Wolverines and Wildcats face off in the Alamodome for the national title

Villanova is one win away from its second national championship in three seasons, but its final hurdle appears to be a daunting one. Michigan owns the longest winning streak in the nation at 14 games and will attempt to upset the Wildcats when the teams square off Monday in San Antonio in the NCAA Tournament title game.

Villanova was a good 3-point shooting team in 2015-16 when it won the national championship (highlighted, of course, by Kris Jenkins’ championship-clinching 3-pointer at the buzzer), but the Big East champions have taken it to a new level this season. The Wildcats set a Final Four record with 18 3-pointers in Saturday’s semifinal victory over Kansas and have made at least 13 3-pointers in four of their five wins in this event. “It’s our best offensive team. We’ve had some good ones. This is definitely our best,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose squad hopes to hand Michigan its first loss since Feb. 6. The Wolverines defeated upstart Loyola Chicago on Saturday, rallying from a 10-point second-half deficit to move to the brink of their first title since 1989.

Enter the NCAA National Championship Tournament Bracket

 

TV: 9:20 p.m. ET, TBS

ABOUT MICHIGAN (33-7): The Wolverines won their final six regular-season games, followed by a 3-for-3 run in the Big Ten Tournament and a smooth surge through the first five games of the Big Dance, although they have yet to defeat a team seeded higher than No. 6 in this event. They have given up more than 63 points only once in this tournament and harassed Loyola into 1-of-10 3-point shooting and 17 turnovers, while Moritz Wagner (24 points, 15 rebounds) handled the bulk of the burden offensively. Charles Matthews added 17 points, but fellow starting guards Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Zavier Simpson combined for seven points on 2-of-17 shooting and must be better against the Wildcats’ talented backcourt.

ABOUT VILLANOVA (35-4): With Wooden Award finalist Jalen Brunson leading the way, the Wildcats are the top scoring team in the nation (86.8 points), which provides a nice contrast with the Wolverines, who are eighth nationally in points allowed (62.9). Brunson had 18 points against Kansas, second on the team to Eric Paschall, who recorded 24 points on 10-of-11 shooting (4-of-5 3-pointers), while Omari Spellman chipped in 15 points and 13 rebounds and Donte DiVincenzo had 15 points off the bench. Mikal Bridges, potentially the top NBA prospect in this year’s Final Four, had 10 points against the Jayhawks and is capable of erupting from 3-point range, as the junior has drained multiple 3s in 13 of the last 14 games.

TIP-INS

1. Aside from the Elite Eight, when he shot 0-of-7 from the arc against Florida State, Wagner is 9-of-15 from 3-point range in the NCAA Tournament.

2. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, Villanova is the fifth team to win its first five games by double digits. The only team in that group to lose the championship game was North Carolina (against Villanova) two years ago.

3. Villanova defeated Michigan en route to winning the 1985 national championship and won the last matchup in 2014, but this will be only the fourth meeting.

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Do the Aggies have another upset in them?

It’s been a pretty good NCAA Tournament for Michigan so far with two wins while getting to watch rival Michigan State fall to Syracuse as an upset. The Wolverines knocked off Montana and got a miracle long-range shot from freshman Jordan Poole to beat Houston. They have now won 11 straight games and have dispelled any issues with the long layoff after the early Big Ten Tournament.

Texas A&M meanwhile had to beat Providence and North Carolina to get here. The Aggies looked like the team they were back in November as they outmuscled the Tar Heels last time out, soundly beating the defending national champions by 21 points in Charlotte.

Enter the NCAA Sweet 16 Tournament Bracket

West Region: No. 7 Texas A&M (22-12) vs. No. 3 Michigan Wolverines (30-7)

Time: 7:37 p.m. ET (Thursday)

​Where: Staples Center (Los Angeles)

TV TBS

Keys for Texas A&M

Crash the boards like the Aggies have been in this tournament. They grab 34 percent of their offensive rebound opportunities and they are the bigger team in this matchup. Texas A&M took advantage of its size differential against North Carolina, out-rebounding the Tar Heels 50-34. Going into that game, North Carolina was one of the nation’s top teams on the glass, enjoying a rebounding margin of nearly 10 per game (9.8).

Michigan forward Moritz Wagner, the team’s leading rebounder (7.1 rpg), has been in a bit of foul trouble in a few games this season so he will need to be able to stay on the court or the Aggies could really have their way in the paint and on the boards. Robert Williams and Tyler Davis have the advantage down low over both Wagner and John Teske. But the Texas A&M big men also have to be aware of the Wolverines’ shooters, like Duncan Robinson, and guard all way out to the 3-point line at times. In the first two games, the Aggies have held opponents to 12 of 51 (23.5 percent) shooting from beyond the arc.

Keys for Michigan

Continue the great defense that the Wolverines played in Wichita, holding Montana and Houston to under 35 percent shooting from the field. Texas A&M has been hot as of late, especially from behind the 3-point line. After shooting 31.1 percent from the arc during the regular season, the Aggies made 10 of 24 attempts (41.7 percent) in the victory over the Tar Heels. Zavier Simpson has to be able to keep TJ Starks in check, as the Texas A&M guard poured in 21 points against North Carolina. He has had a high usage rate this season so Simpson will be busy. Finally, stay out of foul trouble. Wagner did not play that much last game and that can’t keep happening if the rest of the offense continues to slump.

Final Analysis

Points will be at a premium in this one. These two teams have similar strengths and weaknesses and the key could be who will start the fastest. As I said above, it’s imperative for Wagner to stay on the court and help battle Texas A&M’s bigs. I think in the end, we may see another upset from the Aggies, who are in better form right now than the Wolverines.

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Two of the 2018 Tournament’s Cinderella stories clash in the topsy-turvy South Region

One advanced on a pair of buckets scored in the final seconds. The other rallied from a combined 39-point deficit over two contests. Loyola-Chicago and Nevada provided some of the most memorable moments of this NCAA Tournament in their first four combined games. The two now meet with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.

Given their penchant for the dramatic this March, expect more fireworks.

This surprise matchup of the No. 7 seed and No. 11 seeds features a contrast in styles. Nevada scores as effectively as any team in the country, boasting an adjusted offensive efficiency rank of No. 6, per KenPom.com. Loyola, meanwhile, has made its bones on the defensive end. The Ramblers rank No. 27 in adjusted defensive efficiency, and with a per-game yield of just 62.2 points, are now the stingiest defense left in the Tournament.

Enter the NCAA Sweet 16 Tournament Bracket

South Region: No. 11 Loyola (Chicago) Ramblers (30-5) vs. No. 7 Nevada Wolf Pack (29-7)

Time: 7:07 p.m. ET (Thursday)

Where: Philips Arena (Atlanta)
TV: CBS

Keys for Loyola (Chicago)

Over its last seven games, the 62 points both Miami and Tennessee scored in Loyola’s First and Second Round wins were the most any opponent has mustered. A great defensive team all season long, the Ramblers have upped the intensity for the stretch run.

They have not necessarily done so generating a ton of turnovers; they forced 16 against Miami, but just seven vs. Tennessee. Loyola also hasn’t completely shut down the 3-point arc, with the Vols having hit 36 percent in the Second Round, and the Hurricanes connecting on 44 percent. However, the Ramblers’ ability to dictate tempo — extending possessions on both offense and defense — forced those games into a style better suited to them.

Loyola likely won’t be able to generate many turnovers, with Nevada ranked No. 1 nationally in turnover percentage, but the Ramblers can force the Wolf Pack to shoot deep in the shot clock. On the offensive end, taking high-percentage shots is critical for the Ramblers’ Elite Eight hopes; in losses, Loyola’s offensive output dips. Good looks at the basket are paramount with this team’s methodical style.

Four of Loyola’s primary rotation players (Aundre Jackson, Clayton Custer, Marques Towns and Cameron Krutwig) shoot 55 percent or better from inside the 3-point. Custer and breakout Tournament star Donte Ingram (48 points in the First and Second Round) shoot at least 40 percent from deep. The Ramblers need to maintain those steady numbers to advance.

Keys for Nevada

For the first time in this Tournament, Nevada enjoys a distinct advantage in terms of size and athleticism. This in stark contrast to a Mountain West Conference Tournament loss to San Diego State, and the First and Second Round contests in which the Wolf Pack fell behind big vs. Texas and Cincinnati. However, it’s more in line with the majority of the regular season, when Nevada won 26 games.

That bodes well for Thursday’s forecast. Brothers Cody and Caleb Martin complement one another nicely, with Cody scoring effectively on the interior, and Caleb connecting on 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip. Veteran Jordan Caroline plays a dynamic inside-outside game, and may be the Pack’s X-factor. Loyola could struggle to keep him off the glass and out of the paint, particularly with the Martins are effective early slashing and shooting from deep.

If not Caroline, sharp-shooter Kendall Stephens may hold the key to getting Nevada through the Sweet 16 and beyond. He’s one of the most consistent 3-point shooters left in the Tournament, hitting at a rate just below 45 percent. His ability to stretch the defense is just what Nevada needs to pull Loyola out of its tempo-controlling style and speed up the pace of play.

Critical for the Pack on Thursday, as it’s been all season, is avoiding foul trouble. Coach Eric Musselman does not typically go any deeper than six players in his rotation. If Loyola draws fouls early — which San Diego State accomplished in the MWC Tournament — Nevada may be in trouble.

Final Analysis

From Musselman’s high energy on the sideline — mirrored in the stands by daughter Mariah — to the enthusiasm of Loyola-Chicago’s Sister Jean, these two teams have provided some of the quintessential moments of the Tournament. It’s unfortunate one must go home, but the Final Four is oh-so-close.

Both teams have walked a tight rope to get to this point. Another nail-biter seems likely, especially with Loyola’s methodical style. Nevada must dictate pace, which its shown it can do in the first two rounds, but do so earlier. There won’t be any coming back if the Pack falls behind this Ramblers bunch big early.

Any of Nevada’s four primary weapons — the Martins, Caroline and Stephens — can go off. That gives the Pack an edge that should carry them into the Elite Eight.

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March Madness Round 64 Preview

St. Bonaventure vs. Florida

Sixth-seeded Florida hopes to find the best version of itself when it begins play in the NCAA Tournament against No. 11 seed St. Bonaventure in the first round of the East Region on Thursday in Dallas. The Gators owns impressive victories over Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Kentucky (two) and Auburn, but dropped five of their last eight games against non-NCAA teams before falling in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals against Arkansas.

“We have competitors, there’s no doubt about that. We see that every day at practice,” Florida senior guard Igor Koulechov told Floridagators.com. “Where we’re lacking sometimes is with our emotion.” As Koulechov said, it’s back to the rollercoaster for the Gators as they try to put strong performances on both sides of the floor together and make a run with a capable group that boasts four players averaging at least 11 points. St. Bonaventure will create quite a challenge after the Bonnies knocked off UCLA 65-58 on Tuesday in the First Four at Dayton, Ohio, for its school-record 26th win and first NCAA Tournament victory since 1970. St. Bonaventure advanced without big nights from its leading scorers – senior guards Jaylen Adams (19.4) and Matt Mobley (18.4), who finished with 22 points combined against the Bruins.

TV: 9:57 p.m. ET, truTV

ABOUT ST. BONAVENTURE (26-17): Mobley recorded 14 points Tuesday, but was 2-for-7 from 3-point range and 4-for-12 overall, while Adams missed 14 of his 16 field goals attempts and all five of his tries from behind the arc. Courtney Stockard (13.3 points) stepped up by scoring 26 and is averaging 23.8 over the last five contests, but the 6-5 junior lauded the team’s defense Tuesday. “We played the same defense all year,” Stockard told reporters. “UCLA is a good offensive team, high-scoring team. But. … we did a good job taking away their knowns, making them take contested shots.”

ABOUT FLORIDA (20-12): The Gators got hammered on the boards against Arkansas 43-28 and shot 41.7 percent from the field after winning the final three regular-season games in impressive fashion. Junior guard Jalen Hudson (15.3 points) scored 22.7 per game during those wins, but went 2-for-9 from the field against Arkansas while Koulechov (13.6 points) missed nine of 11 shots from the floor against the Razorbacks. Junior guard KeVaughn Allen (11.3) is averaging 14.8 points over the last four contests and experienced senior point guard Chris Chiozza (11.2 points, team-high 6.1 assists) runs the show.

TIP-INS

1. The Gators have played at least four games each of the last five times they reached the NCAA Tournament.

2. Adams went over 1,900 points (1,901) in his career last time out and is 12 assists shy of 600.

3. Koulechov has shot 20 percent or worse from the field in three of his last five contests.

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March Madness Round 64 Preview

Montana vs. Michigan

Third-seeded Michigan looks to continue its winning ways when it faces No. 14 seed Montana in the first round of the West regional on Thursday in Wichita, Kan. The Wolverines have ripped off nine consecutive wins, including four victories in four days in New York City to claim their second Big Ten tournament title in as many years, and hope a 10-day layoff doesn’t rob them of their momentum as they strive to advance to the second round of March Madness for the fourth time in their last five appearances.

“We got back to the gym to be competitive and get motivated for a really tough tournament,” Michigan forward Moritz Wagner told reporters. “We’ve been doing a great job and I don’t think this team needs a lot of help to be hungry.” Michigan is 11-4 in the NCAA Tournament since 2013 and hopes to make another deep run by taming the Grizzlies in the first-ever matchup between the teams. Montana went 16-2 in Big Sky Conference play before winning three straight in the conference tournament, including an 82-65 triumph over Eastern Washington in the final, to punch its Big Dance ticket for the first time since 2013. The Grizzlies have dropped 11 of their last 14 meetings with teams currently in the Big Ten and hope to notch their first win in the tournament since knocking off Nevada 87-79 in 2006.

TV: 9:50 p.m. ET, TBS

ABOUT MONTANA (26-7): Michael Oguine was named the Big Sky tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after averaging 21 points and five rebounds in wins against North Dakota, Northern Colorado and Eastern Washington. Oguine scored 15 of his team-leading 21 points in the second half while Ahmaad Rorie added 15 points and five assists to help the Grizzlies overcome a 10-point halftime deficit to win the conference tournament title. “We have a senior (Fabijan Krslovic) who has given his all to the program,” Rorie told reporters. “We didn’t want to play in the NIT as we wanted to get him in the tournament.”

ABOUT MICHIGAN (28-7): 
Wagner was named the MVP of the Big Ten tournament after averaging 15.7 points and 6.5 rebounds over four games at Madison Square Garden. Wagner scored 17 points while Muhammad-Ali-Abdur Rahkman, who was also named to the Big Ten All-Tournament team, added 15 points and four assists as the Wolverines knocked off Purdue 75-66 in the title game to avenge two regular-season losses to the Boilermakers. Starting forward Isaiah Livers suffered an ankle sprain early in the first half against the Boilermakers, but practiced during the week and is expected to be available Thursday.

TIP-INS

1. Michigan has held seven of its last eight opponents to fewer than 67 points.

2. Montana is 15-0 when scoring 80 or more points this season.

3. The winner will play Houston or San Diego State in the second round Saturday.

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March Madness Round 64 Preview

Buffalo vs. Arizona

After a controversy-filled few weeks, Arizona has regained its swagger just in time for the NCAA Tournament. The fourth-seeded Wildcats claimed both the Pac-12 regular-season title and the conference tournament championship but will need to be careful not to overlook No. 13 seed Buffalo when the teams meet Thursday in the first round of the South Region in Boise, Idaho.

Buffalo set a school record for wins and owns the No. 6 scoring offense in the nation at 84.8 points per game, but the Bulls face an uphill battle against national player of the year candidate Deandre Ayton, a 7-1 freshman who averaged 32 points and 16 rebounds in back-to-back wins over UCLA and USC in the Pac-12 Tournament. “Deandre, the dominance that he put forth – if there’s another player better, I’d like to meet him,” coach Sean Miller told reporters. “He absolutely was a one-man wrecking crew.” The Wildcats extended their winning streak to five with Saturday’s 75-61 victory over USC in Las Vegas, while Buffalo defeated Toledo in the Mid-American Conference Tournament title game in Cleveland. Four different players average double figures in scoring for Arizona, which dropped three straight games in the Bahamas in late November without injured guard Rawle Alkins but had little trouble during Pac-12 play.

TV: 9:30 p.m. ET, CBS

ABOUT BUFFALO (26-8): Senior guard Wes Clark, a transfer from Missouri, was named Mid-American Conference Tournament MVP after scoring 26 points in the 76-66 win over Toledo. The Bulls’ impressive backcourt includes junior guard CJ Massinburg, who led the team in scoring at 16.9 points per game but was held to four points on 1-of-7 shooting in the championship game against Toledo. Junior forwards Nick Perkins and Jeremy Harris combined for 26 points against the Rockets, but the undersized duo will be tested early and often by Arizona’s imposing frontline.

ABOUT ARIZONA (27-7): In addition to Ayton, the Wildcats’ frontcourt includes 7-foot senior Dusan Ristic, who averages 12.1 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 56.1 percent from the field. Junior guard Allonzo Trier ranks second on the team in scoring at 18.4 points per game and will be looking to get untracked after averaging nine points while shooting 5-of-19 from the field against UCLA and USC in the Pac-12 Tournament. Senior point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright started all 34 games and provides steady leadership for the Wildcats, who averaged 81.1 points per game but struggled defensively at times during the regular season.

TIP-INS

1. The winner advances to face either No. 5 Kentucky or No. 12 Davidson on Saturday.

2. Buffalo is in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in the last four years and second under coach Nate Oats.

3. Arizona is 198-25 under Miller when leading at halftime.

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March Madness Round 64 Preview

Alabama vs. Virginia Tech

A pair of high-scoring teams will do battle in the NCAA Tournament’s East Region first round when No. 8 seed Virginia Tech takes on No. 9 Alabama on Thursday in Pittsburgh. The Hokies average 79.7 points and have five double-figure scorers, while the Crimson Tide averages 72.4 with both teams allowing at least 70 points a contest.

Alabama is powered by one of the top freshmen in the country, guard Collin Sexton, who leads the team in scoring (19 points) and assists (3.5) and is able to take games over, as he did with 21 second-half points in a quarterfinal win over Auburn in the SEC tournament. Coach Avery Johnson will need to get more offense from the rest of the lineup as the Hokies will certainly focus on stopping Sexton and forcing other Alabama players to beat them. Guard Justin Robinson paces the high-powered Hokies attack, averaging 13.8 points and 5.6 assists, both team-highs. Four different players — Robinson, Justin Bibbs, Ahmed Hill and Nickeil Alexander-Walker — have hit at least 50 3-pointers this season, which will stretch the Alabama defense.

TV: 9:20 p.m. ET, TNT

ABOUT ALABAMA (19-15): Crimson Tide coach Avery Johnson is confident he’ll have forward Donta Hall available for the NCAA Tournament after Hall suffered a concussion in the team’s quarterfinal win over Auburn in the SEC tournament Friday. Hall missed the semifinal loss to Kentucky on Saturday, but Johnson says the 6-10 junior is in concussion protocol and he’s optimistic he’ll have the team’s second-leading scorer (10.9 points per game) and top rebounder (6.8) and shot-blocker (2.1) against the Hokies. Freshman Alex Reese started in Hall’s place against Kentucky, finishing with five points and four rebounds in 19 minutes in his first-ever collegiate starting assignment.

ABOUT VIRGINIA TECH (21-11): Coach Buzz Williams is hoping his team got their postseason stinker out of its system at the ACC tournament, when the Hokies led Notre Dame by 21 with just over 15 minutes to play and lost. Virginia Tech likes to dare teams to beat it from the outside because of the small lineup Williams plays, trying to pack the lane and prevent easy drives to the basket, and the Irish were able to take advantage from the perimeter. Williams will certainly be on the lookout for a hot shooting team, whether it be Alabama or any future opponent, and try to extend the defense more, but the Hokies have at least learned that no lead is safe in a one-and-done situation.

TIP-INS

1. Alabama ranked 13th in the Southeastern Conference this season in free-throw percentage, hitting just 67.2 percent of its attempts.

2. Virginia Tech was one of only three teams in the ACC with a negative rebounding margin, allowing opponents to grab 1.5 more boards per game.

3. The winner of this contest will advance to the second round Saturday to face either No. 1 seed Villanova or the winner of the Long Island-Radford First Four contest.

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March Madness Round 64 Preview

Stephen F. Austin vs. Texas Tech

Texas Tech didn’t win the Big 12 regular-season or tournament title, but it did earn a favorable NCAA Tournament draw. The Red Raiders, third-seeded in the East region, will stay in the Lone Star State to open the Big Dance in Dallas, facing 14th-seeded and in-state foe Stephen F. Austin on Thursday.

Coach Chris Beard’s Red Raiders finished second in the Big 12 behind perennial champion Kansas and beat Texas 73-69 in their Big 12 Tournament opener before falling to third-seeded West Virginia 66-63 in the semifinals. Overall, Texas Tech enters the NCAA Tourney with a 24-9 record – its first 20-win season in 11 years and its most wins since a school-record 30-2 season in 1995-96. It also will be the second NCAA Tournament appearance in the last decade for the Red Raiders and their first since 2016 when coach Tubby Smith’s eighth-seeded squad was upended 71-61 in the first round by ninth-seeded Butler. Stephen F. Austin, located in Nacogdoches, Texas, also has punched its first Big Dance ticket since 2016 and got there by winning the Southland Conference tournament title as a third seed.

TV: 7:27 p.m. ET, truTV

ABOUT STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (28-6): The Lumberjacks enter the NCAA Tournament – their fourth appearance in the last five years – with 10 wins in the their last 11 games, including a 59-55 upset win over top-seeded Southeast Louisiana in the Southland championship game. Forward T.J. Holyfield closed the Southland Tournament with consecutive double-doubles and averages 13.0 points and a team-best 6.4 rebounds per game. Guards Shannon Bogues (15.4 points) and Kevon Harris (14.6) also average double figures with the latter shooting a team-best 43.2 percent from 3-point range, which ranked second in the Southland.

ABOUT TEXAS TECH (24-9): The Red Raiders started 14-1 and were 22-4 a little more than a month later when they climbed to No. 6 in the national polls – the high-water mark in program history. But guard Keenan Evans, the team’s leading scorer at 17.5 points, suffered a toe injury in a Feb. 17 loss to Baylor and totaled only 12 points in the school’s final four games in February, including a Feb. 26 contest at West Virginia where he sat out entirely, contributing heavily to Texas Tech’s four-game tailspin entering March. Evans has averaged 20.3 points in the Red Raiders’ three games since and is joined by freshmen guards Jarrett Culver (11.7, team-best 4.8 rebounds) and Zhaire Smith (11.2) in double figures on the season.

TIP-INS

1. Texas Tech has won eight of the nine meetings over the last 21 years, but the two teams haven’t met since 2011.

2. The key matchup will be the Lumberjacks’ offense, tied for 35th nationally with 81.1 points per game, against the Red Raiders’ defense, which led the Big 12 and is tied for 17th nationally with 64.7 points allowed per contest.

3. In two of their last three NCAA tourney appearances, the Lumberjacks have notched first-round upsets as a 13th and 12th seed, respectively, beating West Virginia (70-56 in 2016) and VCU (77-75 in 2014).

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March Madness Round 64 Preview

San Diego State vs. Houston

Sixth-seeded Houston will have to cool off red-hot San Diego State to win its first NCAA Tournament game in 34 years. The 11th-seeded Aztecs head to Thursday’s West Region first-round game in Wichita, Kan., on a nine-game win streak.

San Diego State’s streak includes two victories against Mountain West Conference regular-season champ – and NCAA Tournament at-large pick – Nevada and Saturday’s 82-75 win against New Mexico in the conference tournament finals. A healthy and full roster has helped the Aztecs – who feature balanced scoring from the starting five and the bench – get hot at the right time. The Cougars are in the Big Dance for the first time since 2010 and haven’t won a tournament game since reaching the championship game in 1984. Senior guard Rob Gray leads a high-scoring Houston squad that can also play tough defense, allowing 64.9 points.

TV: 7:20 p.m. ET, TBS

ABOUT SAN DIEGO STATE (22-10): Senior forward Malik Pope – who missed one game after his name was included in a report for possible impermissible benefits but was later cleared by his school – leads the Aztecs with 12.9 points and 6.6 rebounds. Freshmen forwards Jalen McDaniels (10.2 points, 7.5 rebounds) and Matt Mitchell (10.7, 4.0) give the Aztecs additional options in the frontcourt, while senior playmaker Trey Kell – who had a career-high 28 points in Saturday’s title game – does a little bit of everything with 10.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.1 steals. Junior guard Devin Watson (12.3 points, 3.8 assists) is the fifth Wolf Pack starter averaging double digits.

ABOUT HOUSTON (26-7): Gray leads the Cougars with 18.5 points and 4.5 assists, while senior forward Devin Davis adds 10.8 points and a team-best 6.2 rebounds. Junior Corey Davis Jr. contributes 13.5 points while shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line and sophomore Armoni Brooks – the American Athletic Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year – adds 9.8 points and shoots 42.3 percent beyond the arc. The Cougars can get defensive – holding opponents to 39.6 percent shooting, forcing 13.3 turnovers and control the boards – as shown in Sunday’s 56-55 loss to Cincinnati in the AAC championship.

TIP-INS

1. Corey Davis Jr. led the AAC with 3.1 made 3-pointers and the Cougars average 8.6 3s per game. They went 7-of-23 in Sunday’s loss to Cincinnati.

2. The Aztecs went to the NCAA Tournament six straight years (2010-2015) – winning at least one game four times – before missing the past two tournaments.

3. Houston coach Kelvin Sampson is one of 14 coaches to take four schools (Washington State, Oklahoma, Indiana, Houston) to the NCAA Tournament.

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March Madness Round 64 Preview

Davidson vs. Kentucky

Davidson stole an NCAA Tournament bid from a bubble team with a surprising run to the Atlantic 10 tournament title and is looking for its first Tournament win since Stephen Curry led Davidson to the 2008 Elite Eight. Standing in the way is fifth-seeded Kentucky, which rolled to the SEC tournament title and hosts No. 12 seed Davidson in the first round of the South regional in Boise, Idaho, on Thursday.

Davidson picked up its first A-10 tournament title by knocking off top-seeded Rhode Island in the title game and cruises into its 14th NCAA Tournament with wins in four straight, during which it allowed an average of 62 points. Davidson won 11 of its last 13 games to come into March Madness hot and will lean on defense after forcing the Rams into 14 turnovers and 38.5 percent shooting in Sunday’s 58-57 triumph. That defense will have its work cut out for it against Kentucky, which is averaging 80.4 points over its last eight games and features four players averaging double figures in scoring. “Every situation and experience is new to them, so you don’t really know what they’re going to do, and we need as many of these kinds of things as we can going into next weekend,” Kentucky coach John Calipari told reporters of his young team. “So proud of them. Really proud of them.”

TV: 7 p.m. ET, CBS

ABOUT DAVIDSON (21-11): Davidson will counter Kentucky’s young, balanced attack with some experienced scoring in senior forward Peyton Aldridge, who averages over 21 points and was named the co-Player of the Year in the Atlantic 10. Aldridge was held to 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting in Sunday’s win over Rhode Island but went over 30 points five times on the season, including a 45-point outburst in a triple-overtime loss at St. Bonaventure on Feb. 27 – the team’s lone setback in the last nine contests. Davidson can’t match Kentucky’s young talent but does have a freshman in guard Kellan Grady averaging over 18 points.

ABOUT KENTUCKY (24-10): Freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the way with 29 points in Sunday’s SEC championship game win over Tennessee and is averaging 18.4 points over the last seven games. The Canada native is also emerging as a team leader due to his hard work. “He will miss guys sometimes, but he’s gotten so much better,” Calipari told reporters of Gilgeous-Alexander. “But it’s taken film and practice and talks and one-on-ones. The kid is a great kid in trying to do the right thing. These kids know, if a guy’s – it’s hard to lead if you’re not the hardest guy working it. It’s hard to lead if you’re not the first one in there. It’s hard to lead if you’re not a guy that’s capable to go on the court and win games. I’m not following you. Who wants to follow you? I mean, you’ve got to be that guy.”

TIP-INS

1. Kentucky fell in the Elite Eight last season and last made the Final Four in 2015, which capped a run of four consecutive Final Fours.

2. Davidson bowed out in the first round in each of its last three NCAA Tournament appearances – 2012, 2013 and 2015.

3. Kentucky beat Davidson 75-55 in the first round of the 1986 NCAA Tournament – the only other time the teams faced off in March.

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March Madness Round 64 Preview

Radford vs. Villanova

Top-seeded Villanova starts the quest for a second NCAA Tournament championship in three years when it when takes on No. 16 seed Radford in the first round of the East Region on Thursday in Pittsburgh. The Wildcats take a five-game winning streak into the Big Dance after outlasting Providence 76-66 in overtime in the Big East title game and set their sights on the Highlanders, who advanced out of the First Four on Tuesday.

“The biggest challenge is always this first game,” Villanova coach Jay Wright told ESPN. “One game at a time.” Wildcats junior guard Jalen Brunson, the Big East Player of the Year, matched his career high with 31 points in the conference title game and leads the nation’s most productive offense that boasts six players averaging in double figures, 87.1 points per contest and 388 made 3-pointers – second-most in the country. Villanova, which is the top seed in the East for the third time in four seasons, will face a Radford team that has won a program record 23 games and lost to Ohio State, Vanderbilt and Virginia Tech earlier in the season. Ed Polite Jr. and Carlik Jones each notched double-doubles as the Highlanders won their first NCAA Tournament game by knocking off LIU Brooklyn 71-61 in Dayton on Tuesday.

TV: 6:50 p.m. ET, TNT

ABOUT RADFORD (23-12): Polite, a junior forward, leads the team in scoring (13.5), rebounds (7.9) and steals (1.9) while going over 1,100 points for his career after scoring 13 on Tuesday. Jones, a freshman who drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer in the Big South Tournament final to send the Highlanders to the NCAA Tournament for the third time, averages 11.8 points (13.5 in the last four) and 3.1 assists. Sophomore guard Travis Fields Jr. is averaging 12 points in the last three games (12-for-18 from the field) to push his season mark to 6.3.

ABOUT VILLANOVA (30-4): Brunson averages team highs of 19.4 points and 4.7 assists while draining 53.1 percent from the field and fellow junior guard Mikal Bridges (18.0 points, 52.1 from the field) is scoring 23 per game over the last five. Junior guard Phil Booth, who missed seven games with a hand injury earlier this season, is also a major threat but must recover from an 0-for-5 shooting effort in the Big East final. The Wildcats will also need a big tournament from sophomore guard Donte DiVicenzo (13.1 points), but he has scored only 6.3 per game in his last three outings.

TIP-INS

1. Villanova junior F Eric Paschall is averaging 11.3 points and 8.3 rebounds – both above his season marks – over the last four games.

2. It’s the first meeting between the schools and the winner plays Virginia Tech or Alabama in Saturday’s second round.

3. The Wildcats are making their 13th NCAA Tournament appearance in 14 seasons and are 21-11 in that stretch.

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March Madness Round 64 Preview

North Carolina State vs. Seton Hall

Ninth-seeded North Carolina State takes on eighth-seeded Seton Hall in the first-round of the Midwest Region from Wichita, Kan., on Thursday. The Wolfpack and Pirates had successful regular seasons but both are coming off early losses in their conference tournaments, with N.C. State losing to Boston College 91-87 in its first ACC tournament game and Seton Hall being upset by Butler 75-74 in its opening match at the Big East Conference tournament.

N.C. State scored 56 second-half points as it erased a 14-point halftime deficit but BC’s Jerome Robinson broke a tie with 17 seconds remaining and then forced a turnover on an inbounds play to give the Eagles the upset win. “Every time we made a basket, they would come down and make a basket,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts told reporters after the game after he watched his team tie the contest five times late in the second half but saw its only lead on the game’s opening basket. Seton Hall’s loss in the Big East quarterfinal was a heartbreaker as Khadeen Carrington converted a three-point play with 11 seconds to play, giving the Pirates a one-point lead, but Butler’s Tyler Wideman scored on a putback with 4 seconds remaining to give the Bulldogs the win. “It’s a tough loss,” Carrington told reporters after the game. “You never want to lose, but I feel like everyone put it out on the floor, but we knew it was going to be a tough battle when we came in, so it was a tough Big East game.”

TV: 4:30 p.m. ET, TBS

ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA STATE (21-11): Senior guard Allerik Freeman, the team’s leading scorer at 15.4 points per game, had a team-high 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting — including 5-of-7 from behind the arc — against the Eagles while All-ACC third-team center Omer Yurtseven added 20 points and nine rebounds. Markell Johnson, the ACC assists leader with 7.4 per game, had 10 points and six helpers, but also committed a crucial mistake when he asked for a timeout with 7.3 seconds left even though the Wolfpack didn’t have any, resulting in a technical foul and two made free throws for BC. “I knew in my head we didn’t have any,” Johnson told reporters after the loss. “I was so caught up in the game.”

ABOUT SETON HALL (21-11): The Pirates are a veteran team that features four senior starters, including Carrington and leading scorer Desi Rodriguez who averages 17.8 points and 4.9 rebounds. And then there’s senior center Angel Delgado, the Big East’s all-time leader in rebounds and just the second player in history to lead the Big East in rebounding in three different seasons. But don’t sleep on sophomore guard Myles Powell who was named the Big East Most Improved Player after averaging 15.4 points per game — second-most on the team — and is shot 38.5 percent from behind the 3-point arc this season.

TIP-INS

1. Seton Hall has lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons and hasn’t won a tournament game since 2004.

2. The Pirates average 38.2 rebounds per game, third in the Big East.

3. The Wolfpack have allowed opponents to shoot at a generous 46-percent clip this season.

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March Madness Round 64 Preview

South Dakota State vs. Ohio State

Ohio State owns the higher seed and the more recognizable name, but South Dakota State has more recent NCAA Tournament experience on its ledger entering their first-round West Regional matchup Thursday. That’s the challenge awaiting the fifth-seeded Buckeyes as they take on the 12th-seeded Jackrabbits in Boise, Idaho.

A No. 12 seed has beaten a No. 5 seed in nine of the last 10 NCAA Tournaments, and 12s have won 11 of the last 24 such first-round matchups overall. The Buckeyes, who earned an at-large bid out of the Big Ten, are making their 28th Big Dance appearance overall but their first since 2015 under former coach Thad Matta. South Dakota State, meanwhile, captured an automatic NCAA bid by winning the Summit League championship and also finished first in the conference with a 13-1 league record during the regular season. It will be the third straight NCAA Tournament appearance for the Jackrabbits and fifth in the last seven seasons for the program which moved up to the Division I level in 2005.

TV: 4 p.m. ET, TNT

ABOUT SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (28-6): The Jackrabbits, guided by second-year coach T.J. Otzelberger, won their 11th straight game with a 97-87 victory over South Dakota in the Summit League championship game, and also notched wins over the Big Ten’s Iowa (80-72) and the SEC’s Ole Miss (99-97) during non-conference play. South Dakota State does boast a national-headline name in 6-9 junior forward Mike Daum who paced the Summit League in scoring (23.8 points per game) and rebounding (10.4) while connecting on a team-most 91 pointers on 216 attempts (42.1 percent). Guards David Jenkins Jr. (16.1 points) and Reed Tellinghuisen (12.1) also average double figures for South Dakota State, which ranks sixth nationally with 84.9 points per game and shoots 40.3 percent as a team from 3-point range (12th nationally).

ABOUT OHIO STATE (24-8): The Buckeyes have had a stronger-than-expected season under new coach Chris Holtmann, finishing in a tie for second in the Big Ten at 15-3 before getting upended by Penn State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. That 69-68 loss March 2 in New York was the third defeat in five games for Ohio State, which boasts four double-digit scorers, led by 6-7 junior forward Keita Bates-Diop, the Big Ten’s Player of the Year who averages 19.4 points and 8.8 rebounds. Forward Jae’Sean Tate (12.5 points), guard C.J. Jackson (12.2) and freshman forward Kaleb Wesson (10.8) also average double digits for the Buckeyes, who finished fourth in the conference by averaging 75.8 points per outing.

TIP-INS

1. The Ohio State roster only features seven combined games of NCAA Tournament experience and two combined starts, both by Tate, but Holtmann guided Butler to the Big Dance in each of his three seasons as the Bulldogs’ coach.

2. South Dakota State is 0-4 all-time in NCAA Tournament play after suffering first-round losses to Gonzaga (66-46) and Maryland (79-74) as a 16th and 12th seeds, respectively, the last two seasons.

3. Daum has posted a double-double in five straight games and 12 of his last 13 contests and has averaged 16.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in his previous two NCAA tourney games.

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