The NCAA Tournament is finally upon us. And everything tips off tonight with day one of the ‘First Four.’ While Albany and Mount St. Mary’s will open things up with the right to move on as the 16 seed that plays the top seeded Florida Gators, North Carolina State and Xavier will battle directly after to move on against a struggling Saint Louis team. The Musketeers open up as 2.5-point favorites.
The NCAA Tournament committee caught some serious heat for its decision to place North Carolina State in the field and leave the Mustangs of SMU out, especially after a Mike Krzyzewski endorsement after Duke’s win of NC State in the ACC Tournament over the weekend. The Wolfpack did not play a strong out of conference schedule and finished just 9-9 in the ACC before making it to the semifinals in Greensboro. The Wolfpack did beat Syracuse in the quarters and, as Coach K said, have one of the best players in the country in ACC leading scorer and Player of the Year, TJ Warren.
We’ve seen it so often by now where a team that enters the Tournament without much respect them in exceeds expectations. NC State will have something to prove tonight and because of that, I like them to cover in this spot. The Wolfpack are a battle-tested bunch that dove into the ACC and came out on the other side as Tournament team. And, for that, the ‘Pack will be feeling gracious and strong. TJ Warren is absolutely unstoppable. The sophomore swingman is averaging over 31 points per game in his last five games, which is much to do with how well freshman Anthony Barber and sophomore Tyler Lewis are feeding him the ball. The NC State point guard combination continues to improve in Raleigh.
Xavier has some nice wins, but the Musketeers just don’t seem like a team that will be able to handle Warren very well, nor pull away from anyone in the NCAA Tournament field. The Musketeers do have an advantage on the inside, though. Isiah Philmore and Justin Martin are both terrific inside scorers and should be very effective against a rather weak Wolfpack interior. At the end of the day, in the Tournament guard plays wins out, stars shine and extra motivation is strong. I’ll take the points.
Free Pick: NC State +2.5