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Must-see opening round matchups

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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.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.

VIDEO: New Mexico loses game on blown call by officials

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Nothing like a nice, controversial finish to get the blood flowing.

New Mexico was on the receiving end of a rule misinterpretation on Saturday afternoon, and that interpretation likely cost the Lobos a win over San Diego State and, arguably, a shot at the MWC regular season title.

Here’s the situation: New Mexico is up by three with 12 seconds left and the ball under their own basket. Their allowed to run the baseline, so Craig Neal calls a play where the inbounder throws the ball to a player running out of bounds.

Totally league as long as the player establishes out of bounds before touching the ball. The referee rules that he doesn’t.

Here’s the video:

The problem?

According to the rules, Xavier Adams — the player receiving the pass from Cullen Neal — only needed one foot on the floor out of bounds in order to establish himself as an inbounder that was able to catch that ball. He got one foot down (see the picture above), but the referees appeared to rule that he needed to have both feet down.

That was incorrect, according to the Mountain West office.

“While this was a very close judgment call made at full speed, it has been determined after careful review of slow-motion video replays the call was in fact incorrect,” the league said in a release. “The New Mexico player did get one foot down (two feet are not required) out-of-bounds before receiving the ball, thus establishing his location in accordance NCAA Basketball Playing Rules 4.23.1.a and 7.1.1.  By rule, the officials were not permitted to go to the monitor during the game to review this play.”

And here’s the kicker: When SDSU got the ball back, they hit a three to send the game into overtime, where the Aztecs won. But if New Mexico had won this game, they’d be sitting at 8-2 in MWC play, one game behind SDSU in the loss column with a return game against them in The Pit.

Instead, they’re now three games back with seven to play, meaning that the race is effectively over.

It’s tough to blame the referees here — it was a bang-bang call that is only clear in slow-motion replay — but man, that’s a big call to miss.