Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Previewing Louisville: Evening games
By Brian Bennett
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Looking for something interesting in the Thursday night session at the KFC Yum! Center? Well, we've got the NCAA Tournament's No. 1 overall seed and the defending national champions each playing and possibly charting a collision course toward one another. Is that something you might be interested in?
Here's a closer look at the two late games here in Louisville:
No. 1 seed Kentucky (32-2) vs. No. 16 Western Kentucky (16-18), 6:50 p.m. ET
What to watch: Western Kentucky was 9-18 on Feb. 18. Now the Hilltoppers have an NCAA tournament win under their belts and will face the No. 1 overall seed in what also happens to be an in-state rivalry. So they're playing with house money and can give Kentucky their best shot with no pressure on their backs. The Wildcats will open up in front of an extremely friendly crowd, but they need to shake off the disappointing loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament final.
Who to watch: Player of the year candidate Anthony Davis begins his first and only NCAA tournament, and the Wildcats will likely go as far as he can carry them. Western Kentucky's Teeng Akol, a rail-thin 6-foot-11 junior, has the unenviable task of trying to contain Davis. Don't be surprised to see the Hilltoppers play a lot of zone, as Vanderbilt did with great success. Do be surprised if they come close to approaching the 53-30 rebounding edge they held over Mississippi Valley State in Round 1.
Why to watch: Kentucky is the commanding favorite in this tournament, but don't forget this team starts three freshmen who have never experienced March Madness as players. They'll need to work out the butterflies early. Western Kentucky has manufactured two ridiculous comebacks, first just to get to the NCAA tournament and then in erasing a late 16-point deficit in Tuesday night's win. If the Hilltoppers find a way to upset the Wildcats and become the first No. 16 seed to oust a No. 1, the city of Bowling Green may never stop partying.
What they're saying: "It was a very intense practice. We don't like losing. Coach Cal doesn't like losing, so we tried to pick it up a little bit. We tried to get focused on what we need to do going into this tournament. That has been our main goal all year." -- Kentucky guard Darius Miller on the mood of the team after the Vanderbilt loss.
"You don't want to start out the game bad against a team like this because ... it's kind of like horse racing. When you're racing a really big horse, you don't want to get behind too much because the race is only so long." -- Western Kentucky forward Vinny Zollo.
Of note: Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Western Kentucky leading scorer Derrick Gordon were high school teammates and close friends at St. Patrick in New Jersey. "It's like a dream come true for both of us," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I can't wait to play them." Kidd-Gilchrist will likely be assigned to defend Gordon. ... Zollo committed to Kentucky as a high school freshman but dropped his pledge after Billy Gillispie was fired in 2009. ... The two schools haven't played since Western Kentucky upset then-No. 4 Kentucky 64-52 in November 2001.
No. 8 seed Iowa State (22-10) vs. No. 9 seed UConn (20-13), approximately 9:20 p.m.
What to watch: UConn is the defending national champion, but Iowa State is actually the higher seed. And don't discount the Cyclones, who were good enough to beat Kansas, Baylor and Kansas State this season. The Huskies, who needed to win two games in the Big East tournament last week to feel secure about getting here, have looked indifferent at times this season, especially in their perimeter defense. That could spell trouble against an Iowa State team that was one of the most prolific 3-point shooting clubs in the country while making nearly nine treys per game.
Who to watch: Iowa State forward Royce White is the only player in the country to lead his team in scoring, rebounds, assists,steals and blocks. So, yeah, he can do it all. But can the 6-foot-8 Royce do it all effectively inside against UConn shotblocker Andre Drummond?
Why to watch: The Huskies begin their title defense, and with Jim Calhoun back on the bench they have to be taken seriously. This is still a talented team with two future pros in Drummond and Jeremy Lamb, though the chemistry has seemed off most of the season. Iowa State is better than many think. Whoever wins this game has a chance to cause No. 1 Kentucky some problems in the next round.
What they're saying: "I mean, Kemba Walker's not coming back, is he? Obviously, we know Connecticut is one of the most storied programs in all of college basketball. We know they're the defending national champs. [But] we feel like we earned our way to be here, too. We respect them, but I don't think there's like a fear factor with them at all." -- Iowa State guard Scott Christopherson.
"You definitely hear it from the fans. They definitely want to see the UConn-Kentucky matchup. We're just trying to beat Iowa State and then play Saturday." -- Connecticut forward Alex Oriakhi.
Of note: Calhoun is 16-1 all time in the first round, with a 2008 loss to San Diego his only blemish. ... The Huskies haven't been seeded this low since they were ninth in the 1992 tournament. ... Iowa State scores 36.4 percent of its points from 3-point range, the fifth-highest among power six conference teams. Connecticut is allowing its opponents to score 33.9 percent of their points from 3-point range, the second-highest rate among power six conference teams.