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Previewing first-round games in San Jose

3/18/2010


SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Previews for today's slate of games at HP Pavilion.

Vanderbilt (4) vs. Murray State (13)

Murray State coach Billy Kennedy said Picasso Simmons, whose mother died in a car crash Monday, didn't want this tournament to be about him, so the team declined to answer questions. We can only guess how emotional a game this will be for the Racers, who saw their grieving walk-on guard make the trip. The Ohio Valley Conference champs are winners of 21 of 22, but the program's only NCAA tournament win came in 1988. Murray State and Vanderbilt are about a two-hour drive from each other, and the proximity is so close that earlier this month, the 30-win Racers practiced on the Commodores' practice floor in preparation for their conference tournament. Of course, Vanderbilt is unlikely to underestimate a No. 13-seeded team considering the Commodores were routed only two years ago by No. 13 Siena.

Butler (5) vs. UTEP (12)

Butler is the nation's hottest team, having won 20 straight games without even having lost a single time in 2010. Gordon Hayward is the Horizon League's MVP as the Bulldogs hope to justify their high seed. UTEP, meanwhile, has Conference USA player of the year Randy Culpepper. Center Derrick Caracter is the only Miner who has NCAA tournament experience since transferring from Louisville. Many have UTEP picked in the early game to pull the upset, considering that the team might be underseeded. "I was a little shocked by the seeding we got," UTEP coach Tony Barbee said. "I thought we had a season that deserved a little more respect."

Marquette (6) vs. Washington (11)

Marquette is focused on controlling the tempo in this one. "If Washington is playing us, then I like our chances," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "If we're playing Washington, it will be a blowout. Part of the problem with the Golden Eagles will be containing Washington senior Quincy Pondexter. Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar is impressed by Marquette on film, expressing admiration for their grit during the season. Look for Washington guard Venoy Overton to try to disrupt the Golden Eagles' offense in which all five players in the lineup can hit from long distance, led by Darius Johnson-Odom. And down low, Washington's Matthew Bryan-Amaning, at 6-foot-9, will do his best against a tough but small lineup for Marquette.

New Mexico (3) vs. Montana (14)

New Mexico hopes to prove itself on the national stage and make names for guys like Darington Hobson, Roman Martinez and Dairese Gary. The Lobos certainly don't want their dream season to end in the first round, and to prevent that from happening, you can bet they'll key on Montana guard Anthony Johnson, who put up 42 points in the Big Sky championship game. Johnson said he's used to teams focusing on limiting his production, and the Grizzlies had better find some other options to go to. Will New Mexico's lack of NCAA tournament experience hurt it? The Lobos already are coming off a loss to San Diego State and also squeaking out a win over lowly Air Force in the Mountain West Conference tournament.