- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Breaking down the Friday afternoon games in the Music City:
No. 6 seed Cincinnati (24-10) vs. No. 11 Texas (20-13), 12:15 p.m. ET
What to watch: Seeing the way Cincinnati scrapped its way into the Big East Conference championship game, it’s hard not to peg the Bearcats as one of those teams in the field playing its best basketball right now. They’ve won seven of their past nine games and lead the country with seven victories over ranked teams. Texas, on the other hand, enters the tourney trying to find some consistency after losing four of its past seven games. There’s no better time to find that mojo than right now. There were a lot of people who wondered if the Longhorns would even make the tournament. Here’s their chance to prove that they belong.
Who to watch: Texas guard J'Covan Brown can score points in bunches, and when he gets it going, he’s a headache to defend. The 6-foot-1 junior has averaged 24.8 points over his past four games and has scored at least 21 in each of those four. He leads the Big 12 in scoring at 20.1 points per game, but hasn’t shot it particularly well from 3-point range coming into this game. In his past five outings, he’s just 6-of-30 from behind the arc. Brown takes 28 percent of his team’s shots.
Why to watch: The Bearcats have been one of the turnaround stories this season in college basketball, but it goes much deeper than just hoops. The ugly scenes from their fight with Xavier on Dec. 10 remain etched in a lot of people’s minds, but Cincinnati recovered from multiple player suspensions -- and showing a new resolve along the way -- and played its way into the Big East tournament final. One of the catalysts has been senior forward Yancy Gates, who was suspended six games for his role in the brawl. When he returned, the Bearcats tweaked their offense to better utilize Gates’ offensive rebounding prowess, and they took off as a team -- winning seven of their nine games against ranked foes.
What they’re saying: “We had a chance to win the Big East tournament, which nobody expected us to do, and hopefully, we’ll do the unexpected and win games here, which nobody probably expects us to do. We’ll just do what we’ve been doing and keep playing against the odds and trying to prove people wrong.” -- Cincinnati forward Yancy Gates
“I’ve told my team all year if we would work as hard on the offensive end as we do on the defensive end, we’d be a much better team. And at times where I don’t think we’ve improved or shown the improvement is with our offense.” -- Texas coach Rick Barnes
Around the rim: This is the sixth time that Texas has been a double-digit seed in the NCAA tournament. Each of the previous five times, the Longhorns won at least one game in the tournament. … The Cincinnati-Texas game will tip off at 11:15 a.m. local time in Nashville, and the Cincinnati players haven’t been crazy about playing early games this season. Nobody was complaining Thursday, though. “It’s the NCAA tournament. If you can’t get up at whatever time the game is, you shouldn’t be here,” Cincinnati guard Cashmere Wright said. … Before Cincinnati boarded the bus for Nashville, coach Mick Cronin took the players into the UC Arena and had them look up at the Bearcats’ national championship banners. “I just think you’ve got to believe that you can win it, and I think my guys need to realize that it’s possible and that it’s happened at the University of Cincinnati. We’ve got to believe that it’s going to happen again,” Cronin said.
No. 3 seed Florida State (24-9) vs. No. 14 St. Bonaventure (20-11), 2:45 p.m. ET
What to watch: Is Florida State as good as it looked last weekend in gunning down Duke and North Carolina in back-to-back days to win the ACC tournament title? Granted, Duke and North Carolina didn’t have a lot to gain in Atlanta, but it’s not the first time the Seminoles have turned Tobacco Road upside down this season. Leonard Hamilton’s club beat North Carolina 90-57 at home Jan. 14, then won at Duke 76-73 a week later. It’s the first time in 16 seasons that somebody has recorded two victories over both Duke and North Carolina in the same season. That’s some pretty heady stuff. The trick now for Florida State is playing that way in the March tournament that counts.
Who to watch: Florida State senior forward Bernard James served six years in the Air Force, including deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Qatar. Now 27, the 6-10 James has been as valuable to his basketball team as he was to his country. An All-ACC Defensive Team selection, James ranks third in the ACC with 76 blocked shots, while averaging 10.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He will be honored at the Final Four along with Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt and presented with the Most Courageous Award by the United States Basketball Writers Association.
Why to watch: St. Bonaventure is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since a scandal rocked the university during the 2002-03 season. The Bonnies played an ineligible player that season after a junior-college transfer was admitted to the university with a welding degree and no associate’s degree. The fallout included the firing of coach Jan van Breda Kolff and the resignation of the athletic director and school president. A few months later, Bill Swan, the president of the university’s board of trustees, committed suicide and left a note apologizing for the pain he caused St. Bonaventure as well as his family and friends. The next four seasons saw the Bonnies win a combined 24 games, but coach Mark Schmidt was hired in 2007 and has steadily led the program back to respectability. St. Bonaventure won its first Atlantic 10 tournament championship last Sunday.
What they’re saying: “Andrew (Nicholson) is the player of the year, so he does what players of the year do, and that’s put the team on their back and kind of sail the ship.” -- St. Bonaventure guard Matthew Wright
“We’re definitely expecting a punch right out of the gate. We’re going to throw one ourselves.” -- Florida State forward Bernard James
Around the rim: Florida State is ranked sixth nationally in field goal percentage defense (.381) and seventh in blocked shots (5.9 per game). … In the Seminoles’ past four games, they’re shooting 50 percent (34-of-68) from 3-point range and keeping their opponents to 29.2 percent (26-of-89) from behind the line. … The Bonnies received quite a send-off before leaving their campus in western New York. Schmidt said it seemed like 15,000 of the 20,000 people who live in the Allegheny community lined the roads. “They let the kids out of schools, and we had our bus go through all the little towns, by all the elementary schools, all the businesses, and it was special,” Schmidt said. … Nicholson, a senior forward and the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, has been on a tear. He averaged 25.3 points and 11.5 rebounds in his final eight conference games.