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Tourney Preview: The first day of the Round of 32 is LOADED

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Today’s schedule is so awesome that, instead of doing an actual preview, I’m just going to rank the games:

1. 12:15 PM (5) Virginia Commonwealth vs (4) Michigan CBS: No team in the country is better when it comes to forcing turnovers than VCU, as they lead the nation in defensive turnover percentage. But Michigan leads the country is protecting the ball, meaning that they have the lowest turnover percentage of anyone. These two styles go up against each other Saturday afternoon as the only game on in the time slot. Michigan has faced a press once this season, when they beat Arkansas by 13 points. How will Trey Burke handle it? How will guys like Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III handle it? If Michigan can beat the press, the Rams are just atrocious defending in the half court.

2. 7:45 PM (6) Butler vs (3) Marquette CBS: You remember what happened the last time these two teams got together, right?:

These are two teams that always seem to play games that have nail-biting finishes. I’ll go ahead and predict a classic.

3. 8:40 PM (9) Wichita State vs (1) Gonzaga TNT: The Shockers may actually have a chance to knock off the Zags on Saturday night. Their big guys can actually match up with Gonzaga’s big men, and Malcolm Armstead is the kind of big, physical guard that can give Kevin Pangos all kinds of trouble. What’s inarguable is that Gonzaga will need to play much better than they did on Thursday to avoid an upset.

4. 5:15 PM (8) Colorado State vs (1) Louisville CBS: Louisville’s guards are going to wreak havoc on the Colorado State back court the way that Louisville’s guards always wreak havoc on back courts. But Colorado State has a big, physical front line that can wear down any opponent. What will win out?

5. 7:10 PM (12) Oregon vs (4) Saint Louis TBS: St. Louis has looked the part of a Final Four team for the past couple of months, winning a dual-Atlantic 10 title. But Oregon? They looked like a legitimate top ten team because Dominic Artis was injured. Well, Artis looked healthy when he scored 13 points in 17 minutes against Oklahoma State, and in his absence Jonathon Loyd has gained all kinds of confidence.

6. 2:45 PM (6) Memphis vs (3) Michigan State CBS: On paper, Memphis has everything that you need to pull an upset and knock off a team like the Spartans, including the kind of quick, play-making point guard that can give Keith Appling problems. But Josh Pastner has proven to be the antithesis of Tom Izzo as a head coach in big games. Bonus: DJ Stephens vs. Branden Dawson.

7. 6:10 PM (14) Harvard vs (6) Arizona TNT: Can Harvard become this year’s Cinderella story? The Crimson pulled off a massive upset in the opening round, picking off No. 3 seed New Mexico, but Arizona has a bigger and more athletic front line, which could cause problems for a smaller Harvard team.

8. 9:40 PM (12) California vs (4) Syracuse TBS: Syracuse playing what more or less amounts to a road game on the west coast? Why don’t we see this happen in November?

SCHEDULE

12:15 PM (5) Virginia Commonwealth vs (4) Michigan CBS
2:45 PM (6) Memphis vs (3) Michigan State CBS
5:15 PM (8) Colorado State vs (1) Louisville CBS
6:10 PM (14) Harvard vs (6) Arizona TNT
7:10 PM (12) Oregon vs (4) Saint Louis TBS
7:45 PM (6) Butler vs (3) Marquette CBS
8:40 PM (9) Wichita State vs (1) Gonzaga TNT
9:40 PM (12) California vs (4) Syracuse TBS

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

After blowout of South Carolina, is No. 22 Kentucky a Final Four contender?

Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis (3) guards the ball after a rebound during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Auburn, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Auburn, Ala. Auburn won 75-70. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
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It only took 2:26 for official Doug Sirmons to plant two technical fouls on Kentucky head coach John Calipari, and that may have been the worst thing that could have happened to South Carolina.

He poked the bear, and the result was that a ticked off No. 22 Wildcat team proceeded to run the Gamecocks out of their own gym, 89-62.

The star of the show was interim head coach Tyler Ulis, who put together as dominating of a performance as you’ll ever see out of a player that stands 5-foot-9. Ulis finished with 27 points and 12 assists, hitting 4-for-8 from three and turning the ball over just once.

Marcus Lee added 11 points and 13 boards, including six on the offensive end, and Jamal Murray had his customary 26 points on 9-for-21 shooting, but the story of this game was Ulis.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seed a player under 6-foot capable of dominating a game the way that Ulis can dominate. Murray can take over with the best of them — we saw it against Florida and Ohio State — but when it comes to the NCAA tournament, this Kentucky team will go as far as Ulis carries them.

And based on the way that he’s played in the last six weeks, that could end up being pretty far. In SEC play, Ulis is averaging 19.4 points and 7.6 assists. He’s scored at least 17 points in 12 of the last 14 games and has notched as least five assists in all 14. He just orchestrated a total mollywhopping of a Frank Martin-coached team that was tied for first place in the SEC while playing without his head coach and on the road.

The issue with Kentucky is the same today as it was a month ago. They’re a two-man team with an inconsistent supporting cast. When their two studs play like this, they can beat anyone in the country. When they don’t, they can struggle against anyone.

But here’s the thing: When Ulis is playing the way that he’s played of late, they don’t really need all that much from their supporting cast. Derek Willis needs to be able to space the floor. Lee and Skal Labissiere need to be able to hold their own against opposing big men.

And when that happens?

Kentucky is clearly the best team in the SEC and good enough to be able to win four straight in the Big Dance and get to a Final Four.

No. 25 Wichita State falls to Northern Iowa as at-large chances take critical hit

Northern Iowa's Matt Bohannon drives in the lane past Wichita State's Conner Frankamp during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. (Matthew Putney/The Waterloo Courier via AP)
(Matthew Putney/The Waterloo Courier via AP)
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Northern Iowa has been a confusing team to follow this season but the Panthers peaked against a ranked team once again on Saturday in a 53-50 upset of No. 25 Wichita State. While the Panthers looked like a potential at-large NCAA tournament team during the non-conference season with wins over North Carolina and Iowa State, they’ve faltered in Missouri Valley Conference play.

Saturday’s road win at Koch Arena proves that Northern Iowa (16-11, 8-6) is still a credible threat in the conference tournament as they’ve now won six consecutive games. The loss for the Shockers could end their at-large hopes and their 43-game home winning streak — the longest such streak in the nation — was snapped.

A defensive adjustment was the difference for the Panthers as a switch to a 2-3 zone in the first half confused Wichita State’s offense enough for Northern Iowa to jump out to a 38-27 halftime lead. The Shockers (18-7, 12-2) recovered enough to make it a tight game, but Northern Iowa came up with big shots down the stretch to come up with the road win. Klint Carlson was a tough matchup for the Wichita State defense as he led the Panthers with 12 points while Wyatt Lohaus contributed 11.

Wichita State had two good looks from 3-point range to tie in the game’s final 10 seconds, but Ron Baker (12 points) and Connor Frankamp (0 points) both missed. Senior Fred Van Vleet was held scoreless in the first half and finished with eight points on 3-for-15 shooting.

This loss is concerning for Wichita State, not only because they hurt their dwindling at-large chances, but they didn’t look prepared to face the zone and 3/4 court press that Northern Iowa threw at them. The Shockers shot 30 percent (20-for-66) from the field and 22 percent (7-for-31) from 3-point range as they really couldn’t get much of anything going on the offensive end. Van Vleet and Baker couldn’t get their shots to fall and Northern Iowa mustered just enough offense to pull off the win.

As noted before, this win is another confidence builder for Northern Iowa, as they’ve reeled off six consecutive wins after a puzzling 2-6 start in the Valley. It’s also nice that the Panthers won a slow, grind-it-out game on the road over a quality opponent, since the North Carolina and Iowa State wins came in more uptempo settings.

The Missouri Valley is looking like a one-bid league as we inch closer to Arch Madness and with Wichita State falling to Illinois State and Northern Iowa recently, the conference tournament could have a lot of teams with a realistic chance for the autobid.