team in scoring at 14.9 points per game (also averages 8.9 rebounds per). 7-2 sophomore Isaac Haas also averages 9.9 points in 15 minutes per game.
6-7 sophomore forward Vince Edwards is a capable scorer (11 ppg), as is 6-9 freshman forward Caleb Swanigan (10.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg). This team looks impressive by the numbers. They rank in the top 25 nationally in points allowed, assists per game and rebounds per game. Defense and toughness are the hallmarks of this group.
64.5 points allowed (25th)
17.8 assists per game (5th)
41.2 rebounds per game (10th)
12. Arkansas-Little Rock (29-4, 17-3/Sun Belt)–Only Kansas has a better winning percentage this season than the Little Rock Trojans, who scored upsets over San Diego State and Tulsa during the regular season and dominated the Sun Belt, winning both the regular season and tournament titles. This is a tough, grind-it-out defensive team, and the Trojans give up just 59.9 points per game, which ranks third in the country. Little Rock is undersized, which doesn’t bode well at all against Purdue. Only one regular player reaches 6-10 (Lis Shoshi), while Purdue has interchangeable seven-footers.
The Trojans are led by the terrific (if diminutive) backcourt combo of Marcus Johnson Jr. (5-11), and Josh Hagins (6-1). Hagins leads the team in scoring at 12.8 points per.
59.9 points allowed (3rd)
33.8 rebounds per game (T-268th)
PREDICTION: The size advantage for Purdue is probably going to be too much for Little Rock, though we don’t think the Boilers will blow the Trojans out. Both teams are tough and defense-oriented, so this game will probably be contested in the 60’s. Expect Purdue to advance, then give Iowa State a run for its money in the second round. We’ve got Purdue in the Sweet 16.