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North Carolina vs. Mount St. Mary’s: This game is obviously not going to be very competitive, but it will be interesting to see how the Tar Heels come out in their first game of the Tournament. MSM is already 1-0 in the Big Dance, so it will have some momentum heading into this game. That momentum will carry them for all of…about 35 seconds.
Indiana vs. Arkansas: Two preseason top-15 teams facing off in a battle of disappointments. Indiana didn’t finish the season very strongly after Kelvin Sampson resigned, while Arkansas made a run to the SEC Tournament final before falling to Georgia. The key is going to be the battle inside between D.J. White of Indiana and Steven Hill of Arkansas. Hill is a tremendous shot-blocker, while White can dominate inside. Furthermore, the Razorbacks are going to have to slow down Eric Gordon. On the other side, who is going to guard match-up nightmare Sonny Weems?
Notre Dame vs. George Mason: Many people are going to take a quick look at this game and immediately think of an upset, mainly because of George Mason’s run to the Final Four two seasons ago. Not so fast, though. The Patriots struggle against teams that can score points, and Notre Dame fills that requirement. If Mason can get the game at the pace they want, they will have a chance. Look out for the battle down low between Mason’s Will Thomas, a double-double lock, and ND’s Luke Harangody, the Big East Player of the Year.
Washington State vs. Winthrop: Yet another potential upset on the surface that likely won’t turn out that way. Winthrop is simply not the same team it was the past couple of seasons, despite the fact it has a great backcourt in Chris Gaynor and Michael Jenkins. The Eagles don’t have the multitude of weapons they did last season, when they picked off Notre Dame. Washington State is a tough team to play against because of the style it utilizes; the Cougars have the defense to turn this game into a blowout.
Oklahoma vs. Saint Joseph’s: One of the best first-round match-ups in the East region. It is going to be an outstanding battle of frontcourts, as both teams rely heavily on their frontlines and big men. Oklahoma is led by Blake Griffin, one of the best freshmen in the country, as well as Longar Longar and Taylor Griffin. St. Joe’s counters with 6-10 shooter Pat Calathes and post presence Ahmad Nivins. Robert Ferguson is a tough match-up. Which backcourt will give their team the edge? Tasheed Carr is a very solid point guard for SJU, while OU’s Tony Crocker can knock down shots.
Louisville vs. Boise State: Although Boise State is not going to win this game, don’t be surprised if the Broncos hang with Louisville for awhile. They have an outstanding frontcourt, led by Reggie Larry and Matt Nelson, and they can score points. Unfortunately, Louisville has the frontline talent to match-up with them, and the defense to exploit their suspect guard play. Larry vs. Earl Clark is going to be fun to watch.
Butler vs. South Alabama: Yes, Butler was drastically underseeded as a No. 7 seed, the bigger injustice may have been sending the Bulldogs to Birmingham to play their first-round game against USA. They have a very good team that was in the top-15 of the polls all season long, but South Alabama may have the pieces to knock them off. Demetric Bennett is one of the best players you’ve never heard of, and the Jaguars have the inside-outside balance to match-up with Butler. This is going to be an outstanding game.
Tennessee vs. American: This game is obviously going to be a blowout, but check out the battle in the backcourts if you get a chance. Tennessee’s Chris Lofton and American’s Garrison Carr are two of the nation’s best three-point shooters, while the Eagles’ Derrick Mercer is also a very good point guard. Will he collapse against the Volunteers’ defensive pressure? If he handles it, American may be able to stay in the game for a few TV timeouts before faltering.
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