NCAA first round games

#5 Oregon vs. #12 Belmont (Wichita)

Pac-12 at-large
NET: 12
Neutral floors: 2-3
Best win: 19 Arizona
Worst loss: 53 Oregon St.
What I know: I said the Ducks have looked vulnerable when they don’t play together. Coach Graves said the team has been up and down, so I reckon we’re in some agreement. They’re big and strong, but they look play with finesse; paradoxically, opponents can disrupt the Ducks by beating them up. The Ducks don’t have a deep bench; I couldn’t name their #7.

Pay attention to: Junior forward Sedona Prince. Prince is getting headlines this week because it was her reporting that broke last year’s news about the inequity of the conditions between men’s and women’s teams. It’s an unusual spotlight she’s under.

Ohio Valley tournament
NET: 50
Neutral floors: 2-0
Best win: 24 Ole Miss
Worst loss: 182 Austin Peay
What I know: They mussed my bracket last year by beating 5-seed Gonzaga in the first round. Arkansas, Utah’s first-round opponent this year, crushed the Bruins while taking good care of the ball.

#7 Colorado vs. #10 Creighton (Greensboro)

Pac-12 at large
NET: 29
Neutral floors: 4-2
Best win: 19 Arizona
Worst loss: 53 Oregon St.
What I know: Colorado is one of those odd teams that gets better with early substitutions, junior forward Quay Miller is sixth man of the year, while freshman guard Kindyll Miller made the all-defense team. Oregon and Colorado have a lot in common: best wins were vs. Arizona; worst losses vs. Oregon St.; both teams were up and down (Colorado won a bunch, lost some, resumed winning). At conference tournament time, I labeled the Buffaloes “the team no one wanted to play”, and they got as far as Stanford (where the irresistable force met the immovable object). I think Colorado could beat almost anyone, but their first opponent and the likely-next opponent are among the highest-scoring in the land.

Pay attention to: Kindyll Wetta. She usually seems to be in the right place, and she makes fewer mistakes than the average freshman.

Big East at large
NET: 32
Neutral floors: 0-1
Best win: 47 Arizona St.
Worst loss: 91 Seton Hall
What I know: The Blue Jays were 2nd in the Big East standings almost all the way, but lost to DePaul on senior night. Then they lost to Seton Hall in the first round of the tournament (the superstition about heavy odds against beating the same team three times was in effect). Creighton is capable of huge offense, but Colorado is equally capable on defense.

#1 Stanford vs. #16 Montana St. (Spokane)

Pac-12 season and tournament
NET: 3
Neutral floors: 5-1
Best win: 14 Maryland
Worst loss: 40 South Florida
What I know: They’re Stanford, winners of 20 in a row. Last year, they had a store of magic pixie dust to help them win the national championship; this year, they look determined to win most convincingly, without supernatural assistance. Curse the selection committee for putting them in the same region as Utah; naturally, I was hoping for that as the national final rather than the round of eight.

Pay attention to: Sophomore forward Cameron Brink. The player of the year voting might be one of those cases where two teammates (Brink and Haley Jones) steal votes from each other, while South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston wins it. Brink sort of reminds me of Kareem; like a spindly Gulliver stepping around Lilliputians before laying hers up or swatting theirs away. The difference is that Kareem kept his emotions well hidden, whereas Brink lets it fly. I didn’t think Stanford could find a forward I like more than Jayne Appel or Brooke Smith.

Montana St.
Big Sky tournament
NET: 164
Neutral floors: 2-1
Best win: 141 Montana
Worst loss: 229 Weber St.
What I know: One of the reasons to be glad about Stanford winning last year was that it buries 1998’s loss as #1 to #16 Harvard deeper in the past, and the thought of such happening again shan’t cross anyone’s mind. In junior guard Darian White, the Bobcats have a first-team Big Sky all-conference player who shared the defensive player of the year award. Montana St. also has a senior forward named Kola Bad Bear, and I applaud everyone in her family tree who didn’t think to change their name.

#7 Utah vs. #10 Arkansas (Spokane)

Pac-12 at large
NET: 27
Neutral floors: 4-2
Best win: 12 Oregon
Worst loss: 74 Southern California
What I know: For improving by 15 wins over last year, reaching the conference tournament final for the first time, and returning to the NCAA tournament after more than 10 years, Utah might’ve said ‘We’re just happy to be here’, but in fact, the Utes are only now finding out what they can do. In November, I watched them play fast enough to drop 211 points on 291 Lipscomb and 246 Xavier. They’ve learned from a tournament record 29-point quarter against 58 Washington State that they can do it against other NCAA tourney teams.

Pay attention to: Senior guard Dru Gylten. Unselfish to a fault. In Utah’s three wins during the Pac-12 tournament, she scored 0, 0, and 3 points. Those three were vital to make up a 10-point deficit vs. Oregon; otherwise I think 0 0 0 (when chessplayers see 0 0 0, they reflexively think “castled queenside”) would’ve suited her. Utah coach Roberts told me when Gylten came in as a freshman that she’d become my favorite player. Sum Gylten’s leadership, character, and temperament — not found in the boxscore — with uncanny court vision plus passing ability, and you get a player whose career I do not wish to see end 16 hours from now.

Southeast Conference at large
NET: 30
Neutral floors: 2-1
Best win: 21 LSU
Worst loss: 77 Vanderbilt

Arkansas is in their second straight NCAA tournament. The Razorbacks are plenty responsible for putting Missouri (the only team to beat South Carolina) in the WNIT, beating the Tigers three times (overtime in round one of the SEC tournament). Like Utah, Arkansas placed three representatives on the postseason honor rolls, including the freshman of the year. Like Utah, Arkansas led their conference in scoring. Arkansas’ halfcourt is five-out, zero-in while Utah is four-out, one-in. The only five-out system to which I can compare Arkansas is UC Davis in the Big West; the Razorbacks run longer pass routes, if that makes sense.

This could be the highest-scoring game of the first round, and it’s important as far as each conference’s bragging rights go. The Pac=12 sent six teams, the SEC sent eight. Until the games are played, the ACC is winning that contest, with eight teams in, two of which are #1 seeds.