The 2014 NCAA tournament is humming right along, with the last handful of play-in games set to get underway shortly.
It’s worth it to take a look at these matchups before you start focusing all your attention on the round of 64, as they could have lasting implications for the remainder of March Madness.
Keep reading to find out where and when you can catch these contests, plus the latest odds for each, a prediction on the outcome and a preview of the action.
|(16) Cal Poly vs. (16) Texas Southern||6:40 p.m.||truTV||CP -4||TSU 64 - CP 61|
|(11) Iowa vs. (11) Tennessee||9:10 p.m.||truTV||IOWA -2.5||TENN 78 - IOWA 70|
All games played at University of Dayton Arena, Dayton, Ohio. ESPN and ScoresAndOdds.com
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Texas Southern Tigers (+4) over Cal Poly Mustangs
Texas Southern comes into the tournament as a slight underdog against Cal Poly. It's a somewhat strange line considering the Mustangs boast the worst record in the tournament (13-19) and only made it in due to a surprising three-game winning streak in the Big West tourney.
The Tigers put together a much more respectable regular season (19-14), plus ran through the SWAC tournament behind a string of dominant performances from Aaric Murray, their elite big man.
Kevin Merida of The Washington Post believes TSU could be behind the Big Dance’s first "major" upset due to Murray’s presence:
Murray, now playing with his third school after stints with West Virginia and La Salle, has been an unstoppable force for the entire 2013-14 campaign and averaged 21.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 1.2 assists per game.
The center rises to the occasion when the spotlight is on, as evidenced by the 27 points he scored on 8-of-13 shooting, plus 10 rebounds, four blocks and two assists he recorded during the SWAC championship against Prairie View A&M.
He’s going to be downright impossible for the Mustangs to stop, but that doesn’t mean TSU is underestimating its first-round foe.
Head coach Mike Davis, who led the Indiana Hoosiers to the NCAA championship in 2002, understands the importance of taking things one game at a time during March Madness. He told Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle:
Once you go into the NCAA Tournament your record goes out the door. We have to make sure we stay focus [sic] and realize what got us to this point.
Cal Poly will likely attempt to use its depth to tire out its opponent. As Matt Norlander of CBS Sports notes, the team gets an average of 40.5 minutes per game from its bench.
They have talent all over the court and off the bench, but none truly transcendent and capable of taking over a game like Murray. Chris Eversley, the squad’s leading scorer and rebounder, is the closest thing to a star at Cal Poly, but the senior forward will be hard pressed to trade blows with the TSU big man.
Take the points in this one, as it appears Texas Southern will beat the odds and earn the right to try to pull off the first ever upset of a No. 1 seed in the round of 64, as they would face Wichita State..
Tennessee Volunteers (+2.5) Over Iowa Hawkeyes
The Vols are not a team that anyone should be taking lightly this March, especially not a listless Hawkeyes program that has seemingly lost its way over the past month.
With a No. 11 seed up for grabs and a date with overrated UMass in the second round on the line, Tennessee has to be more than acutely aware that a win on Wednesday could easily jump-start its first foray past the round of 64 since 2010.
Considering the Volunteers have won six of their past eight games and battled tough against Florida in the SEC semifinals, it is going to be hard to bet against this group, especially when it's getting points.
The players are hungry too, as Vols junior forward Jarnell Stokes informed Ben Frederickson of GoVolsXtra.com that they are excited about being in the 68-team field, but not too thrilled about being named a play-in team:
As long as your name pops up on the screen, you’re in. We play against a very good team. I’m definitely not satisfied with being the last four in.
Remember, Iowa is currently in the midst of a three-game losing streak and has lost six of its last seven. The team crashed and burned out of the Big Ten tournament, losing to mediocre, sub-.500 Northwestern in a most embarrassing display of ineptitude.
Which team will advance to the next round?
The Hawkeyes surged through the early season on the back of a strong offense that averaged 82.0 points per game. That number could be even higher, but Iowa has failed to breach the 80-point mark in four straight contests.
Factor in that Tennessee has recently been clamping down on the defensive end, holding opponents to an average of just 47.4 points over the last five games, and you are looking at the recipe for an easy upset.