There is no replacement for actually watching the games. My name is Matty D. I am a college basketball junkie. And, although I respect big data stat gurus like kenpom.com, this website is the antithesis of that. Talk hoops with me and tell me what you've actually seen. What players step up in clutch situations? Which coaches make the right adjustments? Who disappears when the lights get bright? The "college basketball eye test" is a chat dedicated to storylines bubbling below the surface before they become national trends. Check the first-ever article I wrote on this website. I listed UCONN as one of 5 underdogs I could see winning the NCAA title. They did. Last season Darren Rovell tweeted visual proof of how I predicted upset victories for UAB and Georgia State together. Watch the games and join the conversation. Tweet @CBBEyeTest and have your observations added to the mix!
What is the eye test? Here, the eye test means that you celebrate and respect the nuances on the basketball floor that can’t be seen in a stat sheet. A defender can affect an offensive set without a block or steal, a senior can hold an underclassmen accountable with tough love, and a hockey assist can set up a game winning basket. The collegebasketballeyetest.com is dedicated to retweeting and sharing first hand observations, whether that’s from fans inside the arena or watching all the action on television during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Here is a list of the most important players in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, according to the eye test over the stat sheet. In other words, here are the glue guys propelling the best teams in America. Enjoy our starting 5.
PG Joel Ayayi, Gonzaga
In today’s college basketball landscape, with the popularity of “one-and-dones” and “the transfer portal,” it takes a special player to commit to being an upperclassmen at a winning program. Enter Joel Ayayi who entered his junior year at a newly cemented blue blood program, Gonzaga. Ayayi did well in his sophomore campaign as a starting point guard, but still had room to grow. And so when other point guards entered the equation, many other players might have become a flight risk to guarantee playing time. Joel Ayayi stayed. And he proved that he can run among future lottery pick Jalen Suggs and newcomer transfer Andrew Nembhard. Ayayi can control a game with the way he defensive rebounds from the guard position and gets this dangerous offense into instant mode on the other end. His efficiency in the areas of free throw percentage and three pointers has only improved. He has great hands to harass and poke the ball from opponents in the post. Joel Ayayi has elite speed when dribbling. When you think of “getting downhill,” this guy comes to mind. It shouldn’t be a surprise if Ayayi cashes in a triple double in the tournament because his ten points are almost guaranteed and because of the way he rebounds. Consider this: he grabbed 18 rebounds in the game against Iowa and also finished with 6 assists and 11 points. I mean, that’s Iowa! Joel Ayayi is the glue guy we need running any successful Glue Guy All Star Team.
SG Da’Monte Williams, Illinois
One of the secrets to Illinois’s success this season has been the certainty of the rotation. Senior shooting guard Da’Monte Williams started the season at shooting guard, but slid to the bench mid-way into the season to make room for freshmen Adam Miller and Andre Curbello, who started to accumulate more minutes. Did Williams complain? No. He only responded by continuing to check the other team’s most dangerous wing scorer, rebound on all areas of the floor, and take an open 3 pointer with no hesitation to expose teams that haven’t scouted properly. Williams is a strong shooting guard who can help out in a variety of ways in the post. He can have a mean streak on the floor, ripping balls away from opponents and showing lots of fire at both ends. Da’Monte Williams is the type of player championship teams need. Entering the tournament, he should be proud of co-leading the Illini program that he helped re-establish with a 1 seed.
Jordan Schakel might be the Aztecs starting shooting guard, but we are slotting him into the all glue guy team here at small forward. At 6 foot 6, Schakel can confuse the opponent with exactly which position he does play. When starting forward and fellow senior Matt Mitchell was out with injury this mid-season, Schakel picked up the slack in terms of scoring. And so Schakel offers flexibility for the roster. Aztec fans tell me on Twitter that he has started 20 games this season at the shooting guard spot, but can play small forward as well.
Jordan Schakel’s San Diego Aztecs team made it comfortably into March Madness as a 6 seed after winning the Mountain West.
Schakel is third in the nation in 3 point efficiency. He has a knack for knowing when to double the post. Schakel can be seen calling out plays on the defensive end like a veteran linebacker. Jordan Schakel doesn’t block a lot of shots, but when you watch him you’ll see that he contests everything. He plays 29 minutes a game and has reached the 24 point plateau in four games this season. But as you watch him play, you realize he never hunts shots. Still, he averages 14 points per game which is up 4 points from his junior year. This guy is a selfless example on the court and epitomizes what it means to be a glue guy.
PF Kyle Young, Ohio State
Kyle Young ended the season in concussion protocol. The Ohio State Buckeyes need their glue guy if they’re going to advance to a Final Four. Young rebounds, defends the best post player most times, can knock down threes, and definitely shows the best hustle among all the glue guys nationally. Young is the type of player that wins over a neutral crowd with his hustle. It’s too bad that he’s in concussion protocol and that there isn’t a neutral crowd of people this year. Still, Kyle Young is a slam dunk for the All Glue Guy team.
Myles Johnson is cool under pressure and snags the rebound or blocks a shot when his Rutgers team really needs it. He is the prototypical last line of defense that can erase mistakes up front. Moreover, he is just a great player and a total teammate. You can even look to what his leadership has been doing off the court. Myles Johnson has a long wing-span and uses it perfectly for outlet passes and passes from the post. When doing so, he looks like an Olympic Athlete in water polo. His arm slings back and his body patiently buoys before making the right play. He never see him sweat or the paddling underneath. Johnson is a favorite to watch. His effort, rebounding and timely plays are to be admired. In this year’s Big 10, you almost needed a legitimate center to compete for an NCAA bid. Myles Johnson rounds out the All Glue Guy Team with a lot of class.
The full body caricatures were designed by the artist Eilvain on Fiverr.com.
When it comes to college basketball experts, I am the 15 seed. I play with an independent league of opinionated amateurs on Facebook and Twitter, but I am also the budget bettor that no sports book “wants to see” in its bracket. There’s no major sponsor or platform here.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s roll into my official picks for March Madness 2021!
Predictions for the NCAA Men’s Basketball West Region
When it comes to this West Region, I agree with CBS’s Gary Parrish. There is no imagination coming from the committee when you have the possibility of rematches between Gonzaga and either/all of Kansas, Iowa, and/or Virginia. And that’s why I think only one of those rematches will happen: the most important one. This is also why I think Iowa is the first sexy futures bet at 16-1 as of March 16th. A rematch is always tricky for any victor. And in the December showdown between Iowa and Gonzaga, the Hawkeyes were simply blown out. Although Iowas has since lost Jack Nunge, the cliche is true when you can say they are “battle tested” by a historically great Big 10. I mean, to put the greatness of the Big 10 into context, this COVID-19 shortened season still cost the jobs of Indiana coach Archie Miller and 8 year head man at Minnesota, Richie Pitino. But I digress. Iowa can legitimately beat Gonzaga, I would comofortably have them covering any 2-3 possession line, but I have to go with Jalen Suggs and Gonzaga to advance.
Everyone is picking against Creighton, and they clearly had a rough start to the month of March. But maybe they’ll be the team that goes in like a lamb and out like a lion. Its win against a popular UConn team showed us what telnet they have. I am also taking Ohio because Jason Preston is someone I cannot root against. As ESPN documented in the game telecasts, he lost his mother as a 16-year-old to cancer. And he plays like the moniker says, “life is short.” His imagination passing the ball and risk taking could capture the nation’s imagination. That’s the emotional side of my brain on that pick. The logical side of my brain also says that UVA is having a rough patch with COVID-19 scares and may not even play the game as the 4 seed there.
Oregon and USC will represent the PAC-12 well in this region. Each had disappointing losses in the conference tournament, but should not be the judge of how talented each team is.
Predictions for the NCAA Men’s Basketball East Region
I watched Colorado and Texas all season. They’re too talented to come up short in this tournament. And I also watched Saint Bonaventure shred VCU in the A-10 Championship game. That game was not as close as the score would lead you to believe. I have major upsets happening in this region, because you’re not truly picking a March Madness bracket without the madness part. I will have 9 seed advance to the Elite 8 and 3 seed Texas represent the region in the Final Four.
The triangles that you see on my bracket are the underdogs who I like to cover the point spread along the way.
Predictions for the NCAA Men’s College Basketball South Region
When you look at the history of the bracket, the cumulative total when you add up all the seed number is the Final Four is normally almost always 10 or more. And so this is where I am picking the hometown team Purdue Boilermakers to represent the South region as the highest seed to enter the Final Four and get my cumulative seed count up to 10 exactly. Everyone and their mom expects UNC’s size and muscle to give Baylor a run for their money. But I am looking a step ahead and saying that Purdue’s size will actually give Baylor trouble, paired with the Boilermakers outstanding freshmen class. Players like Jaden Ivey just haven’t gotten enough publicity this season. I expect this team to be March Madness-ready after, again, the rigors of the Big 10 Conference have prepared them.
I also like 6 seeds to show up in the Sweet 16 this year and won’t be surprised if one of them break into the Final Four. A 6 seed hasn’t made the Final Four since 1991-1992 with the Fab Five.
Predictions for the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Midwest Region
The committee did Illinois no favors in its draw. If we are looking for a 1 seed to have a difficult time, I think this would be the region for it. And who better to spoil the party than Cinderella herself, Loyola Chicago and Sister Jean? I would love to see a field of 32 matchup between Cam Krutwig and Kofi Cockburn. It would harken back to my childhood and watching giants tussle in the WWE (formerly WWF). Here are 8 other field of 32 player matchups I am hoping to see.
If Illinois avoids a field of 32 upset from a scrappy Georgia Tech or Ramblers bunch, they have #1 overall NBA pick Cade Cunningham and Oklahoma State to look forward (potentially).
A team often overlooked is Houston because it plays in the American Athletic Conference (which got weaker with UConn’s exit). I also think the college basketball powers to be aren’t trying to promote Kelvin Sampson, a once-disgraced coach for NCAA infractions. However, with the shooting stroke of Quentin Grimes, return of Fabian White, and a great balance among other upper/underclassmen in the rotation, I think this team is destined for the Final Four. They return really the entire nucleus from a canceled 2019-2020 season with exception of Caleb Mills.
The bracket is in. And, as always, a bunch of couch potatoes like myself are predicting the future. And if my Crystal Ball is on point this season, below are a bunch of second round matchups that would be extra fun to watch.
This would be the David versus Goliath, Three Point Competition Edition. Gonzaga is the #1 overall seed in March Madness. Corey Kispert is their golden boy three point shooter who can go on a tear. However, Michael Almonacy at App State shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to his three point efficiency. Check out our top 8 sharpshooters in the tourney.
7. DJ Burns vs. Trevion Williams
If Winthrop upsets Villanova and rolls into the field of 32, they could have a matchup against Purdue. And that would pin two heavyweights against each other. Trevion Williams had shed some pounds after coming into the Purdue program a few years ago. DJ Burns might have ticked up a few pounds during this COVID-19 off-season. Whatever the pre-fight weigh in might be, watching these two athletic whirling dervishes down low would be amazing. DJ Burns is coming off a Conference Championship game where he looked like Zach Randolph with his rolling around the paint and sticking quick left-handed hook shots. Williams almost completed a massive comeback victory against Ohio State in the Big 10 tournament. And so both these big boys come rolling into the Big Dance.
6. Moses Moody vs. Mac McClung
If you like shooting guards who can score, this matchup would be for you. Mac McClung is a YouTube sensation for his dunks. Moses Moody is probably an NBA Lottery pick next year. Each guy can fill it up. And each team feeds them when they’re hot. This would be a classic 3 vs. 6 seed matchup, in where whichever team’s highest scorer gets hot late might just advance.
5. Franck Kepnang vs. Luka Garza
Franck Kepnang is from Cameroon and just reclassified in high school so that he can be playing for Oregon this season (and in this tournament). Meanwhile, Luka Garza is from the nation’s capital, a national player of the year, and 22-years-old. If you think experience always wins, this might be a game where your theory gets a scare. Kepnang is an enforcer on the defensive end and definitely doesn’t look like he should be a high school senior at this point. It could be fun to watch the 6-11 freshman battle the 6-11 senior. That is, if things play according to script and the 2 seed takes on the 7 seed.
4. Cameron Krutwig vs. Kofi Cockburn
See, if you’re a fan of the NBA, you might think the traditional post up big man is extinct. Yet, this would be another fantastic matchup of two mammoth men. Cameron Krutwig was a starter on the Loyola Chicago team that made a Cinderella Final 4 run in 2018. Cockburn is a player who has slowly progressed for an Illinois team that earned its place as a #1 seed. These guys are, again, players who their teams know to feed when it’s evidence they’re hungry down low. Help defenders might need some armor in this one.
3. James Bouknight vs. Jahvon Quinerly
Both of these guards are silky smooth and surrounded with other talented guards in their respective backcourts. If 2 seed Alabama plays 7 seed UConn, you might see what equates to pickup basketball highlights here. Quinerly is another YouTube star because of his handles and finger rolling. Bouknight has a ridiculous wingspan for a guard and uses it to finish while seemingly staying in the air forever. These guys would have been a mainstay matchup in the Big East had Quinerly stayed at Villanova. Now we might be treated to this matchup if each team holds its end of the bargain on the first round of games.
2. Kai Jones vs. Aaron Henry
Doesn’t it feel like destiny that Michigan State will advance and play another mainstay NCAA team? How about a second round matchup between 3 seed Texas and 11 seed Michigan State? Aaron Henry is an established forward for Michigan State who can guard, defend, rebound, do it all. Kai Jones is like a track-and-field athlete with a basketball in his hand. He can run for days and finish strong on a fast break. As a freshman, he is already talked about as a top NBA pick. It would be fascinating to watch Tom Izzo’s team try and clog down this game, and athletes like Kai Jones at Texas. It’s how the Spartans got into the tournament: slowing the games down and playing a more physical brand of basketball. With Aaron Henry having played in the national championship game two years ago, he is the type of player who it would be fascinating to watch display his game savvy over some of the lesser experienced top prospects with the Longhorns.
Scottie Barnes vs. McKinley Wright IV
Scottie Barners is the modern NBA point guard. He’s a freshman and about 6-7. So he looks like a point forward, but he is transitioning well into a role for Florida State as a point guard (he did not play the position in high school). On the opposite end of the origin story spectrum, senior McKinley Wright IV may look like an undersized point guard to an NBA scout, but his heart and determination are like Kobe Bryant. Don’t sell Wright IV and his Colorado Buffs short because they lost to Oregon State in the PAC 12 Championship game. These things happen in college basketball and, besides, Colorado was clearly celebrating its semifinal victory against USC. And so they just had a let down game. This would be a matchup between point guards that you could look back on 10 or 15 years from now with at least one if not both of these guys making a day job for themselves on the next level.
The college basketball is unique and completely different from the NBA game. In a short 40 minute game clock, a hot streak by an unconscious shooter can put an opponent away. And, in March Madness, it can light a fire to your bracket.
Here are eight sharpshooters to beware of before you sharpie that bracket of yours.
8. Mitch Ballock, Creighton Bluejays
The fun thing about watching Mitch Ballock is that he can knock down three pointers from feet back from the 3 pt line and also while running the fast break. While watching a Creighton game mid-season, Ballock’s ability to change the mood of a game actually had Fox1 color commentator (and former Big East great) Donny Marshall actually lamenting aloud how he needs to be more selfish. Ballock is actually the only Creighton player who was on its 2018 team that lost to K-State in the Big Dance. In that game, he knocked down 4 of 11 three point shots and finished with 16 points. His threes normally come in droves, which is the name of the game and the theme of this article. Let’s continue to get hotter.
7. Michael Almonacy, App State Mountaineers
Michael Amoncacy jumped on this list with his stellar performance against Georgia State in his conference championship performance. The cool thing about the tournament is that one guy can get hot and an entire team can get on his back and ride his hot play to advance. We’ve seen this a lot with mid-majors. And what Almonacy did against Georgia State can transfer in the NCAA Tournament.
6. Johnny Juzang, UCLA Golden Bears
Johnny Juzang is back at home in the Golden State after a brief season with Kentucky. The sophomore is one of those shooters who doesn’t touch rim when he gets hot. He is not just a three point threat, but can also light it up from mid-range. As UCLA struggled down the stretch in the regular season, perhaps its time to turn more volume over to Juzang.
5. Quentin Grimes, Houston Cougars
Quentin Grimes’s jump-shot can remind you of Alan Houston’s. The technique is as pure as you can see. When his feet are set, the motion is super fluid. He also doesn’t need to be behind the three point line to get hot and alter the pace of a game. There were many moments in this season when Grimes got hot in NBA Jam-type style, where the Cougars couldn’t feed him the ball quick enough. One of those moments was on national TV as he scored 18 of 34 points in an important statement game against Western Kentucky.
4. Duane Washington, Ohio State Buckeyes
We just saw this guy go off against Michigan in the Big 10 semifinal game. On this list, Duane Washington Jr. has the quickest release. And the Buckeyes know to feed him from behind-the-line when it’s that time.
3. Jared Bulter, Baylor Bears
Jared Butler is voted the Big 12 Player of the Year and its best shooter of the year. You’ll have to have a strong argument to keep his team out of the Final Four in your bracket. And if you’re an opponent, check the heat map of “his spots” on the floor.
2. Jordan Schakel, San Diego Aztecs
San Diego State’s senior glue guy does so much on the floor, and is also one of America’s most efficient three point shooters. Jordan Schakel has shot 47% from three this season, dropping 77 baskets from beyond the arc.
Corey Kispert, Gonzaga Bulldogs
Corey Kispert is just an amazing college basketball shooter. And when BYU shot 70 percent form the field in the WCC Championship game, a quick sequence in the second half where Kispert knocked down three 3’s reminded everyone what’s up. You better double team this guy from behind the arc if you plan on winning a national championship this year. He can put on a clinic real soon.
Honorable mention: John Petty Jr. of Alabama is a familiar face in the NCAA Tournament and a usual suspect when it comes to getting hot. He hits about 2.5 of 6-and-a-half three pointers every game and averages only 12 points. However Petty Jr. can go off on big games. He shot 8 of 10 from three against LSU this season and 4-4 against Tennessee.
Meanwhile, at Oral Roberts Max Abmas is the nation’s leading scorer and has made the third highest amount of three point baskets nationwide this season.
The Black Lives Matter college basketball jerseys, with equality slogans instead of last names, and public service announcements between every TV timeout, mean nothing. That is, unless we call out white privilege when we see it.
On Friday afternoon during a closely contested conference tournament game between Michigan and Maryland, Wolverines head coach Juwan Howard got ejected after a verbal altercation at mid-court. Mark Turgeon, a white coach who also was very animated during the discussion, was not ejected.
And if you’re a fellow white person shaking your head ‘no’ at this point, consider this.
How many times have you been watching a Michigan Wolverines basketball game during this 2020-2021 regular season and heard something like this: A commentator discusses how much success Juwan Howard has enjoyed during his second season as the Wolverines head man…
That is, until shortly thereafter you see the camera cut to assistant coach Phil Martelli. The television commentator continues on about how the success Howard has enjoyed has been backed up by the mentorship of Martelli, a veteran head coach who saw some success at Saint Joseph’s. In 24 seasons, Martelli led Saint Joseph’s to the NCAA Tournament less than one third of the time, 7 in total. However, you’ll hear how Martelli is almost like this “Godfather” character. It’s almost as if Juwan Howard, a living legend as an NCAA player, member of the “Fab 5,” longtime National Basketball Association professional (and champion), and seven year assistant coach in the NBA, couldn’t do it by himself.
When a white coach enjoys success early in his head coaching career, does the camera cut to a black assistant coach to discuss how his mentorship has boosted the head man’s abilities?
No. It doesn’t work the other way around.
Still, on this Friday afternoon Juwan Howard went to mid-court to protest a ball deflecting out of bounds. As he explained since in a postgame interview, he felt the ball was out off of a Maryland players hands. Whatever Howard was saying to the referees, and/or the Maryland sidelines at the time, it was not a physically demonstrative act. However, it was met by Mark Turgeon’s storming over towards Juwan Howard, pointing his finger and fist down, and scolding him as if he were a naughty little boy. It’s as if Juwan Howard needs an adult in the room. It’s as if he needs a Godfather looking over him.
And so, when at that point Juwan Howard responded in a pissed-off fashion, the refs probably made the right call to eject him. However, to not eject Mark Turgeon at the same time is a very basic form of white privilege that can’t go un-seen.
In my opinion, the white privilege is enjoyed when the black coach is ejected and the white coach is not. Both men approached one another. Juwan Howard started the protest, whatever it may have been. And both coaches showed a tremendous amount of class, not surprisingly, in their postgame interviews. Each showed some remorse for how things transpired, but both talked about needing to defend themselves and their teams. Instead of punishing only one of these two coaches in the heat of the moment, would it be possible to have some more tolerance and understand how each human being might get “heated” in that moment? I think that would be a more common sense solution.
Obviously most of us will never know what was said, or what backstory really set this off. But if Mark Turgeon’s gripe was that Juwan Howard left “the coaches box,” were two wrongs made right when he himself clearly left his coaches box to tell Juwan Howard off? Again, both head coaches acted demonstratively. But are we really excusing Mark Turgeon because he spent the last 24 years as a college head coach while Juwan Howard spent those 24 years as an NBA player and/or coach?
This blog is written by a huge college basketball fan. The whole theme of the blog is about what is being observed. However, its author is not a “let’s stick to sports to escape from reality,” type of person. The basketball highlights seen on TV are secondary if we can’t really see each other as equals. If we set boundaries where we can and cannot talk about race, we are inherently “talking our ball and going home” as a society.
The Black Lives Matter movement has made more people aware of micro-agressions. These are the seemingly innocent benign comments, behavior or treatment of one another that, in a subtle way, reiterate certain dominance or perceived superiority in society. The white player or coach who can yell and not be punished in the same fashion as the counterpart person of color might seem innocent at face value. But it’s not. Or, as basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote in a Los Angeles Times editorial:
“Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in,” writes Abdul-Jabbar. “As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands.”
So let’s talk about tickets 7, 8, 9, and 10 punched for March Madness 2021.
Cleveland State Rides Emotion And Adrenaline into March Madness
If you like teams with even the equipment guy on the sidelines efforting energy forces that can force turnovers on defense, then Cleveland State is your team. They look like the best, most active and supportive bench in college basketball. It took a lot of tough defensive possessions to stop the momentum that 8 seed Milwaukee was riding into its semifinal championship game (on the heels of the triumphant comeback win against #2 seed Wright State). This Horizon League 1 Seed lost its first three games of the regular season before finishing 19-7 before the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The team plays with a lot of effort. The Vikings do not have a center on its roster and have a balanced scoring distribution among mostly guards. Tre Gomillion is a fun player to watch, as he plays larger than his 6-4 frame. He averages about 50 percent from the field with 10 points, five rebounds and two assists, although as a guard he is not much of a three point threat.
Mount St. Mary’s Mounts a Defensive Effort to Bounce Bryant’s Potent Offense
As this championship game introduced both teams to America, ESPN’s TV crew built it as a battle between defense and offense. And defense won. Mount St. Mary’s controlled the defensive glass. And they stopped the nation’s highest scoring offense from getting in any type of rhythm. This team has some respectable size in the post, and lots of strength as is evidence of its NEC Championship performance. Mount St. Mary’s basketball roster fills out with a bunch of 6-7, 6-8 and 6-9 guys. In past NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament brackets, the NEC teams have won the 16 seed “play in game,” but have never won a game in the round of 64. They had some close calls, including a tight game that saw 15 seed battle 2 seed Villanova in 1994. The NEC also had some NIT successes, including Nerlens Noel’s Kentucky team losing at Robert Morris.
Oral Roberts Brings Nation’s Leading Scorer to the Big Dance
If you love leading scorers from 15 seeds like CJ McCollum going off for life-altering landmark performances in March Madness, Oral Roberts could be your team. Max Abmas is a 6-1 combo guard who leads the country in scoring at 24-and-change per game. He went over 40 twice this season. He might not have the NBA skill of a CJ McCollum, but his chance for one shining moment is as good as any mid-teen seed.
Oral Roberts shot under 30 percent in the second half of its tournament title game as it allowed 3 seed North Dakota State to battle back into the game.
Drexel Clutch Against 8 Seed Elon
The Drexel Dragons extinguished Elon’s Cinderella hopes. The 6 seed was clutch in hitting its free throws down the stretch to enter the Big Dance.
Click here to see observations about the first 6 tickets punched for March Madness 2021.
The first six tickets punched for the 2021 Men’s Basketball “March Madness” are revealed by their play on national TV. And I would argue that the “first four in” are more important than the “last four” bubble teams. The first four teams in were Loyola Chicago, Winthrop, Morehead State, and Liberty, followed by App State and UNC Greensboro. Liberty has won an NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament game in recent years, and the teams whose tickets that proceeded theirs are passing the eye test in a major way. Let’s recap.
Loyola Chicago Ramblers Return to March Madness
The Loyola Chicago Ramblers got a fortunate draw with their MVC Championship Tournament layout, but any team will be unlucky to face them in the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament. Loyola made it look easy at times against this year’s bitter in-conference rival, Drake. Unfortunately for college basketball fans, Drake finished the season without its leading scorer and without its starting point guard. And so Drake put up a fight in this championship game, but Loyola Chicago capitizaed on every mistake that Drake did make. And so now Cameron Krutwig and a small handful of holdovers from the 2018 Final Four team returns to March Madness to defend its Rambling reputation. One of those hold-overs is of course coach Porter Mosier, who did not entertain the major conference inquiries that of course would follow his Cinderella run in 2018. This team is actually better on paper than the 2018 Final Four team.
Winthrop Men’s Basketball Marching in 2021
For college basketball fans nationally, this Winthrop Eagles team has already been a celebrated mid-major focus of fascination. And they didn’t let anyone down during their conference tournament. Center DJ Burns looked like a vintage Zach Randolph, rolling around his defender down low and dropping left handed hook shots easily. In a COVID-19 shortened season, Burns’ minutes and his production had both decreased slightly as compared to the 2019-2020 season. And so it was a great sign to see Burns especially carry Winthrop in the first half. However, this program is not about one individual. In fact, this team literally plays in shifts as head coach Pat Kelsey likes to exhaust his players before quickly giving them full relief with a substitution of 4 or 5 guys. Winthrop has a 6-7 point guard who can operate, a freshman big man who can vault onto the national stage, and wings who can defend, rebound, and finish. Watch more eye test analysis of this team on YouTube where I interview super fan Michael Covil.
Morehead State Dominates Mid-Major Darling Belmont Bruins
When it comes to mid-major teams that college basketball fans were eager to see entering the tournament, Belmont and Winthrop probably entered Championship neck-and-neck. But Belmont’s conference tournament championship game was not neck-and-neck. Morehead State dominated from start to finish. Its guards took advantage of loose perimeter defense to begin the game. And Morehead State’s freshman big man star Johni Broome got some back-breaking put backs and dagger baskets down the stretch. He came into the game averaging about 12 points and 9 rebounds. The two Coopers on the perimeter are not brothers, but their point production brings a family of trouble to defenders. Ta’lon and DeVon average 8 and 12 points respectively. They garnered the respect from Bruin defenders after knocking down some early threes, and so their rim runs late caused problems. I can see this team being a 15 seed with similarities to recent successful 15 seeds in Florida Gulf Coast and Middle Tennessee State. Like them, this will not be a 15 seed that lacks size and lives-or-dies from three point land.
Liberty Re-appears in March Madness Two Years Later with Totally New Look
Credit Liberty for returning to March Madness for a consecutive tournament, but this team looks a lot different from the 2019 team that beat Mississippi State. This year, it’s star is 5-9 guard Darius McGhee. He played only 12 minutes two years ago when the 12 seed knocked off the 5 seed. That team featured current G League player Caleb Homesley and do-it-all power forward Scottie James. This Liberty team also defended a North Alabama team that was a 5 seed in its own conference and ineligible to play in March Madness because its program hasn’t aged into the Division 1 circuit quite yet, according to another mind-numbing protocol by the NCAA. And so Liberty shouldn’t scare a high seed the way it should have two years ago, but this program has to be respected at this point.
App State Knocks Off Talented Georgia State To Enter March Madness
If you are looking for a super duper super sleeper in March Madness, App State is your ticket. They had a senior shooting guard absolutely go off against a talented Georgia State team, whose roster is laced with transfers from bigger schools. This championship game featured crisp play from both ends, with a freshness you would not expect for a fourth game in four nights. Both teams looked efficient on offense. App State’s Michael Almonacy, a former Division 2 player who missed (not just COVID-19 related) all of last season, scored 32 points in the win.
UNCG Spartans Make March Madness Old Hat
It seems like yesterday UNC Greensboro and head coach Wes Miller gave #1 seed Gonzaga a scare in 2018. Now Miller and his star player Isaiah Miller (no relation) return to March Madness. The 7 seed in-conference, Mercer, showed some fight, but Miller was too strong down the stretch both on the defensive and offensive end. Miller is the lone holdover from that 2018 bunch. His senior night of sorts for this championship game was fun to watch, while his mother was masked-up in attendance and looking to enjoy every moment of it!
More Context About Morehead State’s March Madness Entrance
The Eagles won 19 of their final 20 games of the season. Those of you who watched the OVC Tournament knows there aren’t just “cupcakes” in that conference. Jacksonville State, Eastern Kentucky, and Belmont are real competition and highly athletic for mid-major programs.
During the OVC Semifinal game against Eastern Kentucky, the Eagles took absolute haymakers from the Colonels. Eastern Kentucky played a legitimate full court press throughout the entire game. The Eagles were worn down some after nursing a lead throughout, but they did not succumb the lead to Eastern Kentucky. The Eagles lead the nation in steals and the Eagles were still able to stand the pressure.
A nice thing to watch during Morehead State’s impressive win against defending champion and veteran bunch Belmont was its wire-to-wire victory. It never shied away from an open shot. The Eagles put the game on ice by knocking down clutch threes or gut-punching put backs every time Belmont responded with a run.
The headliner for Morehead State is probably Johni Broome, a freshman who has clearly put the work in and operates with a lot of skill in the post. If you like Evan Mobley’s game at USC, consider his mid-major cousin Johni Broome at Morehead State. His footwork is impressive, working the baseline and his pivot foot to perfection at times.
Four players scored double digits in the OVC Championship win.
At 22-years-old Nick Muszynski is a high level established post scorer for Belmont, and the Eagles neutralized him.