Another day, another 12 hours of wall-to-wall coverage of the Big Dance. While every game could arguably be called a “big game,” there are a few we’ve got our eye.
Just a heads up, Cal’s leading scorer, Tyrone Wallace (15.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.4 apg), broke his non-shooting hand during practice Wednesday, the same hand he broke in January, causing him to miss five games, during which the Bears went 3-2.
#10 VCU (24-10, 14-4 A-10) @ #7 Oregon State (19-12, 9-9 Pac-12) (1:30pm ET Friday, TNT)
The Virginia Commonwealth Rams finished tied atop the A-10, but lost to Saint Joseph’s in the conference final 87-74 as they ran afoul the hot hands of DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles, who scored 56 points on 24-of-32 shooting along with 17 rebounds and six assists combined – not much you can do about that. This is VCU’s sixth consecutive tournament appearance, the first under coach Will Wade, who was promoted to the top spot after Shaka Smart left for Texas. VCU is 12-14 in tournament play, having reached one Final Four. Just two seasons removed from firing the First Lady’s brother, the Beavers, led by Gary Payton II (15.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 5.1 apg) are in their first Big Dance since 1990, when they were led by Basketball Hall-of-Famer Gary Payton. The Beavers are 12-19 on tournament play and have reached two Final Fours.
#12 South Dakota State (26-7, 12-4 Summit) @ #5 Maryland (25-8, 12-6 Big Ten) (4:30pm ET Friday, TBS)
The Jackrabbits have found their way to the third NCAA tournament by, again, dominating the Summit League. Yes, they went 26-7, but they did it by playing two games against independent teams, facing zero ranked teams, going against only three teams from major conferences (beating 8-23 Minnesota and 12-21 TCU), and being in a conference that’s won nine NCAA tournament games in 33 years. To sum it up:these dudes seem wildly out of their depth. The Maryland Terrapins are a case study in angering the basketball gods by trying to pad your record. On February 8, the new AP poll rankings had the Terps at #2, the next day they beat Division II Bowie State 93-62 and then went on a 3-5 skid that saw them fall all the way to 18 in the AP poll. The Terps are 39-24 with two Final Fours and one title in 25 previous March Madness runs. Some think the ‘Rabbits are a trendy upset pick, but our editor went to Maryland, so, Go Terps!
Holy Cross (14-19, 5-13 Patriot) @ #1 Oregon (28-6, 14-4 Pac 12) (7:27pm ET Friday, truTV)
The Holy Cross Crusaders finished their regular season by losing five conference games in a row, then promptly swept through their conference tourney, and next defeated Southern (22-13) 59-55, outscoring them 7-3 in the final 81 seconds. Holy Cross is playing with house money. This is the Crusaders’ first NCAA berth since 2007, and 13th overall, during which they’ve gone 8-12, making two Final Fours and winning it all in 1947. Oregon is probably the weakest if the #1 seeds in this year’s tourney, but they still went 5-0 against ranked teams, outscored their opposition by 9.7 points per game, won their last eight games in a row, and feature four guys – Dillon Brooks, Elgin Cook, Tyler Dorsey and Chris Boucher – who averaged at least 12 points and four rebounds per game, the most of any school in the country. The Ducks are in the fourth consecutive Big Dance, 14th overall, and they have a tourney record of 16-12, winning the title in 1939. A #16 seed has never defeated a #1 seed, but Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com thinks that’s a fluke,” that it’s bound to happen – could this be the game?
#9 Cincinnati (22-10, 12-6 ACC) @ #8 Saint Joseph’s (27-7, 13-5 A-10) (9:57pm ET Friday, truTV)
The Cincinnati Bearcats shot a grisly 42.8% from the floor this year, but more than made up for it with a smothering defense that held opponents to an even grislier 39%, allowing to them outscore their foes by 10.3 points per game. Their last game was a quadruple-overtime heartbreaker as they lost 104-97 in the AAC finals to a Connecticut team they’d beaten twice before. The Bearcats are playing in the sixth straight March Madness (30th in all) having gone 44-28, making four Final Fours, winning back-to-back titles in ‘61 and ‘62. The Saint Joseph’s Hawks are led by the frontcourt duo of DeAndre Bembry (17.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 4.5 apg) and Isaiah Miles (18.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg), who stepped up big in the A-10 final, as they each played 39 minutes and combined for 56 points on 24-of-32 shooting. The Hawks are in the tournament for the twenty-first time, going 18-24, making the Final Four in 1961.
Here’s today’s NCAA on Sling schedule in all it’s glory:
#15 UNC Asheville (22-11, 12-6 Big South) @ #2 Villanova (29-5, 16-2 Big East), 12:40pm ET Friday, truTV
#10 VCU (24-10, 14-4 A-10) @ #7 Oregon State (19-12, 9-9 Pac-12), 1:30pm ET Friday, TNT
#13 Hawaii (27-5, 13-3 Big West) @ #4 Cal (23-10, 12-6 Pac-12), 2pm ET Friday, TBS
#10 Temple (21-11, 14-4 AAC) @ #7 Iowa (21-10, 12-6 Big Ten), 3:10pm ET Friday, truTV
#15 CSU Bakersfield (24-8, 11-3 WAC) @ #2 Oklahoma (25-7, 12-6 Big 12), 4pm ET Friday, TNT
#12 South Dakota State (26-7, 12-4 Summit) @ #5 Maryland (25-8, 12-6 Big Ten), 4:30pm ET Friday, TBS
#10 Pittsburgh (21-11, 9-9 ACC) @ #7 Wisconsin (20-12, 12-6 Big Ten), 6:50pm ET Friday, TNT
#14 Green Bay (23-12, 11-7 Horizon) @ #3 Texas A&M (26-8, 13-5 SEC), 7:20pm ET Friday, TBS
#16 Holy Cross (14-19, 5-13 Patriot) @ #1 Oregon (28-6, 14-4 Pac 12), 7:27pm ET Friday, truTV
#15 Weber State (26-8, 15-3 Big Sky) @ #2 Xavier (27-5, 14-4 Big East), 9:20pm ET Friday, TNT
#11 Northern Iowa (22-12, 11-7 MVC) @ #6 Texas (20-12, 11-7 Big 12), 9:50pm ET Friday, TBS
#9 Cincinnati (22-10, 12-6 ACC) @ #8 Saint Joseph’s (27-7, 13-5 A-10), 9:57pm ET Friday, truTV