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NCAA Tournament: Potential Minnesota opponents

Looking ahead so you can scout teams now.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Maryland Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

This morning I posted about potential seeding for the Gophers in this year’s NCAA Tournament. If things go right, they could earn their way up to a 4-seed, but will likely fall in the 5/6/7 seed range.

Next up I want to take a look at the teams we could potentially face in the 1st and second rounds of the NCAA Tourney. Why now when the list of potential opponents is lengthy? As we head into conference tournaments and you have the opportunity to see more mid-major teams or even middle of the pack teams from P5 conferences, this will hopefully give you a more targeted list of which teams you are more likely to care about March 16-19.

Potential First Round Opponents

To start with I am going to take a look at the teams slotted to be seeded in the 10-13 ranges, with special emphasis on the 11 and 12 seeds (I really think we’ll be a 6...maybe a 5-seed). I’m using Bracket Matrix as my primary source for seeding and then I am using KenPom ranks to help guide my thoughts on who I’d prefer to see us play/avoid.

One thing to note is that I’m taking both seeding and perceived strength of each team into consideration. Would I like to face East Tennessee State if they are a 10-seed? Yes, I would rather face them than some of the other potential 10-seeds. Would I want to face them as a 13-seed (closer to where they’ll end up)? Absolutely not.

Teams I’d Like to Avoid

  • Wichita State (KenPom-10, Seed range 8-10) - more than likely will be an 8/9 and we won’t have to worry about it. But if the Shockers lose early in MVC, I would cringe to see them as a 7/10 matchup.
  • Illinois State (KP-44, Seed-12) - another MVC team, but the Redbirds play great defense and would be underseeded. This is a potential 5/12 upset team...hopefully they draw someone else.
  • UT-Arlington (KP-73, Seed-12) - a team we have already faced and there would be zero intimidation factor. They have played beat good teams this year and after a “meh” January they are hot and coming together.
  • Nevada (KP-63, Seed-12) - Would make for an interesting match-up with Eric Musselman coaching and the Wolfpack being led by St. Paul’s Marcus Marshall (19.7 ppg). Probably a team to avoid. Might be slightly overseeded as a 12, but I want to avoid them wherever they are.
  • Vermont (KP-69, Seed-13) - I don’t anticipate we’ll end up a 4-seed, but if we do, Vermont is the 13-seed I’d want to avoid.
  • East Tennessee State (KP-66, Seed-14) - The Buccaneers scare me and before dropping one to Greensboro last night, they were set to be a higher seed. This is a dangerous 1st round match-up and I hope to avoid them.

Teams I’d Prefer to Play

  • USC (KP-67, Seed-10) - The only thing that would concern me is that they tend not to foul. But other than that, their defense isn’t special, I’m confident we could defend Dunk City and they are trending the wrong way with 4 consecutive losses.
  • Seton Hall (KP-67, Seed-10) - Fox’s Stewart Mandell has us playing the Pirates in the first round and I say “thank you” to the committee. A team that has turnover issues and puts teams on the foul line a lot.
  • Syracuse (KP-51, Seed-11) - really? Yes, really. They have lost 4 of their last 5 and I think that we would actually fare well against their zone.
  • Marquette (KP-32, Seed-11) - This one I’m not as confident in, but here’s why I want to face them. Their biggest strength is their 3 point shooting, they are #1 in the country. But defending the three is a strength of ours and I’ll take my chances.
  • Cal (KP-48, Seed-12) - Similar efficiency profile to ours except our offense is better and we’d win this one at the free throw line.
  • Monmouth (KP-79, Seed-13) - As we get into the 13-seeds, I’m looking at teams I’d want that may slide up to 12 or if we get lucky and leap up to a 4. Odd stat, but they get blocked a lot, ranking 322nd nationally in offensive block %. But overall they just don’t scare me.
  • Princeton (KP-59, Seed-13) - Possibly underseeded and perhaps I should fear the Tigers, but I don’t. They haven’t lost since December but two losses are to Monmouth and Cal (see above). Lynch, Murphy and Curry would dominate in this game.
  • Valparaiso (KP-95, Seed-13) - I’d love for the Crusaders to win the Horizon and move up a little. They are overseeded here. Nothing about their profile stands out as something Gopher fans should fear...other than Derrik Smits and only because he is the son of Rik Smits.
  • Akron (KP-102, Seed-13/14) - The Zips would need to win the MAC and have a little luck to move up high enough to face the Gophers. But their defens is pretty weak and I’d love to face the Zips in round 1.

The Rest

  • Providence (KP-55, Seed-11) - they are hot right now, but before their run I wouldn’t have been too concerned with the Friars.
  • Middle Tennessee State (KP-47, Seed-11/12) - could be a dangerous but I was pretty neutral on the Blue Raiders.
  • Vanderbilt (KP-46, Seed-11/12) - already faced the Commodores but they are 8-3 since middle of January and I think they are trending the right way.
  • UNC-Wilmington (KP-58, Seed-11/12) - Maybe I should be scared but they put teams on the line a lot and don’t play great defense. In their defense, they don’t beat themselves and have a decent offense.
  • Belmont (KP-83, Seed-13/14) - Not a team I’m all that scared of, but probably underseeded.

There you have a pretty solid list of potential 1st round opponents. You can see that I would tend to prefer to play a middle-of-the-pack P5 teams over most of the mid-majors. But not all of the mid-majors scare me either. Looking at the possible seeding, I would almost perfer a 6 or 7-seed to a 5-seed. The 11 and 10-seeds are ones I would prefer to face, on paper.

But we have a couple weeks to watch these teams and refine opinions.

Potential 2nd Round Match-ups

Fortunately it looks like we are going to avoid the 8/9 seed line that gets to face a 1-seed in the second round. So which of the 2/3/4 seeds would we prefer to see or avoid?

I will spend less time on this portion of the post because it is already getting very long. This second round is less about teams I’m confident we would beat and more about which match-ups would give us the best chance at advancing to the second round. Cause a Sweet 16 season would be pretty damn fun. All of these teams are good, but you’ll have to beat one of them to get to the second weekend.

Teams to Avoid

  • Gonzaga (KP-1, Seed 1/2) - Maybe I’m more neutral on the Zags, but if they fall to a 2-seed, I want nothing to do with them.
  • Louisville (KP-4, Seed-2) - Another game I want nothing to do with, especially if teams creep up and push the Cardinals to a 3 and we are a 6. How come I’m anticipating this from the committee?
  • Kentucky (KP-7, Seed-2) - I know I’ve said often that teams that are less structured and more “athletic” are better match-ups for us. But there is a limit. Please no Wildcats!
  • UCLA (KP-13, Seed-2/3) - Maybe the only Pac-12 team I’d want to avoid, their offense is just too good and they don’t put teams on the line.
  • Florida (KP-6, Seed-3/2) - Just too good on both ends of the floor.
  • Florida State (KP-18, Seed-4) - I just don’t like this match-up for us. Their bigs are hard to guard.
  • Duke (KP-15, Seed-4/3) - This would be an underseed due to rough patch in January. But I fear this is a Final Four team.
  • West Virginia (KP-5, Seed-4) - I fear their defense. A lot.
  • Virginia (KP-8, Seed-4/5) - Typically over-rated on KenPom, but as a 4 or 5-seed I would fear Virginia. Should they move up to a 3 and we get them as a 6? That’s not a terrible match-up.

Teams I’d Rather Face

  • Oregon (KP-17, Seed-2) - as a 2-seed, I’d be very happy to face Oregon. They are good, but of all the 2s, they’d be the one I’d be happies to face.
  • Baylor (KP-11, Seed-2) - Dominant and a Final Four team through end of January, but 5-5 in February. I’d take my chances with them over a handful of other teams.
  • Arizona (KP-22, Seed-2/3) - their only losses all year are to Butler, Baylor, UCLA and Gonzaga...all pretty good teams. Actually a really good team on the 3-seed line, but I’d rather face them than UCLA or Florida.
  • Butler (KP-20, Seed-3) - If we are a 6-seed...give me Butler please. No disrespect but I’d rather face them than the other top seeds. Good offense, but defense isn’t particularly strong.
  • Notre Dame (KP-26, Seed-4/5) - to face the Irish we’d have to move up and they would have to make a run in ACC Tourney to move up to a 4. They are currently hot, but have been streaky.

That is the list of opponents we’d be most likely to face. Certainly teams will move around. Some teams will move from “avoid” to “want” based on where they finally end up seeded. Others will move from teams currently seeded next to us (thus not on these lists) to teams we may end up facing. But this is list is a good start and it could be tweaked next week.

Please share your thoughts. Who do you want to see or avoid when the Gophers wade into March Madness and make a run at the Sweet 16.