It’s March Madness, the greatest time of the year. Looking for some help with your bracket? Don’t know which teams to believe in, in this crazy college hoops season? We’ve got your back. We’re breaking down every first-round game in the field of 68, plus looking ahead at which teams will make the run to the Final Four.
7. Oregon State (19-12, 9-9/Pac-12)–The Beavers are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the original Gary Payton was suiting up for them. Seriously. 26 years later, the future Hall of Famer’s son, Gary Payton II, is the team’s best player and a huge reason why Oregon State is dancing for the first time in his lifetime.
Wayne Tinkle has done a remarkable job with this program. The former Montana coach, who had the Grizzlies in the Big Dance several times, took a decimated roster in 2015 and steered it to an NCAA bid in just two years. He’s had some help from his own son–6-8 freshman forward Tres Tinkle, who’s averaging 13.4 points and 5.4 boards for the Beavers. Unfortunately, Tres likely won’t play against VCU due to a right foot injury he suffered in practice on March 1.
Payton II leads this team in almost every statistical category. He’s the leading scorer (15.9 ppg), leading rebounder (7.9 per) and leading assists man (5.1 per). He’s effortlessly athletic, and at 6-3 can block shots and soar up for boards. He’s also got his father’s confidence, which doesn’t hurt, either.
70.0 points allowed (130th)
10. VCU (24-10, 14-4/Atlantic 10)–The Rams got by alright without program-changing head coach Shaka Smart, who took his ‘Havoc’ style with him down to Texas. VCU still creates ‘Havoc’, as the Rams love to speed up the pace and force turnovers. This team ranks 6th in the nation in steals, and holds opponents to just 66.7 points per game (55th nationally).
Guard Melvin Johnson leads the team in scoring, putting up 17.4 points per game. 6-4 guard Korey Billbury is pesky (11.6 ppg, 5 rpg, 1.1 spg), as is 6-1 junior JeQuan Lewis (10.7 ppg, 4.9 apg, team-leading 1.6 spg).
Big man Mo Allie-Cox (10.2 ppg) is heady and tough inside, and he loves to draw in defenses and kick to VCU’s guards, who can knock down threes.
PREDICTION: You’re not going to be able to rattle Gary Payton II, so VCU’s pressure defense won’t be as effective as it normally is in this game. The absence of Tes Tinkle hurts Oregon State, though, and the Beavers simply don’t have the depth that VCU has, with ten players getting at least 11 minutes of run per game. We like VCU in this one, but we don’t like the Rams in the second round against Oklahoma, which also has terrific guard play.