This article is part of our NCAA Tournament Preview series.
Comparing Oklahoma to Missouri, and the matchup is so even it's almost uncanny. That being said, Oklahoma has a slight edge when it comes to offense, and that's enough for me to lean in the Sooners' direction. Oklahoma defends against two-point baskets exceptionally well, and that's a problem for Missouri because the Tigers struggled from behind the arc this season. The Sooners also have senior point guard Austin Reaves leading them on the court, which is hard to overlook this time of year considering the value of a prominent point guard. All in all, this will likely be a close game as the line suggests, but when it's all said and done, I'll take the team with a better offense, better free-throw shooting and a star point guard like Reaves.
The key in this matchup is Virginia's offense versus Ohio's defense. The Cavaliers' offense is ranked No. 12 in the country, in terms of adjusted efficiency, while the Bobcats' defense is ranked No. 174. On the other side of the coin, Ohio's offense versus Virginia's defense is effectively a wash. Ohio's offense is ranked No. 29 compared to Virginia's defense ranked No. 33. Not quite as noteworthy as the other side. Ultimately, the Cavaliers' offensive edge is hard for me to ignore and is the reason I like Virginia at -7.
Editor's Note: Due to COVID issues, Virginia will be arriving in the Indianapolis bubble late after holding all virtual practices for over a week.
Winthrop / Villanova Over 141½
This number went up after Sunday night and it wouldn't surprise me if it keeps climbing during the week. The key for this pick is Winthrop and its blazing speed. During the season, the Eagles played at the eleventh fastest tempo in the country. Villanova tends to play at a slower pace, but that might not matter when looking at the matchup. The Wildcats' offense, ranked ninth-best in the country, will be going against an Eagles defense that's ranked No. 70. The only question mark in the equation is Villanova's defense, which pales in comparison to its offense. The Wildcats' defense allowed the worst effective FG percentage in the Big East during Conference play, so it's certainly vulnerable. I'm betting Winthrop will do enough to take advantage and help us hit the over.
Oral Roberts / Ohio State Over 156½
Here we have a track meet on our hands. Oral Roberts is a textbook run-n-gun team. It has top-50 speed, has a strong offense (No. 74), and plays no defense (No. 285). The lack of defense is pretty noteworthy considering that it's going against an Ohio State team that happens to have the fourth-best offense in the entire country. Add all this up and we get KenPom projecting Ohio State to win 89-72. Also, for what it's worth, Oral Roberts is one of the worst rebounding teams in the country. Ohio State should have plenty of put-back opportunities in case they miss any field goals. The current over/under number is a high mark to shoot for, but I like our odds based on the information available.
Georgetown is on a nice run, but ultimately its recent success doesn't seem sustainable, at least not based on what it did during the regular season. Colorado, on the other hand, was consistently excellent on both sides of the ball and now enters the tournament ranked top-30 in both offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency. Georgetown is a tall team, led by its frontcourt, but I'm not expecting this will pose a major issue for Colorado, as the Buffalos defeated USC multiple times this season, and the Trojans similarly feature a strong frontcourt. Team data is helpful, but the real reason for taking Colorado comes down to one player: star point guard McKinley Wright. Georgetown has nobody like him. He is one of the best point guards in the tournament, and I'm expecting he'll put on a show in his team's opening game.
Florida State -10½
UNC Greensboro, one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country, has a major matchup problem today. Florida State's defense is ranked No. 11 in the country at guarding against two-point baskets, so the Spartans will no doubt face a challenge one way or the other when it comes to scoring. On the other side of the court, Florida State has the tenth-best offensive attack in the country, in terms of adjusted efficiency, and it's going against an NC Greensboro team ranked No. 67 on defense. The Seminoles are also unusually deep, so there's less risk of any sort of talent drop-off once the starters leave the game. Florida State defeated opponents by double-digit points on a routine basis during the regular season, and I'm expecting them to do it once again.
Loyola Chicago has the impressive distinction of having the best overall defensive efficiency in the country. Not only that, but the Ramblers also arguably have the best player in the game. This might come as a surprise because Georgia Tech has Moses Wright, ACC Player of the Year, but Loyola-Chicago has Cameron Krutwig, Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year. More importantly, Krutwig is currently ranked fourth in KenPom's Player of the Year Standings. The only players that KenPom ranks higher than Krutwig are Luka Garza, Drew Timme and Ayo Dosunmu. The Ramblers' defense will get all the attention, but its offense is solid, ranking No. 49 in the country. Georgia Tech's defense is No. 52, so the matchup on that side of the ball is mostly even. All in all, Loyola-Chicago appears poised to start off the tournament with a victory.
Oregon State / Tennessee Under 131½
Here we have two teams that love playing at a slow pace. Great setting for an under. Tennessee has the fourth-best defense in the country. Another key ingredient for an under. Oregon State's defense is ranked No. 117 in the country, not great, although it's helped by Tennessee's offense which is nearly just as bad. I tend to think Oregon State will come down after its recent hot streak, and Tennessee's offense disappears at times, so all signs suggest a lower scoring game. The target number is low, right in line with Ken Pom's projected score of 69-62, but ultimately I'm fading both team's offenses for the reasons mentioned. Let's see how low we can go.