Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thursday's Pregame Beat: The six games you have to watch

Today is the day.

No. Wait. Let me rephrase that.

Today is the best day of the entire year.

The NCAA Tournament kicks off this afternoon at 12:15 pm as West Virginia and Clemson tip off in Tampa and will conclude at sometime around midnight when Kansas State and Utah State finish up what is undoubtedly going to be an exciting day of hoops.

The best part? All 16 games will be aired in their entirety on television. And with the staggered starts -- instead of starting each round of games within 20 minutes of each other, CBS and Turner decided to stagger the starts with roughly a half hour in between each tip -- the viewers at home will be able to watch each and every finish if they so desire. No longer will the Arizona fan in New York City or the UConn fan in California be relegated to March Madness On Demand or the live look-ins to follow along with their team.

To get you prepped for today's action, here are the six best games of the day, which will obviously become null and void when an eight seed blows out a nine seed and a 14 seed takes a three seed to overtime. The full schedule, with announcer pairings, can be found at the bottom of the post:

12:40 pm, truTV, Washington DC: No. 8 Butler vs. No. 9 Old Dominion

If you like physical, slug-it-out, defensive-minded hoops, this is the game for you. Butler is coming off of a run to the national title game, but the Bulldogs are not the same team as last season. You see, with Gordon Hayward and Willie Veasley both gone, Butler is no where near as good as they were last season on the defensive end of the floor. The versatility is gone, as they are quite often forced to play with two slow-footed big men and three small guards. The Bulldogs rank 75th nationally in defensive efficiency this season, which will be less of a big deal against Old Dominion, as the Monarchs don't exactly run the prettiest offensive sets. ODU is a blue collar team that tries to out-physical their opponents, both defensively and on the offensive glass. At times, their best offense is a missed shot.

This game will be won on the back boards. Kent Bazemore will make it tough for Shelvin Mack to score, but Matt Howard should be able to be effective against Frank Hassell when he faces up. When ODU goes zone, Butler has enough shooters and smart enough players to be able to attack it. If the Bulldogs, who rank 11th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage, are able to keep ODU, who is first in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, from getting second chance points, they'll be in a good position to win.

4:10 pm, TBS, Denver: No. 5 Vanderbilt vs. No. 12 Richmond

The general consensus seems to be that the Spiders, who won the Atlantic 10 tournament this season, were given too low of a seed in the bracket this year. It may have worked in their favor, however, as the Spiders matchup pretty well with the Commodores. I'm not quite sure that Vandy has an answer for either of Richmond's best players. Kevin Anderson is a dynamic point guard that can score a lot of points in a variety of ways, while the knock on Vanderbilt this season was the play of Brad Tinsley. Up front, Justin Harper has become one of the better NBA Draft prospects in this class. He's a supremely athletic, 6-foot-10 forward with ball skills on the perimeter and a knock down jump shot.

Even if Anderson and Harper have big games, Vandy will have a chance. The 'Dores have a couple of talented jump shooters on their roster, specifically John Jenkins, but Richmond is very good at forcing contested shots. If they can get some open looks, Vandy will be in much better position. That will be a much easier task if Fetsus Ezeli is able to take advantage of Dan Geriot in the paint. If Richmond is forced to collapse into the paint on that end of the floor, it will creates open shots on the perimeter.

7:27 pm, truTV, Tucson: Wisconsin vs. Belmont

I love what this game brings to the table. The Badgers are a pillar of efficiency on the offensive end of the floor. They play at the most controlled, disciplined pace in country. They execute their sets to near perfection, and when they don't they have Jordan Taylor there to create. Taylor may still be the most underrated player in the country, as his numbers (18.1 ppg, 4.7 apg, 4.1 rpg, 35 turnovers, 31 games) are all the more impressive when you consider he gets upwards of 15 fewer possessions than some other teams.

While the Badgers are playing the modern-day four corners offense, Belmont is going to be pressing them throughout the contest. The Bruins look to play at a much faster pace, trying to force turnovers and get as many easy shots as possible. It works because they are not only balanced, but the Bruins are deep as well. Of note -- Wisconsin is the best in the country at protecting the ball, while Belmont is the second best in the country at forcing turnovers. Which style wins out?

9:20 pm, TBS, Tampa: No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 Michigan St.

Its weird seeing these two blueblood programs duke it out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but it happened. Michigan State hasn't been Michigan State all season long, losing games that they had no business losing. The talent is clearly still there, as evidenced by the 18 point win they had against Purdue in the Big Ten tournament, but the Spartans followed that up with a 13 points loss to Penn State. Is there any consistency on this team outside of Kalin Lucas?

UCLA is in much the same boat. Which Joshua Smith is going to show up? Will the Bruins get anything out of their point guard duo of Zeke Jones and Jerime Anderson? Are Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt motivated? will Ben Howland's team defend?

9:45 pm, CBS, Denver: St. John’s vs. Gonzaga

The Zags seem to finally be hitting their stride at the right time, and its not necessarily a result of Steven Gray, Elias Harris, or Robert Sacre. Could it be that the difference maker on this team has been David Stockton, the walk-on, redshirt freshman son of the school's most famous alum? Stockton doesn't do a whole lot on the court, but he can manage the game, he doesn't force drives or take ill-advised shots, and he can get the ball to the guys with the talent where they can be effective with it. It also should be noted that Marquise Carter, another point guard, has been playing very well down the stretch of the season. There aren't many 11 seeds that can say they have a 1-2-3 punch of Gray, Harris, and Sacre with a talent like Carter playing a role.

St. John's, on the other hand, is trending the other way. Dwight Hardy has started to come back to earth after that ridiculous eight game run he went on late in the season. DJ Kennedy's injury is going to hurt the Johnnies a lot more than people are saying right now, as he could do everything on the floor. Sean Evans and Justin Brownlee will be playing huge roles today.

9:57 pm, truTV, Tucson: Kansas St. vs. Utah St.

Its quite possible that the last game of the day is the best game of the day. Utah State is a very, very good basketball team, even if their ranking doesn't show it. They are led by a group of tough-minded seniors, many of who have gone on their Mormon mission. They are well coached, fundamentally sound, and execute very well, especially defensively. The Aggies aren't the kind of team that is going to try and force you to make a mistake. They play physical defense, they don't allow penetration, they force you to take a low percentage shot (sixth in the country in defensive eFG%), and they go and clean the defensive glass (second in the country in OR%).

That said, Kansas State has two things going for them. For starters, there is Jacob Pullen, who proved late in the Big 12 season that he was still capable of taking a game over and carrying the Wildcats to a win. He'll likely have Pooh Williams, who is a terrific defender, draped all over him. The other key is that Utah State struggles a bit at the point guard spot. Brockeith Pane has some issue with turnovers, and Kansas State loves to press.


  • 12:15 pm, CBS, Tampa: West Virginia vs. Clemson (Ian Eagle/Jim Spanarkel)
  • 12:40 pm, truTV, Washington DC: Butler vs. Old Dominion (Tim Brando/Mike Gminski)
  • 1:40 pm, TBS, Denver: Louisville vs. Morehead St. (Verne Lundquist/Bill Raftery)
  • 2:10 pm, TNT, Tucson: Temple vs. Penn St. (Kevin Harlan/Reggie Miller/Dan Bonner)
  • 2:45 pm, CBS, Tampa: Kentucky vs. Princeton (Eagle/Spanarkel)
  • 3:10 pm, truTV, Washington DC: Pittsburgh vs. UNCA/UALR (Brando/Gminski)
  • 4:10 pm, TBS, Denver: Vanderbilt vs. Richmond (Lundquist/Raftery)
  • 4:40 pm, TNT, Tucson: San Diego St. vs. Northern Colorado (Harlan/Miller/Bonner)
  • 6:50 pm, TBS, Tampa: Florida vs. UC Santa Barbara (Eagle/Spanarkel)
  • 7:15 pm, CBS, Denver: BYU vs. Wofford (Brando/Gminski)
  • 7:20 pm, TNT, Washington DC: Connecticut vs. Bucknell (Lundquist/Raftery)
  • 7:27 pm, truTV, Tucson: Wisconsin vs. Belmont (Harlan/Miller/Bonner)
  • 9:20 pm, TBS, Tampa: UCLA vs. Michigan St. (Eagle/Spanarkel)
  • 9:45 pm, CBS, Denver: St. John’s vs. Gonzaga (Brando/Gminski)
  • 9:45 pm, TNT, Washington DC: Cincinnati vs. Missouri (Lundquist/Raftery)
  • 9:57 pm, truTV, Tucson: Kansas St. vs. Utah St. (Harlan/Miller/Bonner)

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