The First Four is over, and we’re ready for the real March Madness to begin. Here are the matchups we’re looking forward to most in the Round of 64.
Sam Perkins: No. 8 Cincinnati vs. No. 9 Purdue
Bearcat Octavius Ellis goes 6-foot-10 and about 240 pounds. He dunks a lot and punches shots. His boilermaker counterpart A.J. Hammons goes 7-foot, 260 pounds. He also dunks a lot and punches shots. Ellis’ backup, Coreontae DeBerry is 6-foot-10, 270 pounds. DeBerry’s counterpart and Hammons’ backup, Isaac Haas, is 7-foot, 297 pounds. Needless to say, there will be a whole lot of humanity in the low post. Beyond the bloodbath in the paint, neither Purdue nor Cincinnati features a true star, they both get everyone involved on offense, and this game could — and should — feature a lot of different lineups, changing defensive schemes, and selfless play. These are arguably the two most evenly matched teams in the entire Round of 64.
Doric Sam: No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No 14 Northeastern
I covered Northeastern once this season, and I was very impressed with the team’s poise. This veteran squad, led by Scott Eatherton, David Walker and Quincy Ford, will not whither under the bright lights of March Madness. The Huskies’ defense probably isn’t strong enough to stop the Fighting Irish, though, meaning we might be in for an old-fashioned shootout, which is always fun.
Sam Perkins: No. 5 Arkansas vs. No. 12 Wofford
This game looks like it could be a big-time battle of contrasts: Wofford is a sum-is-greater-than-its-parts mid-major that really gets after it on defense (24th in the nation in points allowed); Arkansas is a BCS program powered by a high-octane offense (16th in the nation in points per game, 12th in assists per game) that goes only as far as stars Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls will carry it. A battle on the low blocks between the 6-foot-11 Portis — a legitimate NBA-level talent — and Wofford power forward Lee Skinner (who at 6-foot-6 plays by the motto “heart over height”) could be an outstanding battle.
Doric Sam: No. 4 North Carolina vs. No. 13 Harvard
Out of the top-four seeds in every region, I think the Tar Heels were dealt the worst hand. Harvard is a sound defensive team and is not afraid of making the game ugly. Wesley Saunders is a baller in every sense of the word, and Siyani Chambers and Steve Moundou-Missi are studs. North Carolina should be on upset-alert.
Sam Perkins: No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Georgia
I’ve always been partial to teams that get after it on the glass and mix it up in the paint, and for all of their respective failings (and despite their power conference status, neither the Spartans nor the Bulldogs are close to being a complete team), both of these teams get after it on the glass and around the rim. Spartans Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine both top out at around 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, but they’re both tough as nails and get after it on the glass, and watching them battle it out with the Bulldogs’ Montenegrin enforcer Nemanja Djurisic (6-foot-8, 230 pounds) and in-state brawler Marcus Thornton (6-foot-8, 235 pounds) should be fun to say the least.
Doric Sam: No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 Albany
The Great Danes are a veteran team led by Sam Rowley and Peter Hooley and they have a strong supporting cast with Evan Singletary and Ray Sanders. Albany is well-coached by Will Brown, who always makes it known to his players that the pressure is greater for the higher-seeded team. That type of confidence gives the Great Danes a great chance at an upset, though they face a tough task in a strong Oklahoma team.
Sam Perkins: No. 5 Utah vs. No. 12 Stephen F. Austin
You might as well call this one the Goliaths vs the Lilliputians. Utah features two 7-footers and starts four players 6-foot-5 or taller. Stephen F. Austin has just two players on its entire roster above 6’6”, neither of whom play major minutes. A low-post battle between bearded Lumberjacks Thomas Walkup and Jacob Parker (6-foot-4 and 6-foot-6, respectively) and Utes 7-footer Jakob Poeltl could be one heck of a battle. But far beyond the visual disparities, this game features a slow, methodical offense (Stephen F. Austin) versus a slow, methodical defense (Utah).
Doric Sam: No. 5 Utah vs. No. 12 Stephen F. Austin
Everyone should tune in to this game to see the offensive machine that is Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks average 79.5 points and are tremendous on the offensive glass. Thomas Walkup (15.7 ppg.) and Jacob Parker (14.1 ppg.) give SFA a right-cross, left-hook 1-2 punch combo that can knock the daylights out of anyone. Utah is no slouch, either, as the Utes play strong defense (56.9 opp. ppg.), so this one should be fun.