The 2014 NCAA tournament begins on Tuesday, with the opening contests of the first round set to take place in the evening.
Albany will be vying for the No. 16 seed against Mount St. Mary’s first, with the American East champion Great Danes hoping to make the round of 64 for the second straight year. It won’t be easy against the Mountaineers, who caught fire at the right time to win the Northeast Conference despite their mediocre record.
After that, the N.C. State Wolfpack and Xavier Musketeers will be battling for the No. 12 seed in a marquee matchup between two power-conference foes. The Muskies have what it takes to knock out their opponent on paper, but anything could happen on the hardwood.
These should be nothing short of amazing matchups, so keep reading to find out how to watch the action, check out predictions for the outcomes and more.
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|Tue, March 18||(16) Albany vs. (16) Mt. St. Mary's||6:40 p.m.||truTV|
|Tue, March 18||(12) NC State vs. (12) Xavier||9:10 p.m.||truTV|
|Wed, March 19||(16) Cal Poly vs. (16) Texas Southern||6:40 p.m.||truTV|
|Wed, March 19||(11) Iowa vs. (11) Tennessee||9:10 p.m.||truTV|
All first round games played at University of Dayton Arena, Dayton, Ohio. ESPN
Albany (18-14) vs. Mt. St. Mary’s (16-16)
The Great Danes have been installed as a narrow favorite in this one, but the results could ultimately go either way. The Mountaineers are capable of catching fire, especially from beyond the arc, and running anyone out of the building.
Mt. St. Mary’s is ranked No. 11 in the country in terms of three-point attempts, jacking up an average of 8.9 treys per game. It hits them at a decent clip too, knocking down .356 percent of those attempts.
That three-point prowess is a large reason behind why the Mountaineers average 76.3 points per game, the No. 50 mark in the nation. It also makes them quite dangerous in the tournament, as many favorites have been felled by the triple.
Jamion Christian, the head coach of Mt. St. Mary’s, has clearly done the homework on his squad’s upcoming opponent and laid out the scouting report for the Great Danes.
He told Pete Barrett of The Baltimore Sun:
They play two post guys. They are one of the better rebounding teams in their league. They shoot a high percentage from [3-point range], although they shoot a lot of 3s, and they allow their opponents to take a lot of 3s.
Albany certainly has the firepower to trade blows in this upcoming matchup. The team might not average nearly as many points, just 66.0 per game this season, but it plays sound defense and holds opponents to just 63.8 points per contest.
The biggest red flag here for potential Mountaineers backers is that they typically allow more baskets than they can score, giving up 78.0 points per game to the opposition. This roster does employ a 7-foot center in Taylor Danaher, who will likely be the key to the game for The Mount.
While Danaher isn’t jumping off the stat sheet with his 7.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game, he has the ability to protect the rim at a high level and single-handedly force Albany to become a one-dimensional jump-shooting team.
The Great Danes are capable of doing that well, having shot a slightly higher percentage than Mt. St. Mary’s from deep. They connected on 36.4 percent of their three-point attempts this past season and aren’t afraid to fire away.
Sophomore guard Peter Hooley has been a major catalyst behind that success, as the Australian native averages 15.7 points on 40.3 percent field-goal shooting and 40.1 percent three-point shooting.
Hooley proved to be a big-time performer in the America East championship game, knocking down a dagger in the form of a step-back three that would put Stony Brook behind by five with less than a minute left.
Jeff Borzello of CBS Sports had one word to describe the Aussie:
Peter Hooley. Clutch.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 15, 2014
Mid-Major Madness called Hooley the one to watch in this matchup and perhaps in the second round against No. 1 seed Florida:
Albany pulls the upsets for the second year in a row to get back to the Dance. Peter Hooley will be one to watch. Congrats Great Danes.— Mid-Major Madness (@mid_madness) March 15, 2014
It’s extremely doubtful that either side advances past the Gators in the round of 64, but expect both to fight tooth and nail to earn the chance to get a crack at UF.
Prediction: Albany over Mt. St. Mary’s, 71-67
N.C. State (21-13) vs. Xavier (21-12)
This battle for the No. 12 seed promises to be immensely intriguing, even with Xavier scoring an early victory by earning a minor advantage in terms of travel.
It wouldn’t be prudent to expect a massive contingent of Musketeers fans in the building, as supporters of the hometown Dayton Flyers will certainly be on hand to root for the Wolfpack.
According to Joe Kay of the Associated Press, the Flyers fans aren’t soon going to forget their bitter rivalry with the Musketeers, which went dark in 2013-14 when Xavier transferred from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East conference.
Musketeers head coach Chris Mack acknowledged as much when describing the mixture of Muskies and Flyers fans in the same building to the reporter: "I'm sure it will be a bit of oil-and-vinegar tomorrow night.”
However, he told Kay that he prefers the crowd to be that way:
I think it's going to make for a great environment. I'd rather play in a supercharged atmosphere than a hollow one, and we're going to have that tomorrow night.
Depending on the crowd, the site of this game will be a big benefit or make it tough for Xavier. The team went 15-2 in their own arena and just 4-6 away from it during the most recent campaign. On the other hand, the Wolfpack went 6-6 during their 12 games away from Raleigh.
Even if it has a massive Flyer following cheering it on, N.C. State does not need any more reason to go all out in this one. The program is making its second-straight appearance in Dayton after losing there last year in a second-round game to Temple. The journey back has not been easy, and N.C. State now has to earn its way to the round of 64.
There is no doubting it is going to be just as tough, if not harder than it was last March, to pick up a win in the building—especially against a Xavier team that looks superior on both ends of the floor.
Which team will win this play-in matchup?
The Musketeers averaged 72.2 points per game and allowed just 67.9 points to opponents in 2013-14, while N.C. State put up an average of 70.8 points and gave up 69.5 points during the season.
Xavier is a more accurate squad from everywhere on the court, knocking in 47.1 percent of its field-goal attempts and 35.4 percent of its three-point shots. The Wolfpack have gone just 45.9 percent from the field and 30.3 percent from deep.
Barring a miraculous performance from T.J. Warren, N.C. State’s superstar sophomore forward who averaged 24.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, it seems that the Muskies will be dancing to the second round and facing off against St. Louis.
While ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla believes that Warren alone can drag the Wolfpack to the Sweet 16, it will be tough for him to stop an all-out assault from a more team-oriented Xavier squad:
Don’t be surprised when the Muskies easily go through to the next round of the NCAA tournament.
Prediction: Xavier over N.C. State, 74-69