Whether people have taken notice or not, the NCAA tournament has officially started. Before the main action can take place with the Round of 64 on Thursday, there are two more games left to be played in the "First Four."
In the first game of the day, Cal Poly and Texas Southern will battle for the right to face No. 1 seed Wichita State in the next round. Not only do the players want to get to the bigger stage of the Big Dance with a win, but there is plenty of financial stake on the line.
Nicole Auerbach of USA Today reported that $1.5 million is on the line for each conference that wins an NCAA tournament game. For these No. 16 seeds, this is likely the only chance to get a tournament victory.
Following this first battle is an even better one between Tennessee and Iowa. The winner of this game will earn the No. 11 seed and face No. 6 Massachusetts in the Midwest Region. Either of these squads has the ability to continue the run of success among at-large teams in these play-in games.
This means that you should pay close attention before finalizing your brackets heading into Thursday's action. Here is a look at everything you need to know for Day 2 of the first round.
*Spread info and tournament odds according to VegasInsider.com.
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First Round Day 2 Schedule
|Date||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream|
|Wed, March 19||No. 16 Cal Poly vs. No. 16 Texas Southern||6:40 p.m.||truTV||March Madness Live|
|Wed, March 19||No. 11 Iowa vs. No. 11 Tennessee||9:10 p.m.||truTV||March Madness Live|
NCAA Tournament Odds
|Cal Poly||100-1 (As part of field)|
|Texas Southern||100-1 (As part of field)|
No. 16 Cal Poly (-3.5) vs. No. 16 Texas Southern
In order to be successful in the postseason, you need a player capable of taking over games. Texas Southern has that with 6'10" senior Aaric Murray.
The center ranks 13th in the country with 21.2 points per game, which he supplements with 7.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per contest. Dan Wolken of USA Today notes how big of a factor Murray can make in this tournament:
Not saying this is the year a 16 seed beats a 1, but not many 16 seeds have a player like Aaric Murray. Texas Southern won’t be much fun.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 15, 2014
Murray and the rest of the Tigers had an up-and-down season before turning it on at the end of February. They ended the year with nine straight wins and come into the postseason with plenty of momentum.
On the other hand, Cal Poly proved that it does not matter what you do in the regular season because anyone is capable of turning a year around with a strong performance in their conference tournament.
The Mustangs had only a 10-19 record before winning three games in the Big West Tournament to earn their first bid to the Big Dance. Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo Sports discusses the team's poor year:
Despite a 13-19 record and losses to LMU, UC Riverside, UC Davis and Cal State Fullerton, Cal Poly is going to the NCAA tournament.— Jeff Eisenberg (@JeffEisenberg) March 16, 2014
That being said, this squad actually challenged itself this year with a relatively tough non-conference schedule. The Mustangs only lost by 11 points at Arizona, and 10 more losses were by 10 points or less.
Joe Callero's squad slows down the pace and keeps opponents off the board, ranking 35th in the country in points allowed per game. They also have the experience in big games compared to Texas Southern, which has just an 0-4 record against teams in the RPI top 150.
Chris Eversley and Brian Bennett will do their best to keep Murray away from the rim and keep Texas Southern off the board. Eversley and Dave Nwaba will then be able to do enough offensively to secure the win.
Prediction: Cal Poly 59, Texas Southern 52
No. 11 Iowa (-2.5) vs. No. 11 Tennessee
While teams rarely want to play an extra game, both teams have to be salivating of the possibility of a deep run from their bracket region. The winner faces No. 6 Massachusetts, which has struggled lately and is one of the most overseeded teams in this field.
After VCU reached the Final Four and La Salle went to the Sweet 16 from the "First Four," both Iowa and Tennessee know that success is possible.
Of course, one of them has to win this game first, something that will not be easy. The biggest thing to watch in this battle is the matchup between Iowa's Roy Devyn Marble and Tennessee's Jordan McRae. The two senior guards have improved every season of their careers and have turned themselves into elite scorers.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery discussed McRae in a recent press conference, via Scott Dochterman of The Gazette:
McRae has really been impressive to me. Watched him live, of course, but when he’s making 3s, his first step is so quick. He seems to always have his defender on the side of him.
If that’s the case, then he can create. The thing about him, he’s a scorer. But he also gives it up easy. And I think that’s what makes him special. He also will run you down and block shots. He has the ability to guard and take advantage of his incredible length.
Meanwhile, Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin was just as impressed with the player his team will be facing this week, via the school's official Twitter account:
MARTIN: Marble is a guy who is 6-7, can run PG, can play up to the 4. He can handle the ball, make shots, crash the glass.— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) March 18, 2014
With these two stars matching up so well, the difference will be the secondary players. This gives the Volunteers an advantage thanks to the strong recent play of Jarnell Stokes.
Additionally, Tennessee has played great team defense recently, holding its last five opponents to an average of 47.4 points per game, including 56 by No. 1 Florida. Conversely, Iowa has lost six of its last seven while failing to close out strong.
The Volunteers have the momentum and the talent to win this game and start what could be a strong run in the NCAA tournament.
Prediction: Tennessee 67, Iowa 63
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