Friday's NCAA Tournament Games to Watch

March 16th, 2012

After an "opening" day that went mostly according to form, the hope of many is that Friday's slate provides some upsets. And with some of the matchups providing a nice contrast in styles as well as talented players on mid-major squads who may not be household names just yet, there's a good chance that an upset does happen. Here's the schedule for today along with a game from each site that you should keep track of. 

Columbus: (8) Memphis vs. (9) Saint Louis
6:50 PM EST, TBS

Both of these teams have the potential to give Michigan State fits on Sunday, albeit for different reasons. Josh Pastner's Tigers were a team many expected to be in the Top 10 to start the season, but losses against the better teams on their non-conference schedule reuslted in Memphis likely being underseeded. Will Barton has been outstanding all season long, and the emergence of Chris Crawford has been another factor in their current run. The keys for Memphis are simple: make sound decisions without the basketball and make sure Tarik Black doesn't end up in early foul trouble. 

Rick Majerus' Billikens get it done in a different way, as they're more comfortable with a game played in the half court. Kwamain Mitchell has played well at the point and despite his height Brian Conklin will battle inside for 40 minutes. SLU is one of the best coached teams in the tournament, so in that regards it may be safe to assume that at some point Saint Louis could have something special lined up Memphis especially if Barton gets rolling early. Both teams have been very good in regards to their efficiency numbers this season on both ends of the floor, which should lead to a tight contest. The team that does the better job of influencing the tempo of the game likely wins. 

Other games in Columbus
(6) San Diego State vs. (11) NC State; 12:40 PM EST (truTV)
(3) Georgetown vs. (14) Belmont; 3:10 PM EST (truTV)
(1) Michigan State vs. (16) LIU Brooklyn; 9:20 PM EST (TBS)

Greensboro: (8) Creighton vs. (9) Alabama
1:40 PM EST, TBS

Xavier/Notre Dame is another contest to keep tabs on in Greensboro, but the first game of the day will be interesting in regards to how the Crimson Tide go about guarding Doug McDermott. With Tony Mitchell dismissed from the team a few weeks ago the most likely option for Anthony Grant is no longer present. But that doesn't mean that Alabama is without hope, as they allow opponents to shoot just 38.8% from the field. That's five percentage points better than Creighton, who's had issues defensively for much of the season. If McDermott and Antoine Young can get things going offensively the Bluejays should be able to create their kind of game. 

But that's easier said than done, and they'll have to get stops at some point. Trevor Releford leads the way on the perimeter, and Alabama's going to need a Trevor Lacey or Levi Randolph to step up scoring-wise alongside him if they're to win. The battle in the paint between JaMychal Green and Gregory Echenique could be determined early if one of them gets into early foul trouble. The winner gets North Carolina and while most of the country likely hopes that it's Creighton who advances, they're going to need to bring a higher level of intensity on the defensive end if they're to move on. 

Other games in Greensboro
(1) North Carolina vs. (16) Vermont; 3:10 PM EST (TBS)
(2) Duke vs. (15) Lehigh; 7:15 PM EST (CBS)
(7) Notre Dame vs. (10) Xavier; 9:45 PM EST (CBS)

Nashville: (4) Michigan vs. (13) Ohio
7:20 PM EST, TNT

All four games in Nashville have the potential to produce wins by the lower-seeded team, so don't be surprised if the Bobcats give Michigan a run for their money. Point guard D.J. Cooper has played very well for John Groce, leading the team in both points and assists. Cooper was also a member of that team that knocked off Georgetown two years ago so the experience shouldn't be a concern either. Ohio's got some talented players alongside Cooper such as Ivo Baltic, Walter Offutt and perimeter shooter Nick Kellogg. The key for the Bobcats: defending the three.

Michigan may not have the most impressive percentage from beyond the arc (35.2%) but that doesn't deter John Beilein's team from taking the shot, as they score 36.8% of their points via the three. Trey Burke has been outstanding at the point for Michigan, and joining him on the perimeter are Stu Douglass, Tm Hardaway Jr. and Zack Novak. If Jordan Morgan can control things in the paint that would bode well for the Wolverines as neither team is particularly good in the rebounding department. Ohio also forces more than 17 turnovers a game, but with Michigan averaging just 10.9 something has to give there. How well Ohio defends the three will likely determine the outcome. 

Other games in Nashville
(6) Cincinnati vs. (11) Texas; 12:15 PM EST (CBS)
(3) Florida State vs. (14) St. Bonaventure; 2:45 PM EST (CBS)
(5) Temple vs. (12) USF; 9:50 PM EST (TNT)

Omaha: (7) Saint Mary's vs. (10) Purdue
7:27 PM EST, truTV

This has the potential to be one of the best games of the day due to the point guard position. Saint Mary's relies heavily on Matthew Dellavedova and rightfully so, as the WCC Player of the Year leads the team in both points and assists. On the other side is senior Lewis Jackson, who is one of the toughest players in college basketball. The Boilermakers need Jackson to keep Dellavedova out of his comfort zone on the floor, forcing him to both take challenged shots and make passes from tougher angles. If Jackson can do that the Boilers are more than capable of winning.

Also of note are seniors Robbie Hummel (Purdue) and Rob Jones (Saint Mary's), with the latter being virtually a guaranteed double-double for much of the season. Hummel's bounced back from two ACL tears to lead the Boilermakers in scoring, and he'll have to continue that today. The Gaels also have Brad Waldow inside, and off the bench Clint Steindl can make teams pay with his ability to knock down the perimeter shot. Having Stephen Holt go down didn't derail Saint Mary's on their way to the WCC regular season and tournament titles, and they're more than capable of getting to the Sweet 16 as well.  

Other games in Omaha
(7) Florida vs. (10) Virginia; 2:10 PM EST (TNT)
(2) Missouri vs. (15) Norfolk State; 4:40 PM EST (TNT)
(2) Kansas vs. (15) Detroit; 9:57 PM EST (truTV)