The early games are in the books in the second round of the NCAA tournament. There's been a few really good contests already, but the late schedule on Thursday has some potential gems.
Each region has a game set to conclude Thursday evening that could easily become one of the most memorable games of this year's tournament. In the event that you're not at home, the cool thing is that all four of the games spotlighted here are available via live stream.
West Region: No. 4 San Diego State Aztecs vs. No. 13 New Mexico State Aggies at 9:57 p.m. ET
Steve Fisher's Aztecs team is 29-4 heading into the game. They are 4-2 against ranked teams this season and 25-2 against the rest of their opponents. The Aggies bring dominant post presence into the game with Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow, but the Aztecs have a strong frontcourt to counter.
Skylar Spencer doesn't score much, but the 6'10" sophomore averages 2.5 blocked shots per game. He and Josh Davis' ability to defend in the paint will be key for this matchup.
Watch the battle of the boards in this game and the points in the paint. Coming into the game, both teams average 38 rebounds per contest.
Controlling the areas close to the basket is the key to winning this game and advancing to the round of 32.
South Region: No. 1 Florida Gators vs. No. 16 Albany Great Danes at 4:10 p.m. ET
For all intents and purposes, you have to expect that the Gators will defeat the Great Danes. But after watching Albany pull out a win over Mount Saint Mary's in the First Four, it'll be interesting to see how long the Great Danes can keep the game close.
Hopes of a historic "16-seed over 1-seed" upset hinge on the Great Danes shooting lights-out from three-point range.
Dallas Ennema and Peter Hooley are the team's top three-point shooting at 46 and 39 percent, respectively. If Albany is going to make Florida uncomfortable, Ennema and Hooley need to be red hot.
Perhaps any notion of this type of an upset is too far-fetched. Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton certainly thinks so. He wrote this about Albany's NCAA tournament prospects:
To concoct some massive upset, a small-conference team usually needs some sort of quirky strength that might catch a powerhouse unawares. Albany doesn’t have that. There’s no evidence that a three-point barrage is forthcoming, nor a defensive assault that results in a huge chunk of turnovers.
Two of the top three scorers shoot 40.3 percent and 38.5 percent from the floor, respectively, against a comparatively low level of competition. The Great Danes did well to get this far, but they appear to be first-round fodder.
East Region: No. 7 UConn Huskies vs. No. 10 St. Joseph's Hawks at 6:55 p.m.
This is a really interesting East Coast hoops matchup. It has always seemed as if these two teams should be in the same conference, but they aren't.
The Huskies star—and American Athletic Conference Player of the Year—Shabazz Napier needs help if the Huskies are going to advance.
He realizes it. Napier said this in his humble acceptance of his conference's highest award. Per Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe, Napier said:
I’m at a point where I’m successful at college basketball and people just believe, ‘Oh, he puts in a lot of work. Of course that’s true, but it’s definitely a lot of people putting in work around me, helping me and motivating me. I’m not Superman. I can’t do things by myself.
Napier is averaging 17.4 points per game, but too often he's left to carry the offense on his own. DeAndre Daniels is the team's other star, but he's been a bit inconsistent. Daniels has played in seven of the team's eight losses.
In those games, he's averaging 11.5 points per game. True enough, he's come on lately. He led the team with 17 points in both of UConn's losses to Louisville in March.
Still, UConn needs Napier and Daniels to provide a formidable one-two punch.
Three-point shooting is a major part of both teams' attacking strategy. Both the Huskies and Hawks shoot it well, too, making more than 38 percent of their shots from deep.
This game figures to be close, and that could mean free-throw shooting will be paramount. The Hawks need to get better in that category. Of the five players who log the majority of the minutes for the Hawks, only leading scorer Langston Galloway shoots above 70 percent from the line.
As a team, St. Joseph's is shooting just 64 percent from the field.
It'll be interesting to see if this deficiency comes back to bite the Hawks.
Midwest Region: No. 7 Texas Longhorns vs. No. 10 Arizona State Sun Devils
Neither the Longhorns nor the Sun Devils are heading into this game on a high note.
Arizona State has lost three games in a row. Texas hasn't been on a skid like that, but it hasn't been able to find any consistency either. The Longhorns have alternated wins and losses over the last seven games.
Texas must dominate the glass to win this game. As a team, it isn't a great shooting group. The Longhorns make just 32 percent from deep, 66 percent from the free-throw line and a meager 43 percent from the field overall.
If Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley make their presence felt on the glass, it will keep their team in the game. If not, Texas must hope the likes of Jermaine Marshall and the ultra-dynamic Jahii Carson aren't making their shots.
Carson is explosive with the ball and capable of scoring in bunches. Texas will have its hands full if the Sun Devils' shots are falling.
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