The 2023 NCAA tournament gets underway in less than 10 hours with two First-Four games at Dayton (OH) Arena. In Game 1, Southeast Missouri State faces Texas A&M Corpus Christi for the right to face No. 1 overall seed Alabama on Thursday. The second contest features No. 11 seeds as Mississippi State takes on Pittsburgh, with the winner facing Midwest No. 6 Iowa State in the second round.
Southeastern Missouri State vs. Texas A&M Corpus Christi
The Southeast Missouri State Redhawks and the Texas A&M Corpus Christi Islanders are first up, as they will tip off at 6:40 p.m. (ET). The Redhawks and Islanders have yet to win an NCAA tournament game. This is the first meeting between the clubs.
Texas A&M Corpus Christi (23-10) is in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year as champions of the Southland Conference and third time overall. TAMCC’s 23 victories gave consecutive campaigns of reaching that plateau, marking the first time since they reached the mark in three successive years (2014-15 thru 2016-17). The Islanders are 46-22 under second-year coach Steve Lutz.
TAMCC enter the First-Four game playing exceptionally well, having won four straight and 13 of 14. The Islanders are a guard-heavy team laden with experienced, quick, and aggressive seniors. They have a high-powered offense that uses their defense to get easy points.
Despite being on the smallish side, having no players taller than 6-8, TAMCC doesn’t take an overabundance of 3-pointers though the Islanders connect nearly 37% of their attempts beyond the arc. They are also an outstanding offensive-rebounding squad, collecting 33.4% of all available boards on that end.
Defensively, TAMCC is slightly above average due to their ability to create turnovers and rebounding on the defensive end. The Islanders’ lack of size hampers them on the interior, and they foul too much.
Trey Tennyson leads three Islanders’ averaging 13 points on the season, while forward Isaac Mushila compiles nearly a double-double. However, one of those players, Southland DPOY Terrion Murdix, is sidelined for the remainder of the campaign due to a knee injury suffered during the conference championship game.
Southeast Missouri (19-16) has made strides in the three years under coach Brad Korn. SEMO finished fifth in the OVC during the regular season, but the Redhawks ran roughshod through the conference tournament, winning all four games by at least seven points. The Redhawks are dancing for the second time and the first since 2000.
SEMO is a guard-oriented squad that plays fast and puts up a ton of shots, although they could be more efficient. The Redhawks love to launch threes and do an excellent job getting to the free-throw line, converting them at a 71.5% rate. Diminutive guard Phillip Russell, who averages 18 points and 5.2 assists, along with Chris Harris and Israel Barnes, form an intriguing three-guard lineup.
Defensively, SEMO struggles though the Redhawks do force turnovers and are decent at protecting the rim. The Redhawks do foul a lot. They lost their top rebounder Kobe Clark for the season with a knee injury on Jan 19.
A close game should see plenty of points, as both teams are not very good on the defensive end. I am going with TAMCC as they are the more experienced team, a better rebounding team, and they were in the First-Four game just a year ago.
Pick: Texas A&M Corpus Christi 77-71
Mississippi State vs. Pittsburgh
The Mississippi State Bulldogs face the Pittsburgh Panthers in the second game on Tuesday night, with the tip slated for 9:40 p.m. The Bulldogs and Panthers are two of the last four teams who received an at-large bid, as they both struggled down the stretch after getting off to great starts to the season. Miss State and Pitt are meeting for the second time.
Mississippi State (21-10), ranked as high as No. 15 in the nation, is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2019 despite losing four of their last seven. Miss State is 4-8 in Quad I games and 8-11 in Quad I and Quad II contests. The Bulldogs’ best win is over Marquette in the Fort Myers Tipoff.
Miss State is a veteran team that prefers a slow and methodical pace, thus relying on their defensive prowess. The Bulldogs struggle mightily shooting the ball and don’t shoot the ball from deep well, making fewer than 5.2 treys a game at a 26.6% clip. They get to the free throw line plenty, though they also struggle there and are a fantastic offensive-rebounding squad.
MSU is one of the best defensive teams in the country. The Bulldogs rank 12th in defensive rating, holding their opponents to 39.4% from the field and 30.8% from the 3-point line. While the Dawgs struggle on the defensive glass, they do an excellent job protecting the rim and creating turnovers.
Pittsburgh (22-11) is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015-16, the last time the Panthers won 20 games. Like the Bulldogs, the Panthers lost four of their last seven contests to fall into the First-Four game.
Pitt, ranked as high as 25th in the AP poll, is 4-4 in Quad I games and 7-9 in Quad I and II contests. Their best win is over Virginia.
Pitt is a guard-heavy team with a veteran backcourt and a young frontcourt. The Panthers are an above-average shooting team that excels in shooting from deep, making 9.2 treys at 36% from the clip.
The Panthers are an excellent free-throw shooting team, though they don’t get to the charity stripe an overabundance of times. However, they are turnover prone. Blake Hinson and Jamarious Burton lead the offensively, with both players averaging over 15 points a contest.
Contrary to their offensive prowess, Pitt struggles on the defensive end. While the Panthers do a decent job protecting the rim, they are a below-average defensive-rebounding squad and commit many fouls.
This game is a toss-up as it is the quintessential offense vs. defense battle. Is Pittsburgh able to get open and knock down threes, or can Miss State lock down the Panthers?
I am going with Pitt as they are an excellent 3-point shooting team, and MSU doesn’t guard the arc very well. The Panthers’ guards are also better than the Bulldogs, and Miss State doesn’t have an overwhelming inside presence. Plus, if Pitt is able to get up on Miss State early, the Bulldogs don’t have enough offensive firepower to come back.
Pick: Pittsburgh 68-65
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