Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Previewing Louisville: Afternoon games
By Brian Bennett
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The NCAA tournament has arrived at the KFC Yum! Center, and this pod definitely comes Kentucky-fried for your enjoyment.
Murray State begins the day by playing within its state's borders, and No. 1 seed Kentucky and No. 16 seed Western Kentucky will renew their intermittent rivalry in the evening. But some outsiders will seek to crash this Commonwealth celebration.
Let's take a look at the afternoon games on tap here Thursday:
No. 6 seed Murray State (30-1) vs. No. 11 seed Colorado State (19-13), 12:15 p.m. ET
What to watch: Is Murray State for real? That has been a season-long question, as the Racers won their first 23 games and broke into the top 10 for the first time in school history. They ended the season ranked ninth in the coaches' poll but received a No. 6 seed because of a soft schedule. But they drew a favorable opening matchup in Colorado State, a guard-oriented team that doesn't have a player over 6-foot-6. The Rams love any open shot and rank sixth nationally in 3-point field goal percentage.
Who to watch: Murray State guard Isaiah Canaan is one of the top players in the country, averaging 19.2 points and shooting 47 percent from 3-point range.Colorado State coach Tim Miles admiringly described Canaan as a "pain in the butt" and went so far as to compare him to Jimmer Fredette. If the Racers make a run in this tournament, Canaan could be one of the breakout stars of March.
Why to watch: Any team that goes 30-1 must be doing something right, and Murray State can cause enough matchup problems to make a run to the Sweet 16. The Ohio Valley Conference champ has won a game in each of the last two NCAA tournaments. Colorado State is looking for its first NCAA win since 1989, and the highly entertaining Miles will churn out some memorable sound bites if it happens.
What they're saying: "I think we're kind of used to this situation. We've kind of been looked at as an underdog all year long. I know that gym's probably not going to be in our favor [Thursday]. Our conference tournament kind of prepared us for that a little bit. So we're used to this kind of atmosphere. We're going to try not to let that stuff get to us and just concentrate on our game plan and the way we've got to play to win." -- Colorado State guard Wes Eikmeier.
"I think Murray's always been on the map. They have a great winning tradition. But I just think with this year that it just opened up some more eyes. More people kind of went out of their way to see where Murray State was, who these guys were, what are they doing, how do they represent themselves. So I think it was just a matter of us doing a little bit extra for the program." -- Murray State guard Donte Poole.
Of note: Poole signed with Colorado State out of high school and even attended summer school there in 2007. ... The Racers are one of just five teams to enter the NCAA tournament with only one loss but not earn a No. 1 seed. The best showing by any of those previous teams was Texas Tech's Sweet 16 run in 1996. ... Miles has often worn a Smarty Jones hat in honor of the 2004 Kentucky Derby winner to remind his teams of their underdog possibilities. "And just by chance, we end up in Louisville," he said. "I thought that was pretty cool karma."
No. 3 seed Marquette (25-7) vs. No. 14 seed BYU (26-8), approximately 2:45 p.m. ET
What to watch: Marquette crashed the Sweet 16 as a No. 11 seed a year ago and now looms as a potential Final Four threat in the West Region. The Golden Eagles love to get out in transition, and BYU just beat one of the fastest teams in the country while completing a stunning comeback against Iona in Dayton. Can BYU follow VCU's unconventional path from a year ago?
Who to watch: Marquette's 1-2 punch of Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. Johnson-Odom can beat you from 3-point range or off the bounce, while Big East player of the year Crowder is a 6-6 matchup nightmare who can do a little of everything. Both are seniors who won't be easily rattled.
Why to watch: BYU has already turned in possibly one of the most entertaining games of this year's tournament, and the Cougars have the fascinating redemption saga of forward Brandon Davies. Marquette matches the high energy of its coach, Buzz Williams, and is almost never boring.
What they're saying: "When I first got in here, I smelled the chicken being cooked. So that reminded me of the last time we were here." -- Marquette's Crowder, recalling his team's last appearance at the KFC Yum! Center, when the Golden Eagles blew an 18-point lead in the final six minutes during a loss last year to Louisville.
"A lot of confidence comes from coming from behind and winning, especially in the NCAA tournament. There's a lot of new emotions and adrenaline that comes into play when you're in this tournament. It gives us a lot of confidence to know that we can play and battle back from a pretty big deficit." -- BYU forward Brock Zylstra.
Of note: Marquette typically wins the fast-break battle, but it gave up a season-high 35 transition points in its loss to Louisville in the Big East tournament last week. ... The last time the Golden Eagles were a No. 3 seed, they made the Final Four in 2003 behind Dwyane Wade. ... With Tuesday's victory, BYU has won NCAA tournament games in three straight years for the first time in school history. ... The Cougars spent Tuesday night in Dayton and made the short bus ride to Louisville on Wednesday, arriving about 2:30 p.m. ... BYU coach Dave Rose said forward Noah Hartsock, who has been battling knee and ankle problems, was "pretty sore" after the Iona game, but he expected Hartsock to be ready to play Thursday.