Tuesday's NCAA tournament “First Four” game kicks off with a game between two #16 seeds that will feed into the Midwest Region, with the winner getting to play the unbeaten Kentucky Wildcats.
The Hampton Pirates Can Win Because…
They have just come through a difficult environment to win a tournament, and should benefit from that experience when they play this game. Hampton was playing in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, also known as the MEAC. The Pirates had to go to Norfolk, Virginia, for the tournament, and they had to play the host team, the Norfolk State Spartans, in the semifinals. In what amounted to a road game, Hampton cruised past Norfolk State by double digits. That was the kind of win which gains a lot of notice from other people who watch college basketball. Hampton should be a very confident team entering this game, even though they are 7-pt underdogs in NCAA Basketball odds.
Hampton should also feel it can win this game because Manhattan was almost dead last in the entire country – 349th out of 351 – in fouls per game, with 22.9. When a team cannot defend without fouling, it can very easily fall into foul trouble and lose whatever advantages it might have had at an earlier point in a ballgame.
One other very noticeable weakness for Manhattan is that it turns the ball over a lot. The Jaspers finished the season (before this NCAA tournament) ranked at number 325 out of 351 teams in turnovers per game, with 14.4. That’s not what you want heading into a pressure-packed one-game situation. Manhattan’s field goal percentage defense is very ordinary, ranked 183rd in the nation at 43.6 percent.
The Manhattan Jaspers Can Win Because…
They might not have won a road game in their conference tournament, but the Jaspers did something Hampton did not do: They beat the regular season champion and number one seed in their league tournament. Manhattan beat top-seeded Iona in the final of the Metro Atlantic Athletic (MAAC) tournament. The Jaspers were able to play above their usual standards on defense. They swarmed the court, limiting Iona to 39-percent shooting from the field. The Gaels hit just 5 of 22 three-point shots, and they grabbed only eight offensive rebounds. Manhattan shot the ball better, hitting 43.3 percent of its shots and 41 percent of its three-pointers (9 of 22). With Manhattan committing only eight turnovers, the Jaspers did not waste possessions. Given Manhattan’s annual turnover average, that performance against Iona was one of the team’s cleaner efforts this season. Manhattan definitely improved its level of concentration, so if you wanted to make the claim that Manhattan is especially focused right now and seems to be on the upswing, you’re right. This team made the NCAA tournament a year ago under head coach Steve Masiello, and now it’s back in the tournament. That kind of experience should serve this team well on Tuesday night.
The reality of Manhattan having been in last year’s NCAA tournament should help the Jaspers a ton in this game. Hampton will have to console itself with a good season. Manhattan should be the team to move on and advance. Take them with your NCAA Basketball picks.
NCAA Basketball Pick: Manhattan -7.5 at Pinnacle