(16) Arkansas-Little Rock vs (16) UNC-Asheville
My pick: UNC-Asheville
Little Rock was a middle of the pack team in the Sun Belt this season, finishing at 7-9 in conference, but beat 4 teams that they were a combined 1-5 against in the regular season to win the Sun Belt tournament. UA-LR only played 1 game against a major conference team this season, an 84-70 loss at Ole Miss in December, and their best win was at home against Tulsa 4 days later. Basically, they were appropriately seeded here as a 16 seed in the play-in game. They do present an interesting case because they led the Sun Belt in three-point shooting percentage (12th nationally, out of 345), but ranked dead last in the Sun Belt, and 12th to last nationally, in two-point shooting percentage. Little Rock's two-point percent (42.1) was a mere 2.4 percentage points better than its three-point percent (39.7), the closest margin in Division 1 basketball. And despite that, only 31.7 percent of their field goal attempts were threes, ranking in the bottom half of the country. UNC-Asheville, on the other hand, is a bad 3-point shooting team (32.9%) that doesn't take very many of them (26.2%, 314th). However, despite winning a similarly-rated conference (Big South), Asheville was a much better team during the regular season. The Bulldogs still had to pull off an upset over Coastal Carolina to win their tournament, but they did finish 11-7 in conference and have a top 100 defense according to Ken Pomeroy's efficiency ratings, thanks in large part to their ability to force turnovers. As far as 16 seed play-in games go, this seems like a pretty big mismatch; Asheville should be able to shut down Little Rock's offense and score enough to win by a comfortable margin.
(12) Clemson vs (12) UAB
My pick: Clemson
I'm not going to lie, I wanted to pick UAB for this game. I wanted the Blazers to show that Clemson did not belong in the tournament. The Tigers' only win over a tournament team in conference was at home against Florida State, their best non-conference win was a neutral-site victory in overtime against Seton Hall without Jeremy Hazell, and they had bad losses to Virginia, NC State, and South Carolina. But I had to admit to myself that UAB is a worse team that had even less reason to make the tournament. They also beat only one tournament team, VCU at home, and didn't have any other victories of note. Clemson's biggest weakness is being forced into turnovers on offense, and UAB is not particularly good at exploiting that. Clemson will be able to ride their defense to a victory over UAB and a date with West Virginia in the true first round of the tournament.
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