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Seven must-watch NCAA tournament Round of 64 games

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REGION PREVIEWSEast Region | South Region | Midwest Region | West Region

No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Manhattan — Midwest  — Thursday, 9:50 p.m.

The selection committee didn’t show much love for the newly-formed American Athletic Conference, however, it did give this Round of 64 a great storyline as Steve Masiello, who has led Manhattan into the tournament for the first time in a decade, faces his former coach Rick Pitino.

Masiello certainly has familiarity with Louisville, serving as an assistant to Pitino for six seasons and recruiting guys like Russ Smith and Wayne Blackshear.

But he also has a pretty good team as well. The Jaspers have the perimeter talent in George Beamon and Mike Alvarado while reigning MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Rhamel Brown manning the frontline. I’d would have considered going with Manhattan as an upset pick in most games, but Louisville is playing at a high-level at the moment. The Jaspers are still dangerous, though.

No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Dayton — South  — Thursday, 12:15 p.m.

The selection committed made another intriguing matchup, pitting in-state opponents Dayton and Ohio State together in the Round of 64. The Flyers and Buckeyes don’t meet in the regular season, but they will in the South Region. Ohio State has had its well-documented offensive struggles, but Archie Miller’s guys can light it up from beyond the arc. The Flyers are led by Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert and Devin Oliver, both scoring better than a dozen a game.

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No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 13 Delaware — East  — Thursday, 4:40 p.m.

When the Spartans are healthy, they are a national contender, and they sure look that part lately. The four-seed is penciled in by many as the team advancing out of the East Region. But in its first game of the tournament Michigan State will go up against a high-scoring perimeter attack as Devon Saddler (19.7 ppg), Davon Usher (19.4 ppg) and Jarvis Threatt (18.1 ppg) can put up points in a hurry. The Fighting Blue Hens can certainly make this interesting on Thursday evening.

No. 5 VCU vs. No. 12 Stephen F. Austin — South  — Friday, 7:27 p.m.

The Rams had a six-game winning streak ended in the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship game at the hands of Saint Joseph’s. Stephen F. Austin hasn’t lost since Nov. 23, winners of 28 in a row.

Like Havoc, the Lumberjacks can really defend. Both force a highest percentage of turnovers. VCU has had trouble shooting the ball from beyond the arc, especially with Melvin Johnson out on Sunday. This could be the 12 over 5 upset.

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No. 6 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Providence — East  — Friday, 7:20 p.m.

Marcus Paige vs. Bryce Cotton? Yes, please.

The Tar Heels have lost two straight, including one to Pittsburgh in the ACC quarterfinals. Providence ended up winning the Big East Tournament over Creighton. The Friars are back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2004, and they have an All-American talent in Cotton.

Providence has a lot of momentum heading into the tournament and we’ve seen how up-and-down North Carolina can be this season. This could be an upset in San Antonio.

No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 North Dakota State — West — Thursday, 7:27 p.m.

This could shape up to be an early round matchup that goes down to the final possession. The Bison are no joke. They defeated Notre Dame in South Bend, when the Irish still had Jerian Grant. They have a nice one-two punch with Taylor Braun and Marshall Bjorklund. North Dakota State gets some of the best looks on offense in the country with a 55 percent effective field goal percentage, according to kenpom.com

No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 11 Nebraska — West  — Friday, 12:40 p.m.

Two power conference teams in a Round of 64 matchup will always be one to look out for. The Bears finished the season strong after digging themselves in the Big 12 basement, winning six of their last seven.

Nebraska has been a fun team to watch, back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. How will Cornhuskers handle this stage? They ended the Big 12 Tournament, blowing a double-digit lead to Ohio State, but this is also the same team that defeated Michigan State on the road and Wisconsin nine days ago.

Duke knocks off No. 13 Louisville in first game of critical four-game stretch

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Ingram added 18 points, 10 boards and four assists as Duke picked up a critical win over No. 13 Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night, 72-65.

A call this a critical win for the Blue Devils because it kicks off what may be the most important two-week stretch of Duke’s schedule This weekend, the Blue Devils square off with No. 9 Virginia. Next Wednesday, they’re at the Dean Dome to take on No. 7 North Carolina. Four days after that, they head to the Bluegrass State to pay a visit to Louisville.

 

With the way that Duke has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor without Amile Jefferson, that’s a stretch that could derail Duke’s season; entering Monday, all four of those games were losable. But a four-game winning streak — or even going 3-1 in that stretch — could completely change the tenor of what has been a fairly disappointing year for the defending champs, and that’s before they get Jefferson back to 100 percent.

And the difference was defensively, at least in the first half.

I’ve written in this space a number of times about how opponents know what they’re going to get from Duke defensively. Coach K, traditionally, plays half court man-to-man defense, switching every exchange — ball-screen, off-ball pick or simply when two players run by one another — that doesn’t involve the center. In recent years, he’s played some zone in situations where he defense has struggled or, like this season, when he doesn’t have the depth to risk foul trouble. We’ve even seen some 2-2-1 pressure from him of late.

But on Monday night, Duke played straight man-to-man for much of the game, and in the first half, it seemed to fluster the Cardinals. They scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes, and while Louisville did find a way to break Duke down defensively in the second half — they shot better than 55 percent from the floor after the break — but part of the reason Duke was able to win this game was the lead they built. After a three from Allen opened scoring in the second half, the Blue Devils were up by 14, and while Louisville made a run down the stretch, they could never get control of the game.

Duke is becoming appointment viewing for basketball nerds like me that pay too much attention to X’s-and-O’s to see what kind of wrinkle Coach K is going to put in to try and compensate defensively, so I’m not sure that this performance sticks. But it is worth noting that this was the first time in eight games the Blue Devils gave up less than 1.0 PPP, and the first time since Dec. 19th they did so against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

As far as Louisville is concerned, you have to tip your hat to those kids. They played their hearts out and fought back from a big deficit in one of the toughest places in the country to play. They did all that three days after their school ripped their hearts out with an NCAA tournament ban for this season.

So good for them. You never know how a team is going to react to something like that, but the Cardinal players showed that they have some serious fight in them.

Iowa State’s starting center Jameel McKay remains suspended

Iowa State forward Jameel McKay celebrates on the court at the end of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 82-77. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Steve Prohm announced on Monday that starting center Jameel McKay will not be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Cyclones take on Texas Tech.

“He’ll practice today because I want him in practice,” Prohm said, “but game-wise, he’s suspended.”

McKay did not make the trip to Stillwater with the team on Saturday, where Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 64-59. Prohm has not gotten into specifics regarding the cause of McKay’s suspension, but it’s reportedly an issue with the way he has been practicing. McKay is dealing with a nagging knee injury, which may play a role in the situation as well.

“My hope is he’ll be with us on Saturday,” Prohm said.