College Basketball Nation: Jeromie Hill

First Four preview, Day 2

March, 16, 2011
3/16/11
12:30
PM ET
DAYTON, Ohio -- Random thought: How can the First Four have eight teams if the Final Four has only four?

We'll leave that for a mathematician or NCAA selection committee member to answer. What we know is that it means another first-round tournament doubleheader Wednesday night at University of Dayton Arena. And more basketball is always a good thing.

Texas-San Antonio (19-13) vs. Alabama State (17-17)

How they got here: Alabama State was 6-16 at the end of January, but rallied to win 11 of its last 12 and captured the SWAC tournament title as a No. 4 seed. Texas-San Antonio finished seventh in the Southland Conference, but beat the league's top three teams in the conference tournament en route to its own improbable automatic bid.

Storyline: One of these teams will leave Dayton with its first-ever NCAA tournament win. UTSA's previous three appearances came against a pair of No. 1 seeds (UConn in 1999, Stanford in 2004) and a No. 3 (Illinois in 1988). Alabama State lost the 2009 opening-round game in Dayton to Morehead State and also served as sacrificial lamb to Duke (2004) and Michigan State (2001). Wednesday's winner gets the privilege of playing No. 1 overall seed Ohio State on Friday in Cleveland.

Players to watch: UTSA's Devin Gibson had his second triple-double of the season with 28 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a Southland tournament game. Roadrunners freshman Jeromie Hill is a 6-foot-8, 230-pounder who leads the team in rebounds and can step out and hit 3-pointers. Alabama State had to wait nearly half the season for senior Tramayne Moorer to get an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA and then for him to recover from a knee injury. But the Hornets have been a different team since, and the SWAC tournament MVP has led them in scoring and rebounding over the past 15 games -- all of which he's begun on the bench.

What to look for:
Alabama State was one of the worst shooting and scoring teams in the country for most of the season and made only 55 percent of its free throws in the regular season. The Hornets suddenly turned that around in the SWAC tournament, but can they keep it up against a UTSA team that is holding opponents to under 42 percent from the field? The Roadrunners will certainly make Alabama State prove it can hit some 3s, something it rarely did all season.

If experience matters, Alabama State has three players who remember Dayton from that 2009 opening-round game. Meanwhile, UTSA has seven freshmen on its roster. But both teams have already showed major resiliency just to get here.

VCU (23-11) vs. USC (19-14)

How they got here: Only the selection committee knows how VCU could finish fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association, lose 11 times, fail to win its conference tournament and yet still manage an at-large bid. USC, with those 14 losses (some of them on the horrific side), doesn't have that much stronger of an at-large case. But at least the Trojans did beat Texas, Arizona, Tennessee, UCLA and Washington this season while nearly upsetting Kansas in Lawrence back in December.

Storyline: VCU will try to justify its controversial at-large bid, which UAB fell way short of Tuesday night. Then there's the return of USC coach Kevin O'Neill after his suspension for getting into a verbal altercation with a fan last week. "His approach to it was real sincere," guard Jio Fontan said. "You can tell that he really felt like he let us down. And he apologized for his actions." Will O'Neill's trouble bring the team together or serve as a distraction?

Players to watch:
The Trojans' attack revolves around 6-foot-10 forward Nikola Vucevic, who averages a double-double (17.3 points, 10.2 rebounds) and is a good passer out of the post. Guard Marcus Simmons was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. VCU is led by senior point guard Joey Rodriguez, the school's all-time leader in games played. Jamie Skeen is the Rams' top scorer, and at 6-foot-9 he led the team in 3-point shooting.

What to look for: The best early-round tournament matchups offer severe contrasts in style, and this is one of them. VCU likes to press and play fast, using a deep bench and hoisting up a ton of 3s. USC basically has a six-man rotation and wins by slowing things down and applying the clamps on defense, where it led the Pac-10 in fewest points allowed.

"We're a team that has to play at our tempo to be successful," O'Neill said. It will be fascinating to see which style wins out, and whether the Rams can wear down a Trojans team that had to fly across the country on short notice.

But VCU is also one of the worst rebounding teams in the country. Vucevic -- whose name includes the letters v-c-u -- could spell serious trouble for the Rams on the boards and in the paint if he can stay out of foul trouble.

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