How they got here: Both 12th-seeded Richmond and 13th-seeded Morehead State staged comebacks against power-conference teams on Thursday. The Spiders beat Vanderbilt 69-66, with guard Kevin Anderson making big shot after big shot and finishing with 25 points. The Eagles defeated Louisville 62-61, with Demonte Harper making the game-winning 3-pointer and Terrance Hill getting hot from beyond the arc as well, scoring 23 points.
Storyline: One of these two double-digit seeds will get to go to the Sweet 16. Richmond, which has a history of big upsets, now takes on the role of the favorite. The Spiders lost to Saint Mary’s in that position last season and now have a chance to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1988. For Morehead State, it‘s a chance to make history again with its first trip to a regional semifinal. “This game is really important because Coach [Donnie Tyndall] told us we have a chance to make it to the Sweet 16 before the season even started,” Harper said.
Players to watch: Think Tyndall likes his chances with Harper and star forward Kenneth Faried? He called Faried his Gordon Hayward and compared Harper, who has shown his ability to take the last shot, to Shelvin Mack of Butler. For Richmond, Anderson proved himself to be a shot-maker against Vanderbilt. Leading scorer Justin Harper struggled with his shot, and the Spiders could use a big day from their senior.
What to look for: Faried is one of the stars of the tournament so far, and he didn’t even have a great offensive game against Louisville. But Faried is so dominant a rebounder and such an athletic presence in the middle that he impacts the game in so many ways.
“We know he doesn’t give a lot of second shots on the offensive end,” Anderson said of the nation's leading rebounder. “It’s going to be tough to stop him."
Richmond could try containing Faried with the 6-foot-10 Harper, relying on his ability to shoot from long range. But lest we forget: Anderson will be a tough matchup for Morehead State, as well.
How they got here: BYU was the only favorite in Denver that did not get upset in the first day of action, as the Cougars dispatched of Wofford with a 74-66 win. Jimmer Fredette scored 32 points, and he also got help with Charles Abouo, Noah Hartsock and Logan Magnusson scoring 10 points apiece. Gonzaga dominated St. John’s with an 86-71 win in which Marquise Carter scored a career-high 24 points and Steven Gray and Elias Harris also had big nights.
Storyline: Not since Danny Ainge was leading Brigham Young have the Cougars been in the Sweet 16, and now it’s Fredette who will try to take them there 30 years later. BYU has won its first tourney game in each of the past two years, but now wants to make a deeper run. For Gonzaga, the perennial dangerous underdog, the Zags want to continue proving themselves as a team and program to be reckoned with. A win against BYU and the national scoring leader Fredette would be yet another milestone victory.
Players to watch: Again, look for Fredette to carry the scoring load despite the opponent’s best efforts to contain him. And in a game with huge ramifications, expect a big dose of him. But Gonzaga does have the advantage of having 7-foot center Robert Sacre to try to exploit a BYU frontcourt missing the post presence of Brandon Davies. Sacre, after helping the Zags dominate St. John’s on the glass, indicated he was looking forward to the matchup against BYU. “A little bit, but they still have Jimmer,” he said.
What to look for: While limiting the damage Fredette does is a must, this game could come down to how well Gonzaga can exploit its height advantage with Sacre, along with the 6-5 guard Gray and 6-7 forward Harris, who are both dynamic players.
“They’re a very big team,” Fredette said. “They got to the offensive glass very well. They get a lot of second-chance opportunities, which gives them a lot of energy.”