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The Matchup: #3 Kansas vs #14 Eastern Washington
Where to Watch: Saturday, 1:15 p.m. EST on TBS (@ Indiana Farmers Coliseum)
The Odds: Kansas -10.5 (-625 ML), Eastern Washington +10.5 (450 ML), 147.5 O/U
After finishing the regular season 20-8 overall (12-6 in conference play) Kansas found themselves marching through the Big 12 tournament before being forced to withdraw in the semifinals due to a positive COVID-19 test. Jayhawks coach Bill Self is looking to reclaim the elusive National Championship trophy he previously won in 2008 as a #1 seed. This year? The #3 seed Jayhawks face off against Eastern Washington on Saturday afternoon, with Kansas looking to avenge its 2019 second round defeat to Auburn. This iteration of the Jayhawks will feature a team that's much closer to full strength than expected with power forward and Big 12 leading rebounder David McCormack now clear of COVID protocols. While Kansas has been nearly flawless at home this year (13-1), on the road they've had their druthers, only winning 4 out of 10 games. If Kansas is to move past Eastern Washington and make a championship run, they are going to need to overcome not just their road woes, but also their COVID concerns and inability to finish top 40 nationally in any major offensive or defensive statistic.
The Eagles of Eastern received an automatic bid after winning 13 of their last 14 games, including the Big Sky tournament. They haven’t been in the tournament since 2015, when they lost in the first round as a 13 seed. If Eastern Washington is going to overcome an established team like Kansas, they will do it on the backs of its offensive prowess. Eastern Washington averages 78 points and 15 assists per game, and its 79.9 free throw percentage is good for sixth in the nation. They are also second in the conference in field goal percentage and three-point efficiency. For all of their offensive strengths, however, the Eagles give up 72.4 points per game despite leading the conference in defensive rebounding. Eastern Washington coach Shantay Legans will rely on junior Tanner Groves, who is averaging 16.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. The Eagles also finished 12-6 ATS in conference play, winning eight out of their last 10 ATS.
The Matchup: #3 Texas vs #14 Abilene Christian
Where to Watch: Saturday, 9:50 p.m. EST on truTV (@ Lucas Oil Stadium)
The Odds: Texas -9 (-435 ML), Abilene Christian +9 (+340 ML), 139.5 O/U
The Texas Longhorns last made the tournament in 2018 when they lost in overtime to Nevada as a 10 seed. After missing the last tournament in 2019, Texas is now poised to make a championship run. The Big 12 tournament champions are ranked 21st offensively and 36th defensively in the nation, and they led the Big 12 in rebounding this season as well. Texas will look to inflict its will on the boards, where it has a decided size advantage on first-round foe Abilene Christian. The Longhorns are battle-tested, having the 18th most difficult strength of schedule - Abilene Christian had the 301st most difficult. Texas is also carrying some momentum into the tournament, winning six straight games and three against top 25 teams. Texas should make light work of the Wildcats here, as long as they don’t look past the matchup.
Abilene Christian made its first ever NCAA tournament in 2019, and several players still remain from that inaugural bid where the Wildcats lost by 35 to Kentucky. The Wildcats seem to be on a mission of their own after participating on the correct side of a blowout in the Southland Championship game, where they trounced #1 ranked Nicholls State. Texas is an obvious step up in class here, however, and if they plan on upsetting the Longhorns they will have to lean on their defense. Abilene Christian’s defense ranks 12th in effective FG%, first in TO%, 13th in 3PT%, fourth in steal percentage and first in opponent points per possession. The Wildcats were undefeated at home this year, going 13-0, but they finished just 5-4 on the road. Needless to say, Abilene Christian will be on the road going into its greatest test so far this year.
The Matchup: #3 Arkansas vs #14 Colgate
Where to Watch: Friday, 12:45 p.m. EST on TruTV (@ Bankers Life Fieldhouse)
The Odds: Arkansas -8.5 (-385 ML), Colgate +8.5 (+310 ML), 161.5 O/U
Arkansas is coming into the NCAA tournament after an impressive 22-win season. The Razorbacks started the year 9-0 before coming back down earth and losing four of their next five games. Arkansas coach Erick Musselman soon righted the ship, however, as the Razorbacks went on to win 12 of their next 13 games before finally losing in the SEC semifinals to LSU. They last made the tournament in 2018 as a #7 seed, but were routed by Butler in the opening round. This year Arkansas is ranked 35th in offensive efficiency and 13th defensively while average 82.4 PPG, good for seventh in the country. This offensive firepower will certainly put pressure on Colgate to keep up in the these teams' first round matchup. If Moses Moody, SEC Freshman of the Year, continues his dominance, then it might be tough sledding.
The Colgate Raiders have yet to find an NCAA Tournament win after most recently losing to Tennessee in 2019. The Raiders' #14 seed is the highest in program history, and they're sporting a near-flawless record while carrying skills that has propelled many March Madness Cinderellas. Colgate finished the year 14-1 and ran through the Patriot League, and although their lack of competition is noticeable, they accumulated some really impressive stats throughout the season. The Raiders rank third nationally in offensive 3PT% and first in defensive 3PT%, in addition to ranking fifth in offensive effective FG% and 19th in defensive FG%. Although Arkansas’s 82.4 ppg is nothing to scoff at, the Raiders posted an unbelievable 86.3 PPG on 49.8% shooting themselves this year, which ranks top 10 in the country. Needless to say, expect a ton of offensive fireworks in this one. This game has the highest O/U total out of all 32 first round games and it's the only opening round matchup with a total set higher than 160. Only one other game - Oral Roberts vs. Ohio St. (157 O/U) - even has a total set higher than 150 before accounting for the first four winners.
The Matchup: #3 West Virginia vs #14 Morehead State
Where to Watch: Friday, 9:50 p.m. EST on truTV (@ Lucas Oil Stadium)
The Odds: West Virginia -13 (-1115 ML), Morehead State +13 (+700 ML), 137.5 O/U
The last time West Virginia was in the tournament was in 2018, where the Mountaineers were ultimately upended by Villanova in the Sweet 16. West Virginia is not coming into the tournament carrying a ton of momentum, having lost three of its last 4, but those losses were to Oklahoma State twice and Baylor. The Mountaineers finished the year ranked 11th in offensive efficiency and 65th on defense. Their offensive rebounding percentage was good for 13th as well, and they should be able to use their size advantage on the glass here in the opening round. WVU shoots a solid 35.7% from three-point range and has a trio of guards that like to get to the basket - and ultimately the free throw line - where they all shoot 80%+.
Morehead State last made the tourney in 2011, where they actually upset Louisville as a 13 seed. This year, the Eagles are sporting a tale of two seasons. They started the year off losing four of five and four of their first 10 games overall. They then ran roughshod through the entire Ohio Valley conference, only losing one game the rest of the season and ultimately capturing the conference title. Morehead State allowed just a 30.7% 3PT% clip, which was good for 33rd nationally, but they turned the ball over 15.3 times per game (ranking 332nd in turnover %), which could prove problematic going against a solid Mountaineer defense. Morehead State (+13 and +700 ML) will need look to slow the pace down and rely on their defense and rebounding if they have any shot at securing another March Madness upset.