The NCAA tournament presents college basketball bettors with some unique matchups they wouldn’t get anywhere else, which makes the Big Dance ripe with mismatches.
Of course, you see more of these in games involving high and low seeds – like a No. 1 versus a No. 16 – but here are four underlying mismatches that may make or break your bets in the second round.
No. 3 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 14 Valparaiso Crusaders (+10, 127)
Spartans’ home-court edge vs. Crusaders’ Indiana roots
Michigan State wound up in the toughest region in the tournament – the Midwest – but it got the luck of the draw with its first two tournament games scheduled in its home state. The Spartans make the short trip to Detroit to face the Crusaders in the Palace of Auburn Hills Thursday, a homecoming for many of MSU’s players.
Valparaiso is just four hours from Detroit but Michigan basketball fans don’t take kindly to teams from Indiana, whether their names are the Hoosiers or the Crusaders.
"It's going to be a home game for them basically in Michigan," Valpo head coach Bryce Drew told MLive.com.
No. 12 Mississippi Rebels vs. No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (-6, 28)
Rebels’ up-tempo offense vs. Badgers’ slow-motion sets
Ole Miss ranks 10th in the country in points per game (77.9) and fires up an average of 62 shots an outing – fifth most in the land. Wisconsin, on the other hand, attempted just 47 field goals in its 50-43 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game and averages 65.5 points on the season. Someone’s got to give in this West Regional showdown.
The Rebels come into the tournament with a ton of momentum and a chip on their shoulder after winning the SEC championship but only receiving a No. 12 seed for their efforts. Ole Miss is hoping starting point guard Jarvis Summers can return from a concussion and dictate the flow but books seem to think Wisconsin will control the pace with the total set at 128 points – Mississippi’s second-lowest total all season.
No. 4 Saint Louis Billikens vs. No. 13 New Mexico State Aggies (+9, 122)
Billikens’ undersized F Dwayne Evans vs. Aggies’ 7-footer Sim Bhullar
Saint Louis built a ton of buzz heading into March, winning both the A-10 regular season and tournament titles. That success is in part due to 6-foot-5 forward Dwayne Evans, who has stepped up as the Billikens’ go-to scorer in recent games. Evans was recently called a "below-the-rim workaholic” by local reporters, which may not bode well for the SLU junior versus the Aggies’ towering frontcourt.
New Mexico State will plug 7-foot-5, 355-pound center Sim Bhullar in the middle of the paint in order to disrupt Evans. Bhullar averaged 10.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and swatted more than two blocks per game. Behind him is fellow Toronto native 6-foot-10 forward Renaldo Dixon, who averaged 1.3 blocks in just under 19 minutes a game. The Aggies finished 13th in the nation in swats – 5.5 an outing – and held opponents to 39.8 percent shooting.
No. 5 VCU Rams vs. No. 12 Akron Zips (+7.5, 135.5)
Rams’ pressure defense vs. Zips’ shaky backcourt
VCU leads the nation in steals (11.8 per game) and turnovers forced (19.9 per game). The Rams thrive on their foes' mistakes and turn those into points, a big reason why they shoot 44.9 percent from the field. It’s not too tough when you keep getting fast break layups.
The Zips are a man down heading into the NCAA after starting point guard Alex Abreu was arrested for drug trafficking and suspended before the MAC tournament. Akron had 31 total turnovers in the two games without Abreu and average 13.7 on the year. VCU head coach Shaka Smart was once an assistant for the Zips and knows Akron head coach Keith Dambrot very, very well.