March Matchups has arrived with an action-packed bracket for the first round.
We’ll provide the stats and angles you should know for No. 11 Iowa State vs. No. 6 LSU and No. 9 TCU vs. No. 8 Seton Hall. We’ll also turn to the NBA for Sunday’s showdown between the Celtics and Nuggets.
The Showstopper’s got your weekend preview of all the college hoop-la!
No. 11 Iowa State Cyclones vs. No. 6 LSU Tigers
Friday, March 18 | TV: TBS
The Cyclones finished seventh in the Big 12, with a 7-11 record in conference play, but they’ll get a chance to prove their worth in the tournament against a very balanced LSU squad. Iowa State is riding a three-game losing streak, including an ugly 72-41 defeat to Texas Tech, but the Cyclones did hang tough with Baylor before floundering in the final minutes. The Tigers have averaged a shade under 75 points over their last five games, in which they’ve gone 3-2, with both losses against Arkansas. LSU does have to deal with the headwinds of some coaching drama, as Will Wade was recently fired after multiple allegations of NCAA violations. Assistant Kevin Nickelberry steps in as the interim coach to lead the Tigers, who actually reached the Sweet 16 when Wade was suspended for the postseason in 2019.
The Tigers are a physical bunch, led by forwards Tari Eason and Darius Days, who should provide an advantage in the rebounding department against an Iowa State team that likes to shoot from deep. The Cyclones’ top scoring threat Izaiah Brockington is averaging 17.2 points per game, but he’s gone cold over his last three games, shooting 26 percent from the field in that span. LSU hasn’t looked all that great down the stretch, but neither has Iowa State. The Cyclones only scored 36 points against Oklahoma State earlier this month. LSU’s likely path to victory is through its defense, which leads the nation in steals, especially after Texas Tech just put the clamps down on Iowa State’s offense.
No. 9 TCU Horned Frogs vs. No. 8 Seton Hall Pirates
Friday, March 18 | TV: truTV
It’s a rare tournament showing for the Horned Frogs (gotta love that school nickname). And according to ESPN’s Matchup Predictor, this one could have the makings of a true toss-up. Neither team had great conference records. Seton Hall posted a 11-8 conference record in the Big East, while TCU went 8-10, but in the tougher Big 12 conference. Seton Hall has won six of their last seven games, wrapping up with a 62-52 loss to UConn in the Big East tournament. Led by their tenacious defense, the Horned Frogs are coming off a very impressive season, highlighted by victories over a number of ranked programs: Kansas, Iowa State, LSU, Texas, and Texas Tech. TCU has lost three of its last four, but two of those losses came against Kansas.
TCU led the Big 12 in rebounding margin this season, which is bad news for a Seton Hall squad that gave up 39 offensive rebounds over their last two games. The more experienced Pirates will have to avoid giving up second-chance opportunities to maintain the lead in what should be a close contest. Seton Hall has been inconsistent from three-point range, shooting 34 percent overall as a unit. Senior guard Jared Rhoden shot 2-of-13 last game, but the Pirates will need a much better performance out of their leading scorer to slay the Horned Frogs.
Boston Celtics vs. Denver Nuggets
Sunday, March 20 | TV: NBC Sports Boston / NBA League Pass
The Celtics and Nuggets find themselves in an Eastern and Western Conference standings logjam as every game holds weight down the stretch. Heading into the weekend action, the Celtics are only 18-16 on the road, but they just pulled off a dominant 110-88 victory in Golden State. They’ve opened March by reeling off wins in six of their last seven games. Celtics star Jayson Tatum has been on fire, averaging 35.1 points per game over that span. MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, who recently surpassed 10,000 career NBA points, leads a Nuggets team that has posted strong wins over Eastern Conference foes, including the 76ers, Nets and Heat. However, Denver did lose its first matchup of the season with Boston, as Tatum scored 24 to lead the Celts to a competitive 108-102 victory.
Rookie Bones Hyland has been terrific for Denver off the bench in March, averaging 13.8 points per game with a 52.5 percent mark from beyond the arc. Marcus Smart has also stepped up his scoring for the Celtics, averaging 16.4 points per game this month. Both players should continue to produce in what could be another fast-paced, physical battle. With Jokic manning the paint, expect to see a lot of Celtics center Robert Williams, as the defensive-minded big man will be relied on heavily for his blocks and rebounds.