#4 – Louisville
The Cardinals are dancing for the 41st time in school history and the eighth consecutive year, but they’re hailing from the ACC for the first time. They finished fourth in the regular season, picking up quality wins against North Carolina and Virginia. However, those were their only RPI top 25 wins; against the RPI top 50 they were a combined 3-7, which really diminishes hope of them going on a long run. Their chances took a big hit after their third leading scorer and leading playmaker Chris Jones was dismissed due to legal trouble. That’s put a heavy burden on sophomore guard Terry Rozier, who is playing in an expanded role for his first time as a Cardinal. He has proven that he can be a big-time scorer, evidenced by his team-leading 17.1 points per game, but he still has a ways to go as a distributor and floor general – which is where Jones was very valuable in assisting him. In Montrezl Harrell the Cardinals have one of the best big men in the country. He was a half rebound shy of averaging a double-double on the year, and passed on being a first-round pick in last year’s draft solely because he wanted to help lead Louisville deeper into the tournament than last year’s disappointing Sweet 16 exit. He’s the energizer and captain of Louisville’s formidable defense, which allows just 59 points a night while blocking 5.5 shots and getting 8.3 steals on average. Without Jones, the Cardinals are borderline overly reliant on Rozier and Harrell. It’s vital for their teammates to provide ample support; now would be as good of a time as any for Wayne Blackshear’s long-awaited breakout.
– Yannis Koutroupis
#13 – UC Irvine
The Anteaters are finally in the big dance and I’m sure Anteater nation is ecstatic, as is head coach Russell Turner. Turner, the 2014 Big West Coach of the Year, led UC Irvine (21-12, 11-5) to the 2014 regular season title but couldn’t get the job done in the conference tournament and had to settle for a second consecutive NIT. This year they finished second behind UC Davis, but thanks to a great run in the conference tourney they are finally getting their shot at March Madness. Turner is also a former Golden State Warriors assistant and, offensively, he does a great job of manipulating a marginally talented roster to get the most out of them, especially after time outs (0.929 PPP ATO) so watch out if things come down to the wire and him drawing something up – he’s got some magic for the white board. Generally speaking, UCI is marginal offensively, scoring just 67.9 PPG (166th) at a solid but not spectacular overall efficiency of 0.933 PPP (66th). But what they can do is shoot the basketball, hitting 39 percent from deep as a team. Defensively, the former NBA coach may be the next Jim Boehiem, employing a stifling 2-3 zone that concedes just 62.3 PPG (70th) with a defensive efficiency of 0.813 PPP (36th). 7’6 Mamadou Ndiaye (10.4 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.7 BPG) patrols the middle and keeping him close to the basket helps greatly with rim protection (5 BPG, 25th) and defensive rebounding (25.7 RPG, 38th). The Anteaters then come off the bench with more serious size in 7’2 Ioannis Dimakopoulos and three other players 6’10 or taller(only one of these giants is a senior). If UCI is going to pull and upset they will have to shoot it well from the three-point line; keep an eye on Luke Nelson, Travis Souza, Jaron Martin and Alex Young who have combined for 182 of the teams 212 three pointers. Mix in a monster game from leader Will Davis (12.9 PPG, 7 RPG) and pray for a match up with a team that can go cold from deep. If this recipe comes together, there just may be a chance for the Anteaters to march on.
– Cody Toppert
Yannis Koutroupis: Louisville wins
Cody Toppert: Louisville wins
Dan Barto: Louisville wins
Cody Toppert is a former standout player at Cornell University (one of the top three-point shooters in Ivy League history), who played eight years professionally (NBA D-League, Spain, Italy, Germany) and now serves as the Director of Basketball Development at ELEV|8 Sports Institute (Ganon Baker Basketball Academy). He trains professional players (five 2015 NBA Draftees) and coaches prep schoolers for Ganon Baker’s nationally ranked prep school program. Toppert also serves as a contributing writer for FastModel Sports. You can follow Cody and ELEV|8 on social media @Topp33 and @E8hoops.
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