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2023 NCAA Tournament First Four Preview and Predictions

2023 NCAA Tournament
(John Amis/AP Photo)

2023 NCAA Tournament First Four Preview and Predictions

The 2023 NCAA Tournament bracket has been released. Here is a preview of the First Four games, set to be played in Dayton, Ohio from March 14-15.

No. 16 SE Missouri State vs. No. 16 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi – March 14, 6:40 p.m. ET on truTV

SEMO reached the First Four after a Cinderella run through the OVC Tournament as the No. 6 seed, a run that included an upset of conference favorite Morehead State. The Redhawks are led by sophomore guard Phillip Russell‘s 18.2 points per game. He dropped 21 points in the OVC Championship game versus Tennessee Tech. SEMO boasts two other double-digit scorers in the backcourt with Chris Harris (15.4 PPG) and Israel Barnes (10.3 PPG). The Redhawks play at one of the fastest paces in the country, coming in at 7th in KenPom’s Adjusted Tempo.

Texas A&M Corpus-Corpus Christi received the automatic bid from the Southland Conference to reach March Madness for the second consecutive season. They boast a dangerous trio of seniors in Trey Tennyson (15.5 PPG, 41.2% 3PT), Isaac Mushila (14.4 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 54.5% FG), and Terrion Murdix (13.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 5.4 APG, 2.3 SPG). The Islanders shoot 36.8% from three as a team, a mark which ranks in the nation’s top 50.

TAMU-CC doesn’t play as fast as SEMO, but a quicker tempo shouldn’t bother the Islanders too much. They have a much more efficient offense and a clear advantage from three-point land. I’ll take the veteran team out of the Southland to get the win here.

Predicted Winner: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

No. 11 Pittsburgh vs. No. 11 Mississippi State – March 14, 9:10 p.m. ET on truTV

The Pitt Panthers were a fun surprise in the ACC this season. Jeff Capel’s squad finished 14-6 in conference play, putting them in a tie for third place. Perhaps most surprising is that they did all of this without last year’s leading scorer and rebounder John Hugley IV (8 games played) or lauded transfer Dior Johnson (0 GP). Their top-25 offense is led by Jamarius Burton and Blake Hinson, each averaging 15.6 points per game. Colgate transfer Nelly Cummings added 11 points and 4.4 assists per game while shooting 35.7% from three. The Panthers are stumbling into the First Four a bit after a 27-point loss to Duke, their fourth defeat over their final seven games.

Mississippi State was also a surprisingly solid team in the SEC under first-year head coach Chris Jans. The Bulldogs went 8-10 in conference play, but finished strong with nine wins in their last 13 games. Mississippi State’s bread and butter is their defense – a unit that ranks 6th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency per KenPom. The Bulldogs are miserable from three-point range, dead-last in the entire country to be specific, but their offense gets by through the stellar play of Tolu Smith. The senior forward averaged 15.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game en route to All-SEC First Team honors.

These teams are polar opposites in terms of what they do well, which certainly makes for an intriguing matchup. Ultimately, the Bulldogs are playing better basketball entering the NCAA Tournament and should be able to shut down Pittsburgh’s perimeter threats with their top-10 defense. Should be a really close one – I’m rolling with the Bulldogs.

Predicted Winner: Mississippi State

No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson vs. No. 16 Texas Southern – March 15, 6:40 p.m. ET on truTV

Fairleigh Dickinson got here via some interesting circumstances. Merrimack, the NEC regular season and tournament champions, are ineligible for the NCAA Tournament due to the NCAA’s (archaic and stupid) transition rules. As the runner-up in the NEC Tournament, FDU got the nod to represent the conference in March Madness in head coach Tobin Anderson’s first season. The Knights roll out four double-digit scorers for a balanced attack paced by senior guard Demetre Roberts‘ 16.7 points per game. However, Fairleigh Dickinson also possesses the third-worst defense in the country and are the only sub-300 KenPom team in the field.

Texas Southern won the SWAC Tournament for the third consecutive year to secure their bid to the 2023 NCAA Tournament. The Tigers did so despite an 11-20 regular season record, taking out three of the SWAC’s top four teams on their run to the title. They boast four double-digit scorers of their own, and play a relatively fast tempo that allows them to be productive despite an inefficient offense.

Although Texas Southern is hot right now, they struggle to score consistently. The Tigers were the lowest seed in the SWAC Tournament for a reason. FDU has significantly more offensive firepower and I think that gets the Knights a victory here.

Predicted Winner: Fairleigh Dickinson

No. 11 Nevada vs. No. 11 Arizona State – March 15, 9:10 p.m. ET on truTV

The Nevada Wolf Pack finished fourth in a competitive Mountain West, but fell in their first game of the conference tournament. They picked up some quality wins in conference play and avoided disastrous losses. Nevada has a very underrated trio leading them into March Madness: Jarod Lucas, Kenan Blackshear, and Will Baker. Lucas and Blackshear are a formidable backcourt pair averaging 17.1 points and 14.4 points per game, respectively. The seven-foot Baker averages 13.1 points and 5.1 boards per contest. The Wolf Pack are a balanced squad without glaring weaknesses that takes care of the ball and hits free throws at a high rate.

Arizona State finished tied for fifth in Pac-12 play with an 11-9 conference record. The Sun Devils managed to upset USC in the conference quarterfinals but ultimately fell to Arizona in their next contest. Senior guard Desmond Cambridge Jr. leads ASU with 13.7 points per game, and you may remember his half-court buzzer-beater to take down Arizona earlier this season. Bobby Hurley’s squad has had mixed results over the last month and change, going 7-7 in their last 14 games. Michigan transfer Frankie Collins‘ play is the X-factor for ASU if they want to play to their potential in this matchup.

Although I’m drawn to Nevada’s strong backcourt play and overall balance, they have lost four of six and are not playing their best right now. Arizona State will limit Nevada’s backcourt with their top-30 defense and should be able to score enough to pull out the win. These teams are neck-and-neck on Torvik since February 1, so this projects to be a fun one.

Predicted Winner: Arizona State

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