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Friday, March 16, 2012
Previewing Omaha: Evening games

By Jason King

OMAHA, Neb. -- Here’s a quick rundown of what to look for in Friday’s afternoon games in Omaha.

No. 7 Saint Mary’s (27-5) vs. No. 10 Purdue (21-12), 7:27 ET

For Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett, Thursday’s shootaround at the CenturyLink Center was gratifying for two reasons. His Gaels are back in the national spotlight -- and Bennett caught a glimpse of a celebrity.

“He’s a legend,” Bennett said of Purdue’s Robbie Hummel. “I’ve heard about him for six years. I finally got to see him up close.”

Bennett was only halfway kidding.

Hummel, after all, has garnered national public sympathy after missing the past two NCAA tournaments because of knee injuries. The fifth-year senior -- who didn’t play at all last season after tearing his ACL on the first day of practice -- is hoping his return to the postseason isn’t short-lived.

“Sitting out the last two years ... it’s been frustrating,” said Hummel, who averages 16.3 points. “I think it’s made this time all the more special for me. I think we’re all excited to be here and we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”

The Boilermakers face a tough task in their first game.

Saint Mary’s became the first team in 11 years other than Gonzaga to win the West Coast Conference title outright. The Gaels, who reached the Sweet 16 in 2010, are led by point guard Matthew Dellavedova. The Cousy Award finalist is the school’s all-time assists leader. He averages 15.6 points.

Things appeared bleak for Saint Mary’s after a 14-point loss at Murray State in a BracketBusters game Feb. 18. But Bennett’s squad bounced back with four straight wins to end the season.

Saint Mary’s, which is comprised largely of Australian players, has won 25 or more games in each of the past five seasons. On Friday the Gaels will attempt to beat a Purdue squad that has won its past 13 games in the round of 64.

“They’ve got a lot of depth, a lot of talented guys,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “We’re going to have our hands full.”

Players to watch:

Robbie Hummel, Purdue -- The senior’s 16.3-point scoring average is a career high, and so are his 7.1 rebounds per game. He's averaging just 10.6 points in his past three contests.

Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s -- One of the more fundamentally sound point guards in the country averages 15.6 points and 6.4 assists.

Rob Jones, Saint Mary’s -- The senior forward is a bit undersized at 6-foot-6, but you’d hardly be able to tell by looking at the stat sheet. Jones averages 14.8 points and 10.7 rebounds.

No. 2 Kansas (27-6) vs. No. 15 Detroit (22-13), 9:57 p.m. ET

For all the thrills they’ve experienced in the regular season, the Kansas Jayhawks still have painful memories from their past two NCAA tournaments.

More than the defeats, it’s who the Jayhawks lost to that has been hard for Bill Self’s team to stomach.

Two years ago it was Northern Iowa. Last season, Virginia Commonwealth.

When Kansas drew No. 15 seed Detroit in the round of 64 in this year’s tournament, more than a few fans feared that another upset loss to a mid-major team could be in store.

“We didn’t come to play,” point guard Tyshawn Taylor said of the past two years. “We thought if we just showed up, we’d beat those teams.”

The Jayhawks probably don’t have that opinion of Detroit, which features a McDonald’s All-American in Ray McCallum Jr. and a pro-caliber center in Eli Holman, who began his career at Indiana.

The Titans, who earned an automatic bid by beating Valparaiso by 20 points on their home floor, may be the most talented No. 15 seed in the history of the tournament. Seven of their 13 losses came without Holman, who was suspended for the fall semester.

Holman will be one of the main players charged with defending Big 12 Player of the Year Thomas Robinson, who averages 17.9 points and 11.8 rebounds. He certainly sounded confident when asked about the matchup earlier in the week.

“Robinson?” Holman said. “I can handle Robinson. He has to handle me.”

Detroit head coach Ray McCallum -- the father of the star point guard -- said the last thing his players intended to do was disrespect Kansas.

“I think some of those comments have been exaggerated,” the coach said. “We’ve been a team that hasn’t bragged or boasted about anything. Some of the things in print, I scratch my head, like 'Where did that come from?'

“I don’t think [it’s] arrogance. We’ve got great respect for their team. We know they’re truly one of the best. We’re going to have to play our best game of the year to win.”

Players to Watch:

Thomas Robinson, Kansas -- The first-team All-American and Wooden Award candidate has gone from a nonstarter to one of the best players in America. The NCAA tournament will likely mark the final time he will be in a Kansas uniform, as he’s expected to enter the NBA draft.

Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas -- Not many point guards in the country were as good during the second half of the season as Taylor, who led the Jayhawks in scoring in Big 12 play. The senior is a fourth-year starter

Ray McCallum Jr., Detroit -- The son of the Titans’ head coach averages 15.6 points per game but shoots just 25 percent from beyond the arc. He chose Detroit over schools such as Kansas, Florida and UCLA.