Take a deep breath. The first set of March Madness games were fantastic to say the least. We saw upsets, comebacks, and controversy so in a way it was status quo, just as we like it. Now we move on to Friday where there are plenty of things to watch out for nationally, but we start in the Big East.
1) Kris Dunn takes on Scoochie Smith
Folks, if you did not already know who Kris Dunn is you will on Friday as the best player from the Big East will take center stage to end Friday’s slate of action. Dunn, the Co-Big East player of year, will face off against a worthy opponent in Dayton’s Scoochie Smith who helped to lead the Flyers to a win over Boise State in the final seconds of their First Four play-in game to reach this point.
Dunn was the best passer in the Big East as the sophomore averaged 7.6 assists per game. He is second on the team in scoring behind LaDantae Henton and is so quick in the open floor. At the Big East tournament, we saw some NBA type moves and ball handling from Dunn. He is flying up the radar of fans around college basketball and now they will get to see him in prime time.
Smith, who is also a sophomore, seems to do whatever is required for his team to win. He leads the Flyers with 3.8 assists per game and had 11 points to go along with six assists in the win over the Broncos. He may not be the leading scorer on the Flyers, but Smith has shown great leadership on Archie Miller’s team. This point guard matchup will be fun to watch.
2) No Obekpa for St. John’s vs. San Diego State
Red Storm junior Chris Obekpa has been suspended by the school for violating team rules and will not play in the NCAA Tournament unless St. John’s makes it to the Final Four. Before the Johnnies worry about that, they have to deal with San Diego St. without him. St. John’s will not have their best shot blocker and arguably the best one in the conference this season. Another problem is the fact that the Red Storm already do not have depth on their bench. Senior D’Angelo Harrison is still dealing with calf strains as well, which could lead to problems scoring on offense. Without one of their consistent performers, Steve Lavin’s team could be in some trouble.
3) Providence on upset alert?
Dayton was a Cinderella team a season ago as they defeated the likes of Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford before falling to Florida in the Elite Eight. Many of the same players that helped to make that spectacular run are back and the Friars better come ready to play or they could become the next victim. We mentioned Smith at the point, but Henton may have met his match in Jordan Sibert who leads the Flyers with 16.5 points per game. The two teams are have similar personnel on the floor and come into the game very confident in the way they are playing. Fans are licking their chops for this matchup.
4) Can the Red Storm handle the size of the Aztecs?
St. John’s does not have much size to begin with, but now they have to face an Aztecs team that is anything but small without Obekpa. Coach Steve Fisher’s squad has seven players that are 6-foot-7 or taller and many of them play big minutes. That means the onus is on players like Sir’Dominic Pointer and bench players like Joey De La Rosa who are big, but are not used to playing big minutes. The guards for the Johnnies will need to shoot lights out if they want a rematch with Duke.
5) Henton and Bentil can take advantage of small Flyers
Dayton does not have a player on their roster that is taller than 6-foot-6 that plays big minutes, which means Friars like Henton and freshman standout Ben Bentil could take advantage inside. Henton was the best scorer in the Big East this season at 19.7 points per game and Bentil has really come on of late. He has had a double-double in three of his last four games including 12 points and 10 rebounds in the conference semifinal against Villanova at Madison Square Garden. The Flyers have rebounded well despite their small lineup, but defensively could run into some problems against the Friar frontcourt.
6) Can the three seeds hold serve?
What the heck happened to the three seeds on day one? Notre Dame had to hold on for dear life to survive Northeastern. Iowa State, the Big 12 tournament champions, lost to UAB by one point and a late three-pointer from a Georgia State team, whose head coach cannot help but hurt himself on the court, knocked out Baylor who had a solid season too. Right now, the number three seeds are 1-2 and their only hope to hold serve is Oklahoma who takes on an Albany team coming off an incredible win in their conference tournament final behind a game-winning three by Peter Hooley in the waning moments. The 14-seeds played spoiler and look to take down three out of four from one of the top seeds. If Albany wins, three Big 12 three-seeds will have been knocked off. OU is definitely on upset alert.
7) Seven seeds that look to make a deep run tip-off
Michigan State and Wichita State may have been known for making deep tournament runs, especially of late. Both of these teams have players that have played in Elite Eights and Gregg Marshall still has solid backcourt players from his Final Four run back in 2013. The Spartans take on a Georgia team that almost beat Kentucky at home while the Shockers will face an Indiana team that has a good backcourt led by Yogi Ferrell. If both of these teams win, the number two seeds in their respective brackets better watch out, especially Kansas. The Jayhawks have not wanted to schedule Wichita State, but the Jayhawks may have to play them to keep their season alive. If Sparty plays Virginia, it will be a rematch of a thrilling Sweet 16 game at MSG last season that saw the green and white come out on top.
8) National POY candidates are in action
The best players in America play their first games of the big dance. Jahlil Okafor leads Duke against Robert Morris followed by Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin facing off with Coastal Carolina. Okafor and Kaminsky are the two front runners for National Player of the Year and will look to take their respective programs on deep runs as number one seeds in this year’s tournament. Kaminsky averages 18.2 points and eight rebounds along with 2.7 assists and 1.6 blocks per game. He is the complete college basketball player. Okafor has been great all season and teams have had to double team him if they hope to contain the freshman. "Jah" as Coach K calls him, has averaged 17.7 points and nine rebounds per game in addition to 1.4 assists and 1.4 blocks a contest. They certainly make the 1-16 matchups worth watching. Their respective title chases start tomorrow night.
9) Seth Tuttle, the best big man you have never heard of
Many of you have heard of Okafor and Kaminsky. On Friday, you will be introduced to a new big man that many, including Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, believe could be an NBA prospect. His name is Seth Tuttle and he plays for the fifth-seeded Panthers of Northern Iowa who won the Missouri Valley conference tournament this season. Tuttle averages 15.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game on a team that is 30-3. Much like Kaminsky, Tuttle can also shoot the three and at a 43 percent clip. Tuttle only shoots 1.3 three pointers per game, but has hit them in big spots throughout the season. Watch out for this kid folks.
10) Can West Virginia silence the haters?
We know every year that a 12-seed always seems to upset a five-seed in at least one of the four matchups, sometimes more. This season, the matchup that everyone keyed in on was West Virginia against a Bobby Hurley coached Buffalo team. I am guilty of picking this upset too and with the way the Big 12 is playing, the Mountaineers seemed destined to add their name to the list of disappointments from the best RPI conference in America. Why are so many people picking this upset? Buffalo rarely turns the ball over while West Virginia needs to force turnovers in order to score many of their points. However, with players like Juwan Staten and Devin Williams leading the way, do not be surprised if Coach Bob Higgins’ team jumps on the Bulls early and takes care of business.