The Play In Games: What Happened and How They Can Affect the Tournament

By: Josh Wasserman.

The real fun starts tomorrow, but if you watched any of the play in games, you received quite possibly the most delicious appetizer of your life. However, I know you didn’t watch the play in games, so I’m here to fill you in.

16 Albany vs. 16 Mt. St. Mary’s

This game was surprisingly exciting. The two relatively unknown teams took the game to the wire and it was intriguing to watch such a closely-contested matchup. When I first flipped on the game, St. Mary’s was looking up at a four point deficit with 10 minutes left in the first half.

I checked the team stats and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Mt. St. Mary’s was shooting an atrocious 33% from the field and had fired up 25 three-pointers, around of which they had made. On the contrary, Albany was shooting close to 60% from the field and was outrebounding the Knights by 16 boards. How could the game be so close? Especially when it said that Albany had led by 19 at one point?

Two reasons: Albany’s poor control on offense (turning the ball over almost four times as much as Mt. St. Mary’s), and Will Miller’s clutch three-point shooting for the Knights. Though Mt. St. Mary’s shot just 12-37 from three point range, Miller was able to keep them in the game by going 8-12 from beyond the arc, and at timely moments as well.

However, Albany’s backcourt pairing of D.J. Evans and Peter Hooley were unstoppable. Combining for 42 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists, they kept the pace rampant, drove hard to the lane, performed some crafty moves, and drained incredible shots off of contact.

What Does This Mean for the Tournament?

The Great Danes have punched their ticket for a game against #1 overall seed Florida. Hooley, a player I was debating whether to add in my “Star Dust” article, had been known to make quality shots all year. But the emergence of D.J. Evans under the tournament spotlight adds some help to a team mostly centered upon Hooley. However, it didn’t matter who won this game because I would peg Albany’s percent chance of winning at roughly .3% off of an estimate. Even on Albany’s best day, and if some higher power were to enter Orlando on account of Book of Mormon, there is minimal chance Florida gets toppled by Albany.

12 NC State vs. 12 Xavier

Markedly less exciting than the first game of the tournament, this game turned out as I, and probably most of the country, expected. T.J. Warren, the ACC player of the year, started off sluggishly, committing two fouls and struggling to find his shot. In the second half though, he went off to finish the night with 25 points.

T.J. Warren can lead the Wolfpack deep into the tournament

T.J. Warren can lead the Wolfpack deep into the tournament

 

Matt Stainbrook, Xavier’s center, had an uncharacteristically effective night, almost putting up 20 points, 10 rebound numbers. He overmatched N.C. State’s big men all night through sheer muscle. But by the end, it was no contest as the Wolfpack ran away with the game.

Ralston Turner also had himself a nice game by adding 17 points to Warren’s 25. Furthermore, Beejay Anya emerged as a defensive stopper whose size pays dividends in the paint (although Stainbrook for the large part had his way). N.C. State was bound to win this game and even with a slow start, they cruised to a 15 point win over Xavier.

What are the implications for the tournament?

Warren’s incredible ability to get to the rim and his silky shot from just about anywhere has carried the Wolfpack all season and will continue to be the center of their game plan. They have heavily relied on him all year, but it has actually led to some success, such as shock victories over Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

 

I have the Wolfpack winning their game against the slipping Bilikens from St. Louis and could potentially mount a run into the Sweet 16 if Warren is really on his game. As a play-in team, I would give them a hard look as an upset due to their potency and St. Louis’ recent slide (1-5 in their last six games). However, if Warren can’t find his stroke, the Wolfpack will find themselves out of the tournament swiftly.

16 Cal Poly vs. 16 Texas Southern

Cal Poly incredibly finds themselves in the tournament despite going 13-19 in the regular season in a lackluster conference. They have played five teams in the tournament so far and have never reached a final score line within ten points of their opponent, showing their futility against actually decent opponents.

That being said, they came to play tonight and outworked Texas Southern to earn themselves a spot in the round of 62. The Mustangs got some decent performances out of scoring leaders Chris Eversley and Dave Nwaba. But the true MVP of the night was Texas Southern’s studly center Aaric Murray. Racking up a game-high 38 points, he was far superior to every other player on the court regardless of the final score.

What are the implications for the tournament?

It’s hard to say which team deserved to be in the tournament more based off of their regular season records. Neither team has beaten a team in the tournament this year. For that matter, neither even came close. So frankly, just like the Albany vs. Mt. St. Mary’s game, the winner of this matchup wasn’t bound to change much. The undefeated Shockers from Wichita State are just about a lock in the next round.

11 Iowa vs. 11 Tennessee

I was really expecting Iowa to pull this win out. I was counting on Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa’s cornerstone player, to take over the game from the start. Alas, I was wrong. Marble put up just 7 points, and the theme across all the play-in games, that of poor 3-point shooting, persisted as both teams shot below 25% from beyond the arc.

It’s natural for play-in teams to get overzealous and nervous, causing to take too many 3 pointers and inevitably miss them. But at some point, you have to take a new approach. Which is what Tennessee did. Guards Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson and forward Jarnell Stokes attacked the rim and put up 20, 17, and 18 points respectively.

The game was close until overtime, when the Volunteers completely dominated the period and put the game to rest. The Volunteers’ type of play, drawing fouls around the hoop and weaning oneself from the 3-ball, can take a team far.

What are the implications for the tournament?

I had Iowa beating UMass in the first round because UMass just isn’t strong enough to stave off a solid upset possibility in my opinion. Though Iowa is now out at the hands of the Volunteers, the way Tennessee played has me still picking that upset.

The Volunteers have a couple of quality scorers that can take a game into their own hands, as demonstrated by their four players in double digits and one with 9 points tonight. Also, Tennessee outrebounded Iowa by 7 boards, which is important for the Vols going into a game against the 36th best rebounding team in the nation. This game has big implications for the round of 64, as Tennessee could pull of an upset and find themselves in the round of 32.

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