The beauty of the 2013 NCAA tournament, and tournaments in previous years, is that high seeds from big conferences are pitted against "the little guy." One of the prime matchups for that beauty can be found this year in the East region, where No. 14 Davidson will attempt to slay No. 3 Marquette.
As you likely know, upsets are bound to happen—even when the seeds are 11 numbers apart.
Davidson (26-7, Southern Conference champion) last crashed your brackets in 2008 as a No. 10 seed, when a young man named Stephen Curry led the Wildcats on an improbable run to the Elite Eight. The Cats are in position for a similar Cinderella run, but will have to get past a tough Big East opponent first.
The Golden Eagles (23-8, third in Big East) have an extensive schedule that pitted them against teams in the tournament. Marquette was 6-7 against tournament teams this year, but struggled to win games away from home. It comes into the tournament fresh off a one-round loss to Notre Dame in the Big East tournament.
Davidson is currently riding a 17-game winning streak heading into the tournament, retaining all five starters from last year's one-and-done against Final Four participant Louisville. The two will square off in Lexington in the second round of 2013's March Madness, so get ready for the sparks to fly.
Where: Lexington, Ky.
When: Thursday, March 21, at approximately 3:10 p.m. ET
Live Stream: March Madness On Demand
Betting Line: Marquette -3.5 (via SportsBook)
Davidson Injuries (via USA Today): F Clint Mann, Concussion, Probable
Marquette Injuries (via USA Today): None
What's At Stake?
As always with these particularly-seeded games, the upset watch is on for Marquette.
Proponents of the big conference will love to point out that Buzz Williams' team had a fantastic season in the Big East—and it did, finishing third in the conference behind Louisville and Georgetown, behind Vander Blue and a very talented roster.
However, the Wildcats also finished the year on a tear, winning 17-straight games and capturing the Southern League conference title for the second year in a row. As noted by Jeff Platt of ESPN Dallas, the Golden Eagles are the only No. 3 seed to be favored by less than 10 points:
All 3 seeds are double-digit favorites EXCEPT for Marquette, only a 4-point fav vs Davidson— Jeff Platt (@jeffplatt) March 18, 2013
Awaiting the winner of this game in the third round will be the winner of No. 6 Butler and No. 11 Bucknell. Both mid-majors have been tough opponents this season, but it's a wide-open road for this quartet of the bracket.
With both Davidson and Marquette being talented, experienced teams, it wouldn't be far off to say that the winner of this game could make a run at the Sweet 16.
Players to Watch
Davidson: F De'Mon Brooks
Brooks makes up one half of Davidson's fearsome scoring duo, with 6'10" post Jake Cohen. Cohen and Brooks are the top two scorers on the team at 14.8 and 13.8 points per game this season, but the latter could be the key to Davidson pulling off this upset.
The ultra-athletic, 6'7" Brooks is getting looks from NBA scouts, and for good reason. He also averages 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks per game, proving that he's versatile enough on both ends to make things tough for any of the Marquette players.
If you look back at Brooks' performance in last year's tournament, he certainly has something to prove. After averaging over 15 points, while being named the Southern Conference Player of the Year and an All-American in 2012, he went 1-of-7 and scored just five points last year in the seven-point loss to Louisville.
Expect a motivated Brooks to be a force on Thursday.
With NBA scouts looming at Brooks, the X-factor for the Wildcats on both ends, Bob McKillop needs Brooks to both rectify last year's performance and continue this year's to move on in the Big Dance.
Marquette: F Davante Gardner
Speaking of key forwards, Davante Gardner is just that for Marquette.
The junior from Virginia is a load at 6'8" and 290 pounds, averaging 11.5 points and 4.9 rebounds for the Golden Eagles this season, but his contributions in losses are what motivate us to make him a player to watch in this section.
Marquette has lost eight games this season. Gardner's average stats in those games are as follows: 7.1 points and 2.8 rebounds. If you take out his huge game in the overtime loss against Cincinnati, the numbers dip lower, largely because he scored just two points in losses to Louisville, Georgetown and Villanova.
Those numbers won't cut it in this big game, especially with Cohen staring him down for most of the contest on both ends.
In the spirit of fairness, Gardner has had a big impact for coach Williams this season. He had 26 points and eight rebounds in a late-season win over Syracuse—arguably the most important win of the season for this team.
Gardner can't disappear in the second round if the Golden Eagles want to move on to the round of 32.
In all honesty, this game is a toss-up.
Who is moving on in your bracket?
Marquette boasts the better tournament resume, a head coach that is extremely well-prepared and an athletic team that can adjust to any attack. Despite the Big East losses, Marquette impressed the selection committee enough to gain a No. 3 seed.
However, Davidson is riding a hot streak of epic proportions, has legitimate size both down low and on the wings and shoots an impressive 36.9 percent from the three-point line in the process. Returning all five starters and key bench player Chris Mann (expected to be back after missing time with a concussion) from last year's loss to Louisville, this team is motivated and will surprise people with its talent, too.
In a game that should go back-and-forth, don't expect a winner after regular time. These two teams are evenly matched and have big-time scorers that can keep it close on both sides, but Davidson has the pedigree and know-how to pull away late, and will do so in overtime to move on to the next round in Lexington.
Davidson 85, Marquette 81 (OT)