The 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament field is finally set – and for the first time since 2009, both ASU and UA received invitations to the Big Dance.
How far can the Sun Devils and Wildcats go? Here’s a look at each team’s chances.
No. 10 seed, Midwest Region
First opponent: Texas (played in Milwaukee)
Thursday, 6:40 pm
Matchup analysis: ASU and Texas have both had plenty of late-season struggles. The Sun Devils have lost five of their last seven games, while the Longhorns have lost five of their last eight. Both teams have also lost their last six games away from home.
Statistically, ASU is better than Texas in overall field-goal, three-point, and free-throw percentage. However, the Longhorns, which are 11th in the nation in rebounding margin, have a significant edge on the glass.
How far can ASU go? The Devils are capable of cancelling out the Longhorns’ rebounding advantage with stellar outside shooting from senior guard Jermaine Marshall, junior forward Jonathan Gilling and junior guard Bo Barnes. ASU also has an experience edge, as two of its three leading scorers – Marshall and center Jordan Bachynski – are seniors. By comparison, the Longhorns’ four leading scorers are all underclassmen.
Look for ASU to beat Texas – but its probable opponent in the next round, No. 2 seed Michigan, may be too much to handle, even if the Devils play a perfect game. One tournament win will likely be their limit.
How far will ASU go? After upending then-No. 2 UA in overtime last month, the Sun Devils proved they can beat anyone on any given day… at home. But Milwaukee is a long way from Wells Fargo Arena.
ASU’s veteran leadership, combined with the speed of All-Pac-12 point guard Jahii Carson, should be enough to get the Devils past Texas. But after that, there’s Michigan, which has been one of the nation’s best teams in the last two months.
Prediction: ASU will earn a narrow win over Texas, followed by a blowout loss against the Wolverines in the Round of 32.
No. 1 seed, West Region
First opponent: Weber State (played in San Diego)
Friday, 11:10 am
Matchup analysis: Thanks to an enormous rebounding and defensive edge , UA will steamroll Weber State, which lost at home to NAU on March 1. Senior WSU guard Davion Berry averages over 19 points per game and shoots over 38% from three-point range, but he’ll be blanketed by one of the Pac-12’s top defensive players, UA junior guard Nick Johnson.
How far can UA go? According to statistician Nate Silver, who correctly forecasted the winner of all 50 states during the 2012 presidential election, UA is the most likely squad out of the entire 68-team field to reach the Final Four. Indeed, the Wildcats’ toughest task in the West could be whomever they face in the Round of 32: No. 8 seed Oklahoma State or No. 9 seed Gonzaga, which have both been better than their tournament seeding indicates during large portions of the season. If UA gets past either of those teams, the sky is the limit.
How far will UA go? UA lost sophomore forward Brandon Ashley to a season-ending foot injury six weeks ago. But defense wins championships, and the Wildcats have looked just as impressive on the defensive side of the ball since then thanks to a relentless backcourt composed of Johnson and junior point guard T.J. McConnell, along with the interior presence of freshman forward Aaron Gordon.
The Wildcats beat potential Sweet 16 opponent San Diego State on the road earlier this season, and enjoy a rebounding and defensive edge in a possible Elite Eight matchup against No. 2 seed Wisconsin or No. 3 seed Creighton.
Prediction: The Wildcats will advance to their first national championship game since 2001, where they’ll suffer a close loss to the overall No. 1 seed Florida Gators.