The madness of March is now officially underway, as the NCAA Tournament First Four tipped off in Dayton, Ohio last night. Texas Southern and Indiana claimed victory on Tuesday, advancing into the real field for First Round match-ups tomorrow. Tonight, Bryant and Wright State are currently going at it for the right to get run off the court by Arizona on Friday. Then, about twenty minutes after this one ends, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights will tip-off for the main event of the evening.
The winner, of course, meets Alabama in San Diego on Friday. So, Tide Hoops fans should be glued to truTV (yes, that random channel with Impractical Jokers) to scout out which bubble squad will advance. Most books and markets have this game as a pick’em, with a select few favoring Notre Dame by a point. That is well at odds with most of the talking heads in the media, who have mostly all decided that, not only are the Scarlet Knights winning tonight - they are going to beat the Tide on Friday as well.
What to Watch For
- Rutger’s Size and Physicality. The Knights start a trio of big guards in Geo Baker (6’4), Paul Mulcahy (6’6), and Caleb McConnell (6’7), who are all tough to get past on the defensive end and able to slash their way to the rim on the offensive side. In the frontcourt, 6’8 stretch-four, Ron Harper, and 6’11 big, Clifford Omoruyi round out this physical unit. If Baker, Mulcahy, and Harper start knocking down shots, the Scarlet Knights are a really tough out.
- Poor Man’s Villanova. Notre Dame should remind a lot of ‘Bama fans of Jay Wright’s Villanova teams - minus the elite skill and talent. Still, Notre Dame can really shoot it (37.7% 3P%; 75.9% FT%), they keep opposing teams off of the glass (24.1% OREB% allowed - 39th in the country), and the main goal of the game is to control possession (15.5% TO% - 28th in the country) and simply be more efficient than their opponent in the limited amount of possessions played in the game. Blake Wesley is a high-volume, go-to freshman phenom that dominates each possession for the Irish (30.7% USG% - 41st in the country), so he’ll be the main feature tonight on their side. Dane Goodwin is the other guy to keep an eye on with his elite 44.3% perimeter shooting.
I am in alignment with Vegas in saying that this is truly a toss-up game. Two very different roster builds and coaching philosophies in this one. I think Alabama would slightly prefer to play the Irish, but Rutgers can really get into a rut at times on offense, as well. Gun to my head, I’ll go with Notre Dame tonight. I think they are coming into this one with a chip on their shoulders and a senior laden team.
The game is scheduled to tip-off at 8:10 PM CST, but again, it will be about twenty minutes after the first game concludes.