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NCAA Tournament: What To Watch for On Thursday

While I would love to write a preview for every single game over the next 96 hours....I'm going to disappoint you.

Consider this story the highlights for Thursday's games...Take a look inside for my take on some of the more interesting match ups.

Thanks to everyone who has signed up for the Tomahawk Nation Bracket Challenge.

Florida State forward Chris Singleton (31) celebrates after hitting a three-point shot against North Carolina in second half action during an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference men's tournament in Atlanta, Saturday, March 14, 2009. From AP Photo by AP.

Time to represent...

Photo from


So here a couple of highlights for Thursday's  games:

12:20pm Butler #9 vs LSU #8

Starting in late January, LSU decided to go on a tear through the SEC only to fall apart at the end, finishing a very respectable 26-7 overall and 13-3, winning the SEC West. However, they lost their last two regular season games to Vanderbilt and Auburn and were knocked out of the SEC tournament by the eventual champion Mississippi St. The Tigers finished 46th overall in the Pomeroy rankings and 53rd in Offensive and Defensive efficiency.  This is a blanced, experienced and relatively big team. Thei major weakness is their ability to generate turnovers. Their losses this year were at the hands of Texas A&M, Utah, Alabama, Xavier, Vanderbilt and Auburn. Their only significant win out of conference was Washington St. They play primarily man defense and their starters play almost the entire game, meaning these guys are tired. Marcus Thornton, a 6'4 Senior is their guy. Shut him down and you have a pretty good chance at keeping the Tigers quiet. The other name to watch out for is Tasmin Mitchell, a 6'7 Jr who has an excellent offensive rating for a big man and shoots the ball well with an eFG% of 53.4%.

The Butler Bulldogs went 26-5 overall and finished 15-3 as the regular season champs of the Horizon League. However, they lost to Cleveland St in the second round of the Horizon League Championship. They finished 42nd overall in the Pomeroy ratings, 60th of offense and 44th on defense. They play outstanding defense and play a very down tempo game with only 63 possessions per game, 5 less than the Noles. They shoot the ball particularly well and they distribute the ball well with 58% of their baskets coming off an assist. They also get to the free throw line a lot. Their big OOC wins included Northwestern, Xavier and UAB and they beat Davidson in season. They are lead by Shelvin Mack a 6'3 Freshman and Matt Howard a 6'7 Sophomore. Howard shoots the ball extreely well and ge gets to the line a ridiculous ammount of the time: 83.4% and he draws 7.4 fouls per 40 minutes of game play. Gordon Hayward is their shooter...a 6'8 Freshman who has an eFG of 61% that loves to shoot the three.

I really think this will be an excellent game. Given the fact that Butler can play defense and plays a low temp game and forces their opponents into foul trouble, I would not be surprised if they pull off the first upset of the tournament in the opening game.

2:30pm Northern Iowa #12 vs Purdue #5

I bring your attention to this game to illustrate that Purdue is better than you think. This is the one team that I have been really impressed with while living in Big Ten Country...that's all I get to see on TV around here. Anyway. Purdue finished a very nice 25-9 overall and 11-7 in the BigTen/Eleven/Twelve and won the Big Ten Tournament. They finished 14th overall in the Pomeroy ratings, ranking 52nd on offense and 5th on defense. Defense wins championships, well at least it will get you to the Sweet 16. Studies have been done that demonstrate good defense will at least get you through the first couple rounds of the tournament. Their OOC play included teams like Boston College, Oklahoma, Duke and Davidson. They lost to Oklahoma and Duke. Unfortunately, the Boilermakers had a rough finish to the Big Ten season going 1-3 with losses to Michigan, Northwestern and Michigan St. However they were plagued by the injury bug. WIth their complete team, they steam rolled through the Big Ten tourney. E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson are the names who will hear a lot about as well as Robbie Hummel. Hummel is their best shooter and you cannot get the ball away from him. Purdue's major weakness is their ability to grab offensive rebounds and their ability to get to the free throw line. However, they are holding their opponents to only a 41% shooting percentage from 2-point land. They rarley turn the ball over on offense and they play at a reasonable slow pace. They also play big, despite having an average average height. Their effective height is +2.3".

Northern Iowa is only 1 of four teams to be in the tournament from non-Power conferences. They finished 23-10 overall and 14-4 in the Missouri Valley Conference, winning the MVC Championship and edging out Creighton to get into the NCAA tournament. They finished 82nd in the Pomeroy rankings, 58th on offense and 128th on offense. They play at a snail's pace at an adjusted tempo of 61.9. They shoot jump shots and free throws well and they don't allow turnovers. They played a respectable OOC schedule for an MVC team: Marquette, Auburn, Iowa. They are a relatively young team without a lot of height. The names to toss out to impress your friends are Kwadzo Ahelegbe and Adam Koch. Koch is one of the best FT shooters in the country hitting 88% of them.

 I don't think this game will be close at all. But, take note, Purdue is the real deal and they will make a quiet run in the tournament. I don't think they will make it to the final four. They are a fun team to watch that plays outstanding defense. Again, this should not be a good game but I bring it up as a highlight simply for sleeper team purposes. 

4:55pm Mississippi St #13 vs. Washington #4

Thanks to UNFNole for this accurate assessment. Totally agree.

Washington is a very tough team. What they lack in size they make up for in a well balanced offense with four starters averaging in double digits. Mississippi State comes off a thrilling run in the SEC tournament. They have the nations leading shot blocker in Jarvis Varnado who also leads the team in PPG and Rebounds. Varnado should keep the small but very good Isaiah Thomas out of the lane and force him outside. He is an average 3 shooter at best, which automatically makes this a tougher matchup than Washington would hope for in the first round. While the matchup isn’t a sexy one, I think it will be a good one. I have Washington going deep into the tournament, but Mississippi could easily bust my bracket.

9:50pm VCU #11 vs. UCLA #6

This is the match up that a lot of people are picking for the sexy upset of the day. UCLA finished 25-8 overall in the regular season and 13-5 in the Pac 10. They finished 9th overall in the Pomeroy ratings, 3rd overall on offense and 41st on defense. Despite finishing nicely in the Pomeroy bracket, UCLA tumbled in the major media polls after a rough mid-Pac 10 schedule hiccup, losing to ASU, Arizona and Washington St within a 9 day period. They did beat Washington in the middle of that. They also exited the Pac 10 tourney early losing to USC in the second round. This team plays very effieicent basketball. They have an eFG% of 55% and they rarely turn the ball over. Darren Collison and Josh Shipp lead the way. Collisson was one of the best players in the country this year and will be playing in the NBA next year. UCLA is also a relatively tall team but lack leadership on their bench. Despite having three seniors on the team, their bench looks like ours. Where UCLA gets you is by generating turnovers, forcing turnovers on 24.2% of their opponents possessions. That is ridiculous. If UCLA shoots the ball well, they will win this game. All of UCLA's losses occurred when they had an eFG% of 55% of less, 5 of their 8 losses occurred when they shot 50% of less. In their last outing, they shot 30.7% against USC. This team will prove that streaky shooting teams tend to bow out early of the tournament, espescially if they don't/can't play effective defense.

Virginia Commonwealth finished 24-9 overall and 14-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association and won their conference tournament. Their 9 losses included Rhode Island, East Carolina, Vanderbilt, Oklahoma and Nevada. They had significant wins against New Mexico, Akron and George Mason. They finished 56th overall in the Pomeroy Standings and 74th on offense and 49th on defense. What do they do well...hold teams to low shooting percentages. In fact they held their opponents to a 44.9% eFG on the year and held their 2-pt FG% to only 42.6%. They are not the tallest team but they play tight man to man defense. Where they get into trouble is limiting opponents offensive rebounding. On offense they do a nice job overall, nothing stands out. They don't turn the ball over often and they shoot well. They typicall lose when their opponents shoot over 54% on the night. The name you will hear out of VCU is Eric Maynor a 6'2 Sr. He is one of the best passers in the nation and rarely turns the ball over despite his passing ability. Larry Sanders is their big man at 6'9 and is one of the best shot blockers in the country.

So...if UCLA shoots well, it will be over. If UCLA has a so so night from the floor, VCU will be in this game and has a chance to win. There is no way to predict which UCLA team is going to appear. I still give the edge to UCLA due to program history and the quality of their athletes, but this could be a fun game to watch.

Other Thoughts/Games:

A couple of other notable games are the BYU vs Texas A&M (Is BYU for real?), Maryland vs. California (Did the Terps deserve to get in the tourney and is the Pac-10 for real?) and Western Kentucky vs. Illinois (Which Illini team will show up against one of last years tournament cindarellas?) for Memphis to pull their typical feel a team out of a half then completely shut them down in the second half. UNC and Connecticut are also playing. It's always interesting to see how the #1 seeds show up for that first game.

What games are you most looking forward to?

Feel free to use this as an open tournament chat during the day on Thursday. Look for my FSU-Wiso preview on Friday. In the meantime, feel free to check out the Badger's preview at Bucky's 5th Quarter.