Posted on March 19, 2023
Oregon hosts an underrated UCF team while Colorado faces a powerful Utah Valley offense. Both Pac-12 teams will need to have strong games to move onto the next round.
I preview both games here and my picks, along with those of Stephen Vilardo, appear at the bottom.
UCF at 1-seed Oregon
Sunday, March 19
4:30 pm PT, ESPNU
The Knights are better than their 19-14 record indicates and are fresh off an upset victory against Florida earlier in the week.
Led by 6-foot-9 forward Taylor Hendricks, UCF has four players averaging in double figures. The four staters each average over 30 minutes per game and make up 70.5 percent of the Knights’ scoring production.
Other than guard Darius Johnson, three of the four leading scorers are 6-foot-5 or taller.
But even with respectable height, Central Florida is a relatively poor rebounding team. Entering the game No. 164 in rebounds per game, the Knights might struggle on the glass against Oregon.
Still, UCF is an elite three-point shooting team, shares the ball better than most, and is a strong shot-blocking unit.
To survive and advance, the Ducks must win the rebounding margin, limit turnovers, and defend the perimeter.
Dana Altman’s role players embraced their expanded role in the opening round with a convincing win over UC Irvine. Central Florida, however, is a much stronger team from a substantially better conference.
If Altman’s group allows the Knights to get hot from three and doesn’t dominate the glass, Oregon could find its NIT run over by the end of the game.
Utah Valley at 2-seed Colorado
Sunday, March 19
6:30 pm PT, ESPNU
The victory over Seton Hall earlier in the week was impressive, but Utah Valley is legitimately an NCAA Tournament-caliber team.
Averaging more points per game, higher field goal and three-point percentages, more rebounds per night, more assists per game, and a higher number of blocks per night, the Wolverines should arguably be the favorite.
The WAC program dispatched New Mexico in Albuquerque by 14 earlier in the week, indicating the strength of its team.
Four Utah Valley players average in double digits and three of them are listed as guards. Center Aziz Bandaogo, however, is arguably the key.
Shooting 60.5 percent from the field on 11.4 points per game with 10.2 rebounds per night, the 7-footer must be contained. But at 215 pounds, Bandaogo is a favorable matchup for Lawson Lovering.
The sophomore has taken a step forward in his second season in Boulder and the battle with Bandaogo is the penultimate test of the season.
If Lovering keeps the Wolverine center below his average or makes him inefficient from the field, the Buffs will be in a stronger position.
Still, the game figures to come down to Colorado’s defense on Utah Valley’s three main guards. CU’s strength all season has been its defense and the matchup with the Wolverines pits strength-on-strength.
If Tad Boyle’s group keeps the game low-scoring and slow, Colorado could survive and advance.
Our Senior Writers’ Game Picks
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