1. #7 Notre Dame vs. #10 Xavier
I loved the Musketeers early in the season, but the Crosstown Brawl set them back and I’m still not sure they have truly recovered. However, they started to show signs of life in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, and strong backcourt play is always important in March, which bodes well for a Xavier team with two senior guards, Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, who ooze toughness and aren’t afraid to take big shots.
The other key factor here is X’s three-point defense, which is in the Top 30 nationally and could slow down a Notre Dame offense that is at its best when long-range jumpers are falling. The Musketeers also have a strong defensive rebounding percentage, and they’ll need it to keep Jack Cooley off the offensive glass.
2. #7 Saint Mary’s vs. #10 Purdue
Look for plenty of offense in this one, as both teams rank in the Top 25 in adjusted offensive efficiency and both rank right around 100th on the defensive end. Both teams have solid point guards in Matthew Dellavedova and Lewis Jackson and do-it-all forwards in Rob Jones and Robbie Hummel.
There are a few reasons to like Purdue here. First, the Boilers are ranked first in the nation in turnover rate, so they won’t kill themselves with turnovers. They also shoot the ball really well from three-point range, which is huge since Saint Mary’s does a poor job of defending the perimeter and has routinely allowed high shooting percentages from deep.
I don’t love Purdue’s defense here, so this may wind up as a high-scoring game, but I like Purdue’s chance to score with the Gaels and give themselves a chance to win it late.
3. #7 Gonzaga vs. #10 West Virginia
This one was essentially a toss-up with the Purdue-Saint Mary’s game. One of the nuances of the pod system is that sometimes the lower seeded team winds up playing close to home, which is exactly the case here with West Virginia playing in Pittsburgh. That should certainly give them at least a small advantage in what should already be a close game.
The Mountaineers don’t have a ton of depth inside, but they do have Kevin Jones. He averaged 20.1 points and 11.1 boards this season and will be a tough matchup for virtually anyone. West Virginia is in the Top 10 in offensive rebounding percentage, so if they get rolling with second chance points and the crowd gets into the game, Gonzaga could be in trouble.
On defense, West Virginia needs to hope that the refs swallow their whistles to prevent Deniz Kilicli from getting in foul trouble, because their interior defense isn’t that great even with him on the floor. Three-point defense will also be key, as the Mountaineers have done a solid job limiting opposing three-point shooters, and they can’t allow Gonzaga freshman Kevin Pangos to get clean looks from the outside.
4. #7 Florida vs. #10 Virginia
Based on how down I have been on Florida this year, it’s hard to fathom picking them as the “safest” seven seed. However, Virginia has beaten one tournament team since late November, and that was only by one point.
And while I picked the Gators to win, you could certainly find reasons for UVA to spring the upset. Florida takes a ton of threes and makes a high percentage, but Virginia has one of the best three-point defenses in the country. The Cavaliers are also fantastic on the defensive glass and will prevent second chance points for Florida, particularly with Will Yeguette out.
Virginia’s slow pace should also serve to frustrate the Gators, and Mike Scott will be a tough matchup for a team that struggles to defend two-point shots. A loss here would be a fitting end to a disappointing season for Florida.
What do you think of the 7-10 games?