Men's Basketball 2016 NCAA Tournament East Region Round of 64 Game Breakdowns

East Region Round of 64 Game Breakdowns
In the first play-in game for the East region, Florida Gulf Coast takes on Farleigh Dickinson. FGCU wins with its defense, limiting opponents to 30.2 percent from three-point land. On offense, it scores on the interior but could have trouble coming back if it falls behind by any significant margin. For Farleigh Dickinson, it will struggle to control the boards against the Eagles but relies on balanced scoring. The Knights potent offense is canceled out by its porous defense.
After the winner is determined between Florida Gulf Coast and Farleigh Dickinson, it moves on to face the North Carolina Tar Heels in Raleigh, North Carolina. This would be a nearly impossible task even if the game was set for a neutral site. North Carolina has the highest upside of anyone in the East Region. Marcus Paige has not shot the ball well this season, and it hardly mattered. The depth on this team, both in the frontcourt and backcourt, is tremendous. Joel Berry grew into an All-Conference-caliber player as a sophomore, and Brice Johnson was a contender for ACC Player of the Year. Sometimes, the Tar Heels struggle to hit jump shots and threes. That shouldn’t be an issue in this first-round contest.
#8 USC vs. #9 Providence
The USC Trojans are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years, and it was unexpected. They were picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12 prior to the season, but thanks to a high-powered offense, grabbed an at-large berth in March. All five of USC’s starters average double figures, and the team averages more than 80 points per game. Bennie Boatright, a 6-10 freshman stretch forward, is a mismatch for many opponents. He can hit threes to clear out room in the paint.
Providence is a different story. The Friars are a powerful team that relies on two stars: point guard Kris Dunn and forward Ben Bentil. They average a combined 37.2 points per game and could both be playing in the NBA in the not too distant future. Dunn gathers all the accolades, but Bentil is a special talent. He leads Providence in a weird concoction of points, threes, offensive rebounds, and is second in blocks.
Size will be the deciding factor in this matchup. USC boasts lots of big men but doesn’t dominate in rebounding margin like it should. Dunn goes 6-4 or 6-5 at the point guard position; that could create problems on the other side of floor. Providence’s tournament experience is somewhat negated by the slew of underclassmen it plays.
#5 Indiana vs. #12 Chattanooga
Tom Crean did a heck of a job coaching the Indiana Hoosiers to the tournament this year. Many thought this team would be ranked more favorably than falling to the five line. It is an elite shooting club that knocks down all shots at a 50 percent clip and hits threes nearly 42 percent of the time as a roster. Defense has been an issue as the Hoosiers allow opponents to shoot it well too, but during the second half of the season, few teams have looked better than this club.
For the Chattanooga Mocs, hopes of advancing will rest on catching Indiana on an off-shooting night. Chattanooga is a deep and balanced roster since an injury ended the season of last year’s leading scorer, Casey Jones. It got early season road wins over the likes of Georgia and Dayton. However, it doesn’t have the athletes or firepower to compete with Indiana in this matchup. It appears as though the East region will avoid the dreaded 5-12 upset.
#4 Kentucky vs. #13 Stony Brook
This is the first ever NCAA Tournament berth for Stony Brook. It advanced on the back of Jameel Warney, who had 43 points in the conference championship game against Vermont. Warney and Carson Puriefoy combined for 66 of the Seawolves’ 80 points in that game, and they have carried the team all year. Stony Brook starts five upperclassmen, gets after it on the defensive end and covers the glass like no one else out of America East.
The Seawolves get a tough draw here in the Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky took a step back from where it was projected prior to the season, but it had a big second half to the season and managed to win the SEC conference title thanks to Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Tyler Ulis. Kentucky’s ceiling depends on what type of interior production it gets from its big men. With unparalleled guard play and a lack of depth from its opponent in this one, the Wildcats should be able to advance past the first round, though it will be interesting to see how the inconsistent frontline of UK deals with the 6-8, 255 pound Warney.
Michigan versus Tulsa is an odd matchup that the committee chose for this 11-seed play-in game. Arguably, neither team deserved to make the tournament. Michigan had just four top-100 wins all year, and it probably had a better case than Tulsa to be in. The Wolverines were behind the eight ball because of injuries to their two best players, Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht. They are still led by guard play and three-point shooting. Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton lead a team that shoots 10 threes a game and hits nearly 40 percent of them. Tulsa plays small but doesn’t offer that type of firepower. Instead, it’s Shaquille Harrison, James Woodard and Pat Birt that supply the scoring punch in a variety of ways.
For whoever advances to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, expect it to get crushed on the interior and on the glass by Zach Auguste and company. Both the Wolverines’ and Golden Hurricane’s leading rebounders are guards who grab fewer than six misses per game. Notre Dame runs an efficient and effective offense, and Auguste is a handful for even the best ACC defenders. Its biggest threat was likely a mid-major with a gigantic frontcourt. This is a pretty good draw for the Irish in the first round no matter who it plays.
West Virginia did little in the non-conference this season, but its performance in the Big 12 was enough to propel it to a three seed. The Mountaineers took root in the national landscape with their frantic defense and mastery of the glass. Press Virginia, as Bob Huggins’ defense is so eloquently nicknamed, creates high turnover counts, and the WVU big men clean up any shots that opponents do get off. The fast pace it forces on opponents allows West Virginia to get easy buckets; it scores nearly 80 points per game on the year.
This is Stephen F. Austin’s third straight Southland Conference title. The Lumberjacks have gone an uncanny 57-1 in three years in the Southland, going a perfect 18-0 this season. A busy non-conference schedule early in the year though may have hinted at this team’s ceiling. It lost to all the big names it faced outside the Southland despite having an experienced bunch with five seniors in the main rotation. SFA led the Southland in everything this year, but it will be hard to know how that translates. Their 12.8 turnovers per game was the stingiest total in the Southland, but that is still too many for what awaits the Lumberjacks in the first round here. They will need a huge outing from last year’s tournament star Thomas Walkup to have any chance of advancing past West Virginia.
#7 Wisconsin vs. #10 Pittsburgh
This is the 18th straight NCAA Tournament berth for the Wisconsin Badgers. Despite the departure of head coach Bo Ryan, Greg Gard did enough to secure another bid and get himself a new contract as head man. Wisconsin downed three top-10 teams this season. It doesn’t score it at a high clip; it doesn’t shoot the ball well, but Wisconsin can hold opponents down and force its pace. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are the only main players remaining from last year’s club that made it all the way to the National Championship. They are first and second respectively on the team in scoring this year.
It is odd for a team that forces pace as much as Wisconsin to shoot the ball so poorly from the field. Grinding down possessions to get a perfect shot should ideally result in more than 43 percent of them going in. Pittsburgh may not fall victim to such a situation. The Panthers sneak in as a 10 seed that can do all the little things. They rebound exceedingly well; they are great from the foul line; they share the basketball and don’t turn it over too much. Everything that Wisconsin wishes it did by going slow, Pittsburgh does better. Pitt also can’t shoot very well, so a game of bricks could fall in either direction, but with Michael Young and Jamel Artis controlling the interior, Pittsburgh has the horses to advance past the storybook season of Wisconsin.
#2 Xavier vs. #15 Weber State
The Xavier Musketeers tied a school record with 27 wins this year. A number of those wins were against big-time teams, both in-conference and out-of-conference. They are a tough matchup for some teams because they run a man-to-man as well as a 1-3-1 zone defense. Trevon Bluiett is the star of this team. He is a guard/forward hybrid who scores 15.5 points per game. He has help, though. Xavier is an elite rebounding club and is in the top 20 nationally with 81 points per game. It forces mistakes on defense, but XU doesn’t have an imposing shot-blocker and turns the ball over too much itself on the offensive end.
Getting inside would be the script to follow if Weber State was hoping for a round-one upset. It will fall on the shoulders of forward Joel Bolomboy if the Wildcats hope to control the interior. Bolomboy, along with guard Jeremy Senglin, form a prolific duo. Senglin was the outside scorer who averaged more than 18 points per game. He made over 100 threes this season and shot 49 percent from the floor. Bolomboy was the inside half of this inside-outside pair. He averaged a double-double this year with 17.2 points and 12.7 rebounds per game while shooting 58 percent. He grabbed more than 100 offensive rebounds by himself this season.
Unfortunately, this may not be the proper matchup for Weber State to hope to advance. A team needs elite guard play and outside shooting to deflect a zone and prevent losing the ball too often. Also, Bolomboy and the frontcourt may be limited by facing a legitimate Big East frontcourt like Xavier. The Wildcats’ star pairing is fun. It would have been more fun to see them against a different opponent.