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Hang Time
By Steve Stockmar
Daily Courier sports editor Steve Stockmar gives you the cheat sheet for today’s top sports stories.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Best matchups, sleepers to madden your Madness

By Steve Stockmar

Each region in this week's NCAA Tournament has something for everybody. Great matchups. Potential upsets. Sleepers.

If you need help navigating your brackets, watch for these best matchups and sleepers in each region.

May the best bracket win:


Best matchup: (7) Oregon vs. (10) BYU

Thursday, 12:10 p.m., TruTV

Defense wins championships; we all know the truth there. But offense makes for an entertaining March Madness Day 1 buzz, and Oregon-BYU is it if you like lots of shots.

It's easy to love Oregon junior Joseph Young, who ranks third in scoring in a very talented Pac-12. His Ducks have spent the past three weeks beating Arizona, UCLA and ASU and winning 8 of their last 9, and they rank 10th in the nation in scoring at almost 82 points per game. So you have to like why Oregon is hot and why now.

BYU is like the Denver Nuggets of the 1980s. The Cougars rank third in the nation in scoring (84.2), and whenever shots are missed they get the ball back as the second-best rebounding team in the nation. They also get to the free throw line more than any team in the country, and they make more than anyone else.

But back to that proven notion that defense wins out. All that offense has caught up at times this season to BYU, which has allowed 100 points to four different opponents; more than anyone in the 68-team bracket. Their bark is worse than their bite, and Oregon will take advantage and advance to face 2-seed Wisconsin.

But, boy, what a first-day show this will be.

Sleeper: 12-seed North Dakota State

(5) Oklahoma vs. (12) North Dakota State

Thursday, 4:27 p.m., TruTV

The Sooners got off to a slow start vs. Baylor in the Big 12 quarterfinals and were slow to react until it was too late. If Fargo's Bison can catch Oklahoma on its heels early the same way, watch out.

North Dakota State has a knack for doing just that. Their defense allows an average of just 29 points in every first half this season, so getting a quick lead is key. The Bison also have four players averaging double figures in scoring making for matchup problems, and are as hot as anyone having won nine straight games and 14 of 15 entering Thursday's tip.

Sure North Dakota State is the new kid, making only its second NCAA Tournament in school history. The Summit League hasn't had much Madness pedigree either, as the Bison's 12-seed is the highest seed for a Summit team since 1997. But Oklahoma hasn't been to a Final Four since 2002, and they're barely above .500 away from home this year.


Best matchup: (5) VCU vs. (12) Stephen F. Austin

Thursday, 4:27 p.m., TruTV

The SF-Austin Lumberjacks are the strongest 12-seed in the bracket, piling up 31 wins this season including an 18-0 table-run in the Southland Conference.

Strength of schedule tells a lot, however, and the Jacks have played only ONE tournament team this year; a 10-point loss to Texas way back in November. But if they should be beating up on the seemingly weaker opponents they've played, they have. Their 13.8-point scoring differential ranks among the top 10 in the nation, and they cause more turnovers than they commit (5.2 ratio), which, too, is among the best of the best. And there's nothing mediocre about a 28-game winning streak, which they carry into Thursday.

VCU is coming off a heart-breaking loss to Saint Joseph's in the Atlantic 10 championship and therefore will be one of the hungrier tournament teams out to prove they're worth their 5-seed. And they are. But this is a tough first-round draw and will be a dandy.

Sleeper: 11-seed Dayton

(6) Ohio State vs. (11) Dayton

Thursday, 9:15 a.m., CBS

Only 60 miles separate the Dayton and Columbus campuses, and their teams may be even closer when this one tips off.

The Flyers are one of six Atlantic 10 teams to make the tournament, and Dayton went a respectable 4-3 vs. tournament teams this season. And the Flyers are used to playing with the big boys, with the program going 22-11 in the last seven years against BCS schools. Will they know a lot about the Buckeyes? Coach Archie Miller was an OSU assistant from 2007-09, guard Jordan Sibert played at OSU as recently as 2011-12, and their assistant coach was OSU's video coordinator as recently as 2011.

Maybe Dayton is a sleeper more because of its first opponent and less because of its own abilities.

This Ohio State club has four losses vs. tournament teams this year, and doesn't rank even among the top 50 programs in scoring, rebounding or assists. Defense is the Buckeyes' saving grace, where their 59.8-point against average is 12th best in the nation.

Look for Dayton to spring an upset here, and in the next round meet a Syracuse team that, despite beating Western Michigan in its bracket opener, will have lost a shaky five of its last eight as it meets the confident Flyers.


Best matchup: (7) Connecticut vs. (10) Saint Joseph's

Thursday, 3:55 p.m., TBS

Matchups, matchups, matchups. Some great ones in this 7-10 split on Thursday.

Saint Joseph's was off the radar during a nine-game losing streak between January (a month in which the Hawks were winless) and early February. But they got things together and gained some big-time redemption with a win over VCU in the Atlantic 10 championship to gain their first tournament bid since 2008.

Individually, senior guard Langston Galloway (17.5 ppg, 4.3 reb) and senior forward Ronald Roberts (14.4 ppg, 7.4 reb) are two of four players averaging double figures, including a freshman (DeAndre Bembry).

Meanwhile, UConn has a guard-forward combo of its own in G Shabazz Napier and F DeAndre Daniels, one of whom has led the team in scoring in 29 of the Huskies' 34 games this season. And if Saint Joseph's tries to bring it inside (which they will, since the Hawks are anemic 92nd overall in 3-point field goal attempts), UConn ranks sixth in the nation in blocked shots.

A great matchup, but UConn should be plenty hungry trying to overcome two losses to Louisville in one week. If they want a rematch with Louisville, it'll have to be in the national championship. But they'll have their hands full with Saint Joseph's first.

Sleeper: 14-seed N.C. Central

(3) Iowa State vs. (14) NC Central

Friday, 6:50 p.m., TNT

Classic offense-vs.-defense matchup in this bracket opener. Iowa State's 82.9 points-per-game average is tied for fifth best in the nation, and NC Central's 58.5 points-per-game allowed is the seventh stingiest in the nation. Let's get it on.

The Eagles have plenty of underdog momentum. That's what a 20-game winning streak will do. And they have one of the best backcourts in basketball. G Jeremy Ingram (20.6 ppg) ranks 17th in the nation in scoring and is one of only 26 players averaging better than 20 ppg. Driving the engine is G Emanuel Chapman, who is among the nation's leaders with an average of 6.4 assists per game.

They're a real live wire, but it'll be tough to get over on a Cyclones team that's extremely battle-tested. 17 of Iowa State's games this season have come against national tournament qualifiers, including their last six straight (4-2). And they have their first Big 12 Tournament championship since 2000 on their team bus, which gave them a program-record third straight March Madness berth.


Best matchup: (7) Texas vs. (10) ASU

Thursday, 6:40 p.m., CBS

Both teams want to show the world what they're really made of after disappointing last weeks.

Texas has lost three of its last five coming into March Madness, and hasn't won back-to-back games since the day after Valentine's. ASU, meanwhile, has lost three straight games and has lost five of seven since the Devils' emotional double-OT upset of then-#2 Arizona in Tempe.

Not that Texas hasn't had a tough road to this point. Of the Longhorns' 33 games this year, 18 have come against national tournament-qualifying teams (9-9).

Quick concerns for ASU: Senior G Jermaine Marshall, the Devils' second leading scorer (15.0 ppg), has just three field goals in his last two games combined. ASU is a worrisome 5-10 in away/neutral court games this year.

Quick concern for Texas: Leading scorer junior F Jonathan Holmes (13.0 ppg), down the stretch where Texas has lost two of three, has a combined five field goals and 13 points in those two losses.

Sleeper: 13-seed Manhattan

(4) Louisville vs. (13) Manhattan

Thursday, 6:50 p.m., TNT

These Manhattan Jaspers are the real deal. The truth. In the words of Senor Love Daddy: the double-truth, Ruth.

Start with the trio of Michael Alvarado, George Beamon and Rhamel Brown; the first senior class in program history to each score 1,000 career points. Beamon is particularly hot heading into the tournament, averaging 26 points in his past four games. And defense? Brown is the active leader in career blocked shots among ALL Division 1 players (364).

As a whole the team has won 11 of 12, and no setting is intimidating. Only undefeated Wichita State (17) has more wins at road/neutral sites than does Manhattan (16) this season.

They'll need to contain a Louisville team that's 8th in the nation in scoring (82.1) and rarely makes mistakes, averaging just 10 turnovers per game.


By the way, if you haven't yet joined our Courier Sports bracket group in the ESPN Challenge, get over to it. Not only is your bracket already eligible for ESPN's overall grand prize, but the best bracket in our Courier Sports group wins two tickets to an upcoming Arizona Diamondbacks regular-season home game.

Click here to join and fill out your bracket.

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