Must-see opening round matchups


Just a couple of years ago, it would have been difficult to call any game a “must-see”, simply because television coverage of the NCAA tournament was heavily regionalized. If you lived in, say, Tampa and wanted to watch the Salt Lake City pod, your local channel might not show it. It was off to the local sports bar for you.

Nothing against sports bars, but isn’t it nice that our Big Dance coverage is now split amongst several channels, so we can really watch any game we want to, from the comfort of our own homes? Now that it’s a reality, let’s take advantage. Here are the must-see games of the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Wednesday, March 20

No. 13 Boise State vs. No. 13 La Salle, 9:10 pm ET (tru TV): I know, you don’t often make time to watch the games in Dayton, but this one is worth your while. Two teams from tough mid-major leagues that had to sweat it out until selection Sunday, and now they get to go at one another’s throats. La Salle finished fifth in the A-10, but owns wins over fellow tourney invitees Iona, Villanova, Butler and VCU. The Broncos of Boise State did likewise, taking down Creighton, San Diego State, UNLV and Colorado State along the way. Keep a special eye out for Boise’s Derrick Marks, who has scored more than 30 points three times this season.

(CLICK HERE: Complete preview of Thursday’s games)

Thursday, March 21

No. 6 Butler vs. No. 11 Bucknell, 12:40 pm (tru TV): Butler is known for Rotnei Clarke’s circus shots from outside, but they’re a surprisingly adept rebounding team as well. The Bison – best remembered for their upset of Kansas in 2005 – are built around big man Mike Muscala (19 ppg, 11.2 rpg), but perform exceedingly well on the perimeter. Call this one the “what you see is not necessarily what you’ll get” game of the early going.

No. 8 Pittsburgh vs. No. 9 Wichita State, 1:40 pm (TBS): These two teams are as gritty as the cities they come from. Pitt beat Syracuse by ten at home, battered Georgetown on the road and swept Villanova this season. The Shockers from Wichita won at VCU and came in a very close second to Creighton in the Missouri Valley. Cleanthony Early (13.8 ppg) and Carl Hall (12.8 ppg) give WSU a potent interior combo, but Pitt is relentless on both ends of the floor. It should be a dandy.

No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 13 South Dakota State, 7:15 (CBS): The visceral thrill here is all about the two point guards. Sophomore Trey Burke averages 19.2 points and 6.7 assists per game for a national title contender in the toughest conference in college basketball, which makes him our choice for national player of the year. Nate Wolters does it all for a little-known team in the Summit League, averaging 22.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists. Michigan may have more going for it overall, but this game has the puncher’s-chance, potential-upset, folk-hero vibe that makes March so exciting.

(CLICK HERE: To browse through the rest of our 2013 NCAA Tournament Previews)

Friday, March 22

No. 8 N.C. State vs. No. 9 Temple, 1:40 pm (TBS): For pure unpredictability, this is the one to watch. N.C. State was picked to win the ACC in preseason polls, because the Wolfpack are loaded with blue-chip talent. All that talent is mostly offense-oriented, however, and defensive lapses cost the team several winnable games. On the other side of the court, Khalif Wyatt has been the one constant for the Temple Owls, averaging 19.8 points per game on volume shooting. This could be one of those games where the team taking the last shot gets to survive and advance.

No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Iona, 7:15 pm (CBS): Ohio State’s Aaron Craft is one of the best defenders in all of college basketball. Lamont ‘Momo’ Jones, who went to the Elite Eight with Arizona two years ago, is the nation’s third-leading scorer, putting up 23 points per game for Iona. The individual matchup between the two guards will be a classic unstoppable force vs. immovable object encounter.

No. 8 UNC vs. No. 9 Villanova, 7:20 pm (TNT): A couple of fairly young teams go at it in this one, with seniors in short supply. Both teams are pretty lousy at perimeter defense, so the three-point fireworks alone could make this worth watching. The deep tradition of the two schools and a nice coaching matchup between UNC’s Roy Williams and ‘Nova’s Jay Wright gives it depth and richness beyond the potential offensive shootout.

No. 7 Notre Dame vs. No. 10 Iowa State, 9:45 (CBS): This choice may not be an obvious one, but hear me out. This is a clash of styles that should be fascinating to watch. For as long as Mike Brey has been in charge in South Bend, the Irish have stood on the shoulders of brutish inside players like Luke Harangody, Tim Abromaitis and, currently, Jack Cooley. Fred “The Mayor” Hoiberg has built his team on more of a European model, with mobile face-up shooters like Will Clyburn, Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang making traditional big men pay for packing the middle. Which style wins? You’ll have to watch and find out, just like the rest of us.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

Stanford loses key veteran guard to stress fracture

Marcus Allen
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Stanford guard Marcus Allen will be out indefinitely after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot, the school announced on Monday evening.

“We want to make sure Marcus is fully healthy before returning to the court,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said in a statement. “Marcus played at a high level during our summer exhibition competition in Italy, where he was one of our leading scorers. We will certainly miss him as we continue to prepare for the season, but we are fortunate that this happened now and he will be back before he knows it.”

The loss of Allen is a potentially brutal blow in an already-thin back court. The 6-foot-3 Allen started 23 games as a sophomore last season, averaging 6.4 points and 3.5 boards. But he averaged 11.4 points and 5.4 boards as the Cardinal made a run to the NIT championship and looked poised to be able to replace the departed Chasson Randle’s production this year.

What’s worse is that without Allen, Stanford does not return a single player in their back court that averaged more than 11.5 minutes. Sophomore Robert Cartwright looks poised to step into the starting point guard role, but neither Dorian Pickens nor Christian Sanders looked like they were ready for that kind of role in the Pac-12 last season. Dawkins does return Malcolm Allen, Marcus’ twin brother, who sat out last season with a broken wrist.

The good news is that Stanford’s front court is strong enough to carry the Cardinal until Marcus is healthy. Rosco Allen, Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey will be able to hold their own against any front line in the Pac-12, while Grant Verhoeven and freshman Josh Sharma will provide adequate depth.

Utah lands top-75 center Jayce Johnson

Larry Krystkowiak
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Utah picked up its center of the future on Monday as four-star center Jayce Johnson pledged to the Runnin’ Utes, a source confirmed to The 7-foot Johnson recently cut his list to Cal, Colorado and Utah with the possibility of reclassifying to the Class of 2015.

Regarded as the No. 67 overall prospect in the Class of 2016, Johnson will look to attend Utah in December as a walk-on who will redshirt. While Johnson likely won’t play this season, he does give head coach Larry Krystkowiak another big man to use in practice to go against sophomore center Jakob Poeltl. A solid long-term prospect, Johnson has a good frame to add weight and he’s also skilled finishing with both hands. Utah now has its replacement for Poeltl if he opts to leave for the NBA after the season and he gets an extra semester to work with the program.

Johnson is coming off of his official visit to Utah this weekend as he joins junior college guard Jojo Zamora in the Class of 2016.