Now that I’ve broken down the potential upsets in the 5-12 games (as Jerod has done the same), 6-11 games, and 7-10 games, here is a look at the 8-9 games (although it’s tough to really consider these upsets).
1. #8 Iowa State vs. #9 Connecticut
I can’t wait for this matchup, in large part because I just love watching Royce White play. The Iowa State forward does it all for the Cyclones and should prove to be a matchup problem for virtually any opponents based on his versatility and unique skill set. UConn has also struggled to defend the three-point line, which will be an issue against an Iowa State team that takes (and makes) a lot of shots from long range.
However, from a pure talent standpoint, Connecticut has an advantage. ISU has struggled defensively at times, and it will be a tough task to contain guys like Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, and Jeremy Lamb on the perimeter. The Cyclones also don’t have much size outside of Royce White, which could be problematic against UConn.
Based on how poorly they have played and how much talent is on the roster, I’m not sure there is a team with a wider range of outcomes than the Huskies. I could see them losing this game and just getting this season over with, but you could also see them getting things together with Jim Calhoun back on the sidelines and stringing together a few wins.
2. #8 Creighton vs. #9 Alabama
If you believe good defense beats good offense, this is the pick for you.
The Tide rank in the Top 10 in defensive efficiency and are in the Top Five in three-point defense, both of which should help them slow down a potent Creighton attack. The matchup of JaMychal Green on Doug McDermott should be a great one, and I fully expect Anthony Grant to have a solid defensive gameplan heading into Friday’s matchup.
Even if the Tide can slow down the Bluejays, it’s reasonable to question whether that will matter given how much they have struggled to score. However, Creighton ranks 183rd in adjusted defensive efficiency, and if Alabama gets some easy buckets early, their confidence could skyrocket on the offensive end. Look, they aren’t going to start draining threes left and right, but they also understand their weakness in that area and take relatively few three-pointers. Instead, they try to use their quickness on the inside. For the season, the Crimson Tide are shooting over 51 percent on two-pointers, while Creighton is in the middle of the pack in two-point defense.
3. #8 Memphis vs. #9 Saint Louis
I felt the Tigers were under-seeded based on how well they have played of late, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this will be a blowout either. In fact, both teams are in the Top 15 in the Pomeroy Ratings, so it should be a close one if you believe in efficiency metrics.
The Billikens are one of the most efficient defensive teams in the country, with Top 50 rankings in multiple statistical categories. They have strong two- and three-point defense, and they have a high defensive rebounding percentage, while Memphis isn’t strong on the offensive glass. Free throw rate is a potential issue, but Saint Louis can hope the refs swallow their whistles in a tournament setting, which isn’t out of the question depending on the crew. You can also be sure Rick Majerus will have a plan (maybe a box-and-1 or some other junk defense) to defend Will Barton and make someone else on Memphis beat him.
On the other end of the floor, Saint Louis will have to shoot it well from the outside. For the year, they make nearly 37 percent from long range, and Kwamain Mitchell will put pressure on the Memphis defense off the dribble and then look outside for open shooters. The flip side is that Memphis defends the three very well, but we’ve certainly seen guys catch fire in the tournament before.
Finally, the tempo will be key. The game will provide an interesting contrast in tempos, as the Billikens want to slow the game down and limit possessions, while Memphis wants to get out and run to take advantage of their superior athleticism. If the Billikens can play at their pace, it should come down to the final minutes.
4. #8 Kansas State vs. #9 Southern Miss
I’m having a hard time building a case for Southern Miss here, and there’s a pretty wide gap between this one and the Memphis-Saint Louis matchup.
On offense, USM doesn’t shoot the ball well, so they need to attack the basket and the offensive glass with the hope of racking up second chance points, fouls, or both. K-State has been foul prone at times this season, and the Golden Eagles make nearly 74 percent from the stripe.
Defensively, Southern Miss has to keep the Wildcats off the offensive glass, and their 47th-ranked defensive rebounding percentages suggests they may be able to do just that. Kansas State has also been turnover prone this year, so look for the Golden Eagles to pressure K-State’s guards throughout. The other key will be to stay out of foul trouble, but their high opponents’ free throw rate indicates that’s easier said than done. However, the Wildcats have been brutal from the line this year, so it may not hurt them that much in the end.
What do you think of the 8-9 matchups?