NCAA Tournament Predictions: Which First Four Team Can Make a March Madness Run?
Rich Schultz/Getty Images. Pictured: Ron Harper Jr. and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
The First Four can seem like a drag sometimes. But once one of those 11 seeds wins a game in the Field of 64, and then another, and then another, you realize expanding the field was worth it.
With the First Four tipping off Tuesday, which First Four team is most likely to storm its way to the Sweet 16, Elite Eight or Final Four — similar to VCU in 2011, Syracuse in 2018 or UCLA last season?
Here’s a brief overview of some of the First Four teams that could be well-equipped to make a run.
Indiana vs. Wyoming
Trayce Jackson-Davis is the name of the game. He’s one of the best two-way big men in the nation, mostly due to his extreme athleticism and explosive vertical.
During the Hoosiers’ Big Ten Tournament run, TJD went nuts. He scored 24 against Michigan, 21 against Illinois and then 31 against Iowa, all while averaging over eight rebounds and two blocks per game.
But when he’s not dominating, Indiana turns into a relatively mediocre, run-of-the-mill team. That’s troublesome because the right game plan can minimize his strengths.
However, Xavier Johnson has been playing much better lately, which raises the Hoosiers’ ceiling immensely. Guard play has always been the problem for Indiana, but Mike Woodson might be changing the culture.
But I hate Indiana’s matchup with Wyoming, which has a tremendously adept front line — behind leader Graham Ike—– and the most underrated point guard in the country in Hunter Maldonado.
This is the perfect team to give TJD some issues, hopefully getting him into foul trouble on defense by attacking in the post.
But either team that moves on from Dayton will get Saint Mary’s in the first round, which is a very tough matchup. If one of those teams wins that game, the UCLA matchup will be just as tough.
I’d rather look at the other game to see if there’s longshot value on a First Four team to make a run.
Rutgers vs Notre Dame
I like this game more because I love whoever gets to play Alabama in the Round of 64.
Alabama is high-variance at best and downright bad at worst. The Tide have posted a 12-12 straight up record since beating Gonzaga win behind poor defense.
I think Notre Dame has some matchup advantages in this First Four game, and I wouldn’t mind betting the Irish to get past Rutgers in this spot.
But out of these two, Rutgers is the more likely team to make a deep run in the tournament — because the Scarlet Knights have a clear-cut recipe that can lead to success.
If the defense is playing lights-out and Ron Harper Jr. is shouldering the scoring load, Rutgers can beat anyone in the country.
Geo Baker can be exciting at times and Paul Mulcahy is a dime-dropper, but Harper needs to be the guy for Rutgers to make serious strides in this tournament.
When Rutgers started the season 7-1 last year, Harper was scoring almost 25 PPG. He scored at least 17 in three of the four upset wins that Rutgers pulled in the middle of this season to become the first unranked team to ever beat four ranked teams.
He also hit game-winning 3-pointers over Purdue and Indiana this season.
RON HARPER JR. WITH ANOTHER GAME-WINNER 😱
Too clutch. pic.twitter.com/eBZ7oM719h
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 3, 2022
Steve Pikiell has proven to be a competent coach leading this rebuild, and he led the Scarlet Knights to a tournament win last year. If he gets his team locked in at the right time, Rutgers is the most likely First Four team to make a deep run in the tournament.
But it has to get by Notre Dame first.