While searching through each of the regions, I came upon different individual matchups in the first round that could make some noise. The winners of these matchups could determine which team will survive to play in the second round or take the early exit back home. I have picked two games from each region, and broke down key players from each team that will likely go head to head against each other.
Some of the players I have selected are household names, others not so much. That doesn't matter when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. On any given night, anybody can make a name for themselves and for the university sported on the front of their jerseys.
13 Cleveland State Vikings vs. 4 Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Cedric Jackson vs. Jeff Teague
At 6'3" Senior Guard Cedric Jackson does all the little things necessary to help his squad be successful. He gets to the bucket, dishes the ball, throws his body around bringing down rebounds, and plays frustrating defense. Jackson is a huge reason the Vikings upset the #17 ranked Butler Bulldogs to win the Horizon League Tournament and help advance Cleveland State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 23 years.
Second Team All ACC Player Jeff Teague when on fire, can go on a scoring spree. At 19 PPG, the Demon Deacons leader shoots lights out behind the three point line(44.6% 3PT). If he isn't dropping tre's, Teague is virtually unstoppable to defend. He slithers through defenses making his way to the basket. He is also a master at creating his own shot.
If Cedric can keep Jeff Teague in front of him and prevent him from taking open shots, it can be a long day for Wake Forest's leader. On the other hand, if Jeff can get hot early hitting shots and get his teammates involved, it will be an early exit for Cedric Jackson and the Cleveland State Vikings.
EDGE: Jeff Teague, Wake Forest
12 Arizona Wildcats vs. 5 Utah Utes
Luke Nevill vs. Jordan Hill
In what many are already designating as the yearly 12/5 upset, Utah's Luke Nevill may have a say about that. At 7'2", he is 3 inches taller than anybody on Arizona's roster. When he isn't gobbling up rebounds, he can score in bunches. A huge distraction under the basket, Utah cannot afford to have him get in foul trouble early.
The man expected to go at Luke, Jordan Hill possesses the energy to get up and down the court. The Wildcats go-to-guy underneath, Jordan averages 18 PPG and 11 RPG. His athleticism and toughness are keys to why he thrives on the offensive end and the same being said on the defensive side. Scouts are high on Arizona's bruiser, many projecting him to be drafted in the lottery.
This will be an exciting matchup to see if Luke can keep pace with Jordan up and down the court. Luke's height is a major advantage, towering over Jordan Hill. It will all depend on which Luke shows up to play. The one that will throw down 32 points and lead his team to victory, or the one that gets two or three early and lazy fouls and is seen on the bench until the middle of the second half. I believe Jordan's strength/competitiveness will be the deciding factor, sending Arizona into the second round with the 12/5 upset.
EDGE: Jordan Hill, Arizona Wildcats
13 Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. 4 Washington Huskies
Jarvis Varnado vs. Jon Brockman
The only shot the Bulldogs had of reaching the NCAA Tourney was winning four games in a row, and being named SEC Tournament Champions. And that is exactly what they did. Defeating three of the top four teams in the SEC in four days, Jarvis Varnado was the key ingredient in there string of victories. Providing Mississippi State with 13 PPG and 10 RPG throughout the regular season, Jarvis also swatted away five balls per game. In order to keep the Bulldogs victory train going, Jarvis Varnado is going to have to repeat his recent impressive performances.
At 6'7", 260 Jon Brockman is a human wrecking machine. One of the main reasons behind the Huskies rise to winning the Pac-10 title outright and being ranked in the Top 10 during the season. Earning First Team All Pac-10 accolades, Jon manufactures double-digit points and rebounds per game for the Huskies. Known for his bruising tendencies underneath the basket, Jon grabs everything that falls his way. Going up against bigger forwards, he isn't scared to wrestle around. A huge performance from him won't be necessary, but anything less than Jon's averages will hurt the Huskies outcome.
One likes to block shots, the other relies on his bulk and athletic ability to get to the basket. These guys will be going at it the entire game. Jon's supporting cast will help demolish the Bulldogs series of victories.
EDGE: Jon Brockman, Washington Huskies
10 Maryland Terrapins vs. 7 California Golden Bears
Greivis Vasquez vs. Jerome Randle
The heart and soul of Maryland's team Greivis Vasquez helped propel them into the NCAA Tournament. Averaging 17 PPG, 5 RPG, and 5 APG during the season, Greivis does everything in his power to lead the Terrapins to victory. At 6'6", he can drive through the lane with ease, power around smaller guards, and hit the pull-up shot. Sometimes he goes missing, and when that happens, Maryland has no shot whatsoever.
At 5'10", Jerome Randle gives up seven inches to Greivis. He will make up for it with his speed and agility. Jerome is as deadly as they come shooting three pointers(46.8% 3PT). At 18 PPG and 5 APG, the Golden Bears ball handler and point guard can get the ball to his teammates for easy buckets underneath the basket or he can fly by you for the uncontested lay-up.
Greivis's height vs. Jerome's speed? Greivis's ability to shoot over Jerome? Or Jerome's lighting quick burst to get past Greivis? I like Jerome's speed advantage and his knack to knock down the 3 in this match-up.
EDGE: Jerome Randle, California Golden Bears
11 VCU Rams vs. 6 UCLA Bruins
Eric Maynor vs. Darren Collison
Senior Guard Eric Maynor has made a name for himself, if he can do big things this postseason, he will solidify himself as a first-round pick in the upcoming draft. With his 6'2" frame, Eric is not only great getting to the basket and hitting the open shot, but his court vision and ability to find open men, defines why he is such a solid PG. He is even better under pressure, wanting to take the final shot during the clutch moments.
Known for being a lock-down defender, Darren Collison has all the tools on the offensive end that make him such a complete player. His mid-range jumper is straight money and Darren's like a magician with the ball in his hands. When he gets to the free-throw line it's not often that this Bruin misses(91.4%).
Eric Maynor was on the VCU team that defeated Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year. He isn't a great defender though. Knowing that, Darren should have a field day.
EDGE: Darren Collison, UCLA
9 Tennessee Volunteers vs. 8 Oklahoma State Cowboys
Tyler Smith vs. James Anderson
Tennessee's versatile swingman put up 17.4 PPG, 6 BPG, and 3.4 APG. At 6'7", Tyler's build and wingspan are keys to taking advantage of skinner, weaker small forwards. His aggressive style of play lets him battle bigger players under the basket. While not being such a great three point shooter, he is phenomenal at slashing to the basket.
6'6" Sophomore Guard James Anderson does work. He can rebound, shoot the three, get to the foul line, hit the spot-up jumper, defend, you name it, he does it. When he is feeling it, he will not be stopped. Putting up 37 against Oklahoma and 35 against Texas, just to name a few of his 30 point out-puts.
Tyler Smith's bully approach doesn't help him out on the defensive side of the ball and won't stop James Anderson and his explosiveness from having a big game.
EDGE: James Anderson, Oklahoma State Cowboys
11 Temple Owls vs. Arizona State Sun Devils
Dionte Christmas vs. James Harden
A player best known for his last name, can also play some ball. At 6'5", Dionte Christmas has the Temple Owls playing in the NCAA Tournament. Scoring from anywhere on the floor, Dionte can go on ridiculous scoring streaks. On the defensive end, his strength and long arms disrupt the opposing teams best players.
Lottery-bound James Harden is one of the best players in the nation. Only a sophomore, Harden averages 21 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 4.2 APG. His strength makes it easy for him to get to the basket and his height allows him to shoot over smaller defenders. In a close game, he is the one with the ball in his possession. He is extremely smart with the ball and his dribble and ball handling skills are amazing.
This is a matchup I am eager to watch. If allowed to roam around and not be guarded closely, Dionte will hit the open shots. On the other hand, James Harden is going to do what he does best and that is put the ball in his left, dribble around a couple of defenders, and either throw down a dominate dunk or get hacked and make it to the free throw line. In a head-to-head battle between two of college basketball's premier scorers, I think Dionte Christmas will walk away with the better stats, but James Harden will advance to the second round with a victory. So since this is an individual matchup...
EDGE: Dionte Christmas, Temple Owls
10 Michigan Wolverines vs. 7 Clemson Tigers
Manny Harris vs. K.C. Rivers
Manny Harris is Michigan's only scoring option from the guard position. At 17 PPG, he also makes himself available underneath the basket grabbing 7 RPG too. Only a sophomore, Manny is still quite skinny, and doesn't really have a lot of muscle on his body. He loves to have the ball in his hands, and has the ability to easily land floaters over defenders.
Senior Guard K.C. Rivers is the head man for the Clemson Tigers. His leadership combined with a superior jump shot and impressive defense makes it hard not to like this guy. Doesn't matter how he does it, K.C. finds a way to put the ball through the net. With his feet set, he can shoot daggers. When he is forced to shoot while moving, it doesn't fall as often.
K.C. Rivers defense prevents Manny Harris from getting to the basket and stops him from scoring easy buckets.
EDGE: K.C. Rivers, Clemson Tigers
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