Sponsored by Applebees
By Tom Fink
1) Phenomenal Guard Play – From Lamar’s Mike James to the two guys discussed at length below, the teams playing on Tuesday and Wednesday have some of the best point men you’re going to see the whole tournament.
2) Name Brands – There are some awesome names featured in The First Four. Be sure to watch out for: Teeng Akol (WKU), Cor-J Cox (MVSU), Momo Jones (Iona), Noah Hartsock (BYU), Four McGlynn (Vermont), Vincenzo Nelson (Lamar), Allen Crabbe (Cal) and Augustus Gilchrist (USF).
3) Interim Success – Western Kentucky fired their Head Coach earlier this season, but this young squad made an improbable conference tournament run under Interim Head Coach Ray Harper.
4) Devilish Swagger – The Mississippi Valley State Devils played a ridiculous non-conference schedule this season, highlighted by games against UNC, Notre Dame, Florida and Wisconsin. They didn’t win many, but this veteran team undoubtedly learned from those tough match ups.
5) Redemption – Whether you agree with BYU’s conduct policy or not, Brandon Davies is ready to redeem himself in the tourney after being suspended last year.
6) Battles on the Glass – Vermont plays great defense but Lamar excels at offensive rebounding. Which team’s strong point will overcome their opponent’s strength on Wednesday?
7) Tough Cookies – Cal’s Jorge Gutierrez and South Florida’s Toarlyn Fitzpatrick lead their teams with their tough and gutty performances night in and night out. Though they play different positions, those two guys on the floor at the same time will be exciting.
8) Fabulous Freshmen – The First Four is chock full of skilled youngsters including Anthony Collins (see below), Derrick Gordon, George Fant and Matt Carlino. With only two games each night, it’s definitely a good time to see some up-and-coming talent.
9) Surplus of Points – Iona lead the country in scoring and they go up against a rather unathletic BYU defense.
10) Old Men vs. The Kids – Mississippi Valley State has 5 Seniors who get a ton of playing time, where as WKU has 5 Freshmen who see the court a lot. Will experience prevail for MVSU? Or will youthful exuberance catapult the Hilltoppers into the field of 64.
11) Pat Knight – The guy is intense and quotable. Just be around the television when his team is playing in case he gives us all a gem at halftime or at the post-game presser.
12) Long Distance Trouble – Not your cell phone service provider, but the players from Lamar and Vermont. Whoever misses less from distance will likely win this game.
13) Crafty Coaches – Dave Rose (BYU), Mike Montgomery (Cal) and Stan Heath (USF) have a ton of experience and may be the key to getting their teams past the first test.
14) Model of Consistency – Iona’s Mike Glover averaged 18.4 PPG last year, and 18.5 PPG this season. How many points will he score on Tuesday against BYU? Probably 18.
15) Jorge Gutierrez – He may be the most frustrating player in the First Four to game plan against as he can do a little of everything. In fact, coaches of opposing teams have been known to get in physical altercations with him due to his pesky play.
16) Conference Champs vs. At Larges – Will we see more Conference Champs advance from the First Four, or will teams like Cal who got At Large bids move on?
17) Fighting for .500 – Western Kentucky is the first team since 2009 to make the tourney with a record below .500. The Hilltoppers quest for an 18-18 record begins against MVSU.
18) Pac-12 Pride – Cal is one of the two teams in the Big Dance this year from the Pac-12, so they have to do well to help the confernce save face.
19) An Early Bed Time – You’re going to be staying up late a lot during the tournament, but the teams playing the late games on Tuesday and Wednesday combined to play only four overtime games all year, so they’ll likely be done in regulation.
20) The Beginning of Something Special – Is this year’s VCU among these eight teams? If one of these squads makes a deep run into the tournament, you’re going to want to say that you were there on the first night.
Players To Watch:
PG Scott Machado (Sr./Iona) – Scott was second in the nation with assists (9.9 per game) and is the facilitator in Iona’s high powered offense. But he can shoot the ball as well, as Machado averaged 41.1% from 3-Point range. There are a couple guys in the First Four who can get you a Triple Double, and Scott Machado is one of them.
PG Anthony Collins (Fr./USF) – Despite being a freshman, Collins controls things for the Bulls. The pace of their offense and the tenacity of their defense is dictated by the young man from Houston, Texas who averages almost 2 steals per game and shoots 50% from the field. He has been South Florida’s hottest player as of late and will need to continue that level of play if the team hopes to advance.