When the NCAA men's basketball tournament bracket was released, many people raised their eyes at the showdown between the Arkansas Razorbacks and Colgate Raiders.
The draw to the No. 3-No. 14 showdown is the offensive prowess of both programs, but when you look deeper into the matchup, there is a stark contrast in the competition each team played. Arkansas, which played a full SEC schedule, is listed as an eight-point favorite against the Patriot League champion, which played five opponents during a unique 15-game schedule.
Plenty of Friday's other first-round games are expected to be closer, including the matchup between the San Diego State Aztecs and Syracuse Orange. Jim Boeheim's Orange used their frustrating zone defense to shut down opponents and make deep runs in March before, but San Diego State's experience may be able to counter anything the ACC side throws at it.
NCAA Tournament Friday 1st-Round Schedule and Odds
No. 7 Florida (-0.5) vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech (12:15 p.m. ET, CBS)
No. 3 Arkansas (-8) vs. No. 14 Colgate (12:45 p.m. ET, truTV)
No. 1 Illinois (-22) vs. No. 16 Drexel (1:15 p.m. ET, TBS)
No. 6 Texas Tech (-4) vs. No. 11 Utah State (1:45 p.m. ET, TNT)
No. 2 Ohio State (-16) vs. No. 15 Oral Roberts (3 p.m. ET, CBS)
No. 1 Baylor (-25.5) vs. No. 16 Hartford (3:30 p.m. ET, truTV)
No. 8 Loyola Chicago (-5.5) vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech (4 p.m. ET, TBS)
No. 5 Tennessee (-8.5) vs. No. 12 Oregon State (4:30 p.m. ET, TNT)
No. 4 Oklahoma State (-7.5) vs. No. 13 Liberty (6:20 p.m. ET, TBS)
No. 8 North Carolina (-1.5) vs. No. 9 Wisconsin (7:10 p.m. ET, CBS)
No. 2 Houston (-20) vs. No. 15 Cleveland State (7:15 p.m. ET, truTV)
No. 4 Purdue (-7) vs. No. 13 North Texas (7:25 p.m. ET. TNT)
No. 7 Clemson vs. No. 10 Rutgers (-2) (9:20 p.m. ET, TBS)
No. 6 San Diego State (-3) vs. No. 11 Syracuse (9:40 p.m. ET, CBS)
No. 3 West Virginia (-13) vs. No. 14 Morehead State (9:50 p.m. ET, truTV)
No. 5 Villanova (-6.5) vs. No. 12 Winthrop (9:57 p.m. ET, TNT)
Predictions against the spread in bold. Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.
Arkansas (-8) vs. Colgate
Upon first glance, Colgate's 14-1 record makes it seem like it could compete with Arkansas.
However, that mark looks less impressive when you delve into the lack of variety on the Raiders' schedule.
Colgate beat up on three teams that were .500 or worse in league play in the Patriot League's North division. Its past two wins in the Patriot League tournament came against sub-.500 squads because of upsets. While the Raiders deserve credit for beating the teams in front of them, there is no guarantee they will meet the massive step up in competition against Arkansas.
Eric Musselman's Razorbacks fought through a SEC schedule littered with men's NCAA tournament teams. Six of their past eight games came against Big Dance qualifiers.
Arkansas won five of those six contests, with the only loss coming to the LSU Tigers in the SEC tournament semifinals. Three of those victories were by eight points or more.
The No. 3 seed has a potential NBA draft lottery pick in Moses Moody, who leads the team with 17.3 points per game, it possesses four double-digit scorers and a quartet of players that shoot 33 percent or better from three-point range.
Simply put, Arkansas has a wide range of talent that would blow out a majority of the Patriot League teams that Colgate faced.
The Raiders could stay in the contest with their shooting, as they are 49.8 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. However, Arkansas proved that it could play some stout defense in SEC play. It held the Alabama Crimson Tide to 66 points and forced the Florida Gators and Missouri Tigers beneath 65 points in recent clashes.
While this may project as a fun matchup because of shooting percentages, Arkansas is far and away the better team and should win the contest by double figures.
San Diego State (-3) vs. Syracuse
Experience is one of the qualities many bracket-fillers rely on when picking teams to go on deep runs in the men's NCAA tournament.
San Diego State has two of the most experienced players in the field in Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel, who helped the Aztecs earn a 53-6 record over the past two seasons. The seniors combine to average 29.7 points per game, and they both shoot more than 43 percent from the field.
Schakel's 46.7 three-point percentage is the most important statistic in the matchup with Syracuse since strong shooting from deep typically negates the impact of the 2-3 zone. San Diego State shoots 37.5 percent from downtown as a team.
The Aztecs also have the defensive chops to counter Syracuse's prowess from deep, led by Buddy Boeheim.
In 10 games dating back to February 8, Brian Dutcher's team kept nine opponents below 70 points, and six of them failed to reach 60. Syracuse's point total Friday could be close to the numbers produced against the Clemson Tigers and Virginia Cavaliers, two of the toughest defensive teams in the ACC.
The Orange had 64 points in their March 3 win over Clemson and totaled 30 second-half points in a 72-69 defeat to Virginia in the ACC tournament.
If San Diego State neutralizes the effects of the zone, Syracuse needs to reach the 70-point mark to feel comfortable about its chances to win. The recent examples we have from San Diego State's defense and Syracuse's offense against better teams suggest the Orange will not get there.
Struggling from three-point range may even see Syracuse lose by double digits to a team that has potential to make a deep run in the Midwest Region.
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