One 2 seed down. Maybe two more to go? Oral Roberts shocked the college basketball world, beating Ohio State 76-73 in overtime. The Golden Eagles became the ninth NCAA Tournament team to win as a 15 seed, and I think we may have a chance to have a 2012 tournament situation — a year when two 15 seeds advanced. There are two matchups Saturday that have the ingredients to make that happen. In the first matchup, between Iona and Alabama, legendary coach Rick Pitino makes his return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since his departure from Louisville. On the other side, Grand Canyon makes its first tournament appearance in school history against Iowa. Grand Canyon coach Bryce Drew has some magical March moments under his belt already. Can he add another?
Both of the two seeds in question are reliant on the three. Fading three-point reliant teams in this tournament has shown to be profitable. Let’s break down the matchups.
How Iona can Win:
Vegas Spread: Iona +16.5
The Gaels have the legendary Pitino on the sidelines, and slick Rick didn’t pack six suites for nothing. Pitino has made five Final Fours and has won two national championships.
Iona got off to a slow start due to a long COVID shutdown. Recently, the Gaels have finally found their groove and have been playing great basketball. Iona had to make an adjustment to Pitino’s gritty defensive style. Iona defends like hell, ranking 17th overall in effective field goal percentage and 23rd nationally in three-point defense. This can potentially give Alabama’s three-point happy offense some problems. Iona has just enough playmakers on the offensive end. The Gaels lead the MAAC in free throw percentage and they ranked second in points per game. However, the Gaels will need other players besides leading scorer Isaiah Ross to step up to stay competitive. Alabama is going to play its style and bomb threes. The Gaels need to focus on keeping this game close because they do not have the firepower to come back from a double-digit deficit. Iona has the ability on defense to get stops and frustrate Alabama but will need to score effectively off of stops. Can Ross have an Abmas type game and carry them to a win? Maybe.
How Grand Canyon can win:
Vegas spread: GCU +14.5
Grand Canyon has the size, toughness, and a strong enough defense to stay competitive against this Iowa team. Iowa has been one of the most fraudulent teams in the country by sharp sports bettors. Luke Garza is awesome, but the pieces around him are significantly overvalued. Iowa is extremely vulnerable due to its defensive inconstancies and the absence of Jack Nunge is a huge deal for the Hawkeyes. Nunge is a super sub off the bench that can provide huge contributions offensively and defensively. Nunge’s presence would ensure that Grand Canyon would not be able to dominate the glass with its talented bigs Asbjorn Midtgaard and Alessandro Lever. The Hawkeyes’ defensive rebounding numbers have dipped significantly and they rank 205th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. GCU is one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the country (34th in ORB%). On defense, Midtgaard will provide a decent challenge to Garza. Garza will not be able to back down the stronger Midtgaard — he will have to work in the post and make the tougher shots.
Grand Canyon also sports one of the top defenses in the country. The Lopes rank second in opponent field goal percentage, 74th in overall defensive efficiency, 15th in defensive rebounding percentage, and they are 13th in the country in defending the three. The Lopes are so good on defense because of their depth. Bryce Drew plays a legitimate 10 guys and they get after you on the defensive end. In addition, Drew throws different lineups and presents different defensive looks throughout the game. The Lopes differ from man and zone quite often, and it can throw off the defense. Iowa is not going to have its way on offense.