640pm EDT - #16 LIU-Brooklyn (20-13) vs. #16 James Madison (20-14): Wednesday evening’s opener pits the Blackbirds of LIU-Brooklyn versus the Dukes of James Madison, with the winner moving on to face #1 Indiana on Friday. Both of these teams pulled off upsets in their conference tournaments with LIUB taking the America East automatic bid from regular season champ Stony Brook, while the Colonial regular season champ Northeastern was bested in their conference tourney by JMU. These two teams haven’t met since December of 2000 when the Dukes polished off a back to back/home and home series win over the Blackbirds. One concern for JMU this evening is the status of their leading scorer & rebounder Rayshawn Goins, who was arrested on Sunday for disorderly conduct – he will miss the first half of tonight's game. Goins not playing in the first half of tonight's game is a big blow to the Dukes chances of marching on as they are already on the short end of the stick as far as talent goes in this matchup. Speaking of that talent edge, LIUB is led by the dynamic duo of Jamal Olasewere (18.9/8.5) & Julian Boyd (18.5/6.1), who will cause a ton of issues for the Dukes this evening, even if Goins was available for all 40 minutes - which he is not. Both teams are close to .500 on road/neutral courts this year, so that particular metric will not have any impact tonight. The Blackbirds will look to run, run and run some more as they averaged 79.5ppg on the season, and scored 90+ in their last four & six of their last eight games; JMU on the other hand isn’t necessarily a team looking to slow the pace to a crawl, but they also are not as up tempo as the Blackbirds. The overall statistics do not favor either team; however, the away splits do favor LIUB on the offensive end where they are shooting 47.9% from the field vs. JMU’s 38.1%. The Blackbirds offense seems to be the key to this matchup – if LIUB gets out running, speeds the tempo up, and scores 80+ it will be difficult for the Dukes to match that – especially without Goins for the first 20 minutes; JMU has only scored 80+ in a non-OT game twice all season. With all that information in mind, and with this number set at a Pick, I will back the Blackbirds of LIUB to pick up this opening round win tonight.
~915pm EDT - #11 Boise State (21-10) vs. #11 LaSalle (21-9): in the final “First Four” game of the 2013 NCAA Tournament we have a meeting featuring teams from opposite sides of the country when the Broncos of Boise State meet the Explorers of LaSalle. Neither team routinely reaches the NCAA Tournament as LaSalle is making its first appearance since 1992; while Boise State is making its second appearance since 1994 (other was 2008). Both teams enter this game with similar SU streaks of 1-2 over their last three, and 5-3 over their last eight. LaSalle will be without starting C Steve Zack, who has not played double figure minutes since February 24; Boise State’s starting C Kenny Buckner is listed as probable with an injury to his teeth. Statistically speaking this game features two teams that are very similar when breaking down performance using “overall “& “away” splits; however, when examining the “last 5” split, Boise State has an advantage defensively. Boise State has held their last five opponents to just 40.1% from the field, while LaSalle has not played as strong defensively yielding 49.1%. When taking into account BSU’s last five games included four vs. tournament teams, while LaSalle’s only featured a pair, those statistical advantages speak volumes as far as defense goes. I have watched many LaSalle games this season and can certainly speak to their weakness defensively – and defense is very important come tournament time. In addition to BSU’s edge defensively rebounding should be another edge for the Broncos, as they have outrebounded their opponents on average through the season, while LaSalle comes up negative in that area. For all those reasons I am backing Boise State in this matchup, my strongest selection of the First Four, to take care of the Explorers with relative ease in a somewhat higher scoring game.
That covers the First Four action for 2013. Check back tomorrow morning when I post the results of my Simulations, where I used Sagarin, RPI, BPI & KenPom ratings to play out each game of the tournament 1,000 times, giving me % chances each team has at advancing in the bracket.
In addition, over the next 4 days I will post thoughts on the action we have seen thus far, and early next week will review the first three rounds, and start previewing the Sweet 16! Enjoy the games folks, I know I will – it’s one of the best times of the entire year!
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