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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, March 20, 2014 at 1:00 PM

HERE’S MORE NCAA TOURNAMENT GAME PREVIEWS AS WE CHECK ON FRIDAY’S ACTION

PLUS THERE’S KEY NEWS & NOTES TOO!

By Jim Hurley

Okay, so this year’s NCAA Tournament is officially in “high gear” and one of the truly big questions to be answered is who’s gonna be this year’s so-called Cinderella?

Hey, everyone is well aware of the fact that 34-and-oh Wichita State is one of the tourney’s No. 1 seeds, but remember last year when the Shockers literally came out of nowhere to beat the likes of Gonzaga, Pittsburgh, Ohio State and LaSalle?

A couple of double-digit tourney seeds that swing into play on this first full day of spring are #13 seed Tulsa and #11 seed Providence and they’re both worth your attention as is #11 Tennessee who squashed Iowa in OT in Wednesday’s last of the “First Four” games in Dayton:

The Tulsa Golden Hurricane copped last weekend’s Conference USA Tournament, and now here’s head coach Danny Manning back in the big show some 26 years after he led Kansas to a national crown — might this oft-forgotten team from the great state of Oklahoma have some tricks up their sleeve this weekend with #4 UCLA the first opponent?

Then there’s Providence: The Big East Tournament champs sent 7 ½-point favorite Creighton reeling last Saturday night at Madison Square Garden and suddenly Friars’ head coach Ed Cooley was the hottest thing since sliced bread and we’ve seen a team come from back in the shadows to win the Big East and then rock-n-roll through the NCAA Tournament in recent years, haven’t we UConn (2011)?

So, both of these twin-digit seeds — plus aforementioned Tennessee -- are worth keeping your eyes on this first Friday of the tourney and for as long as they might possibly stick around.

We’ll get to our site-by-site analyses and game previews in just a moment but first this quickie reminder:

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NCAA TOURNAMENT —

Now let’s go through the NCAA Tournament site-by-site for this action-packed Friday …

RALEIGH —

It’s no surprise that the Duke Blue Devils were handed one of the “ACC slots” for this weekend’s action along Tobacco Road but who knew Mike Kryzewski’s squad would be playing proverbial “second fiddle” to Virginia?

The Dookies lost last Sunday’s ACC Championship Game to the Cavs despite one of the great dunks of the season by frosh mega-star Jabari Parker, but has Coach K’s club become an overlooked team now when it comes to capturing this year’s NCAA Championship?

The 26-and-8 Devils average nearly 79 points a game and Parker — right now — looks as if he and not brittle Kansas C Joel Embiid will be this year’s numero uno choice in the NBA Draft and yet we’ve seen more than a few brackets out there calling for Duke’s ouster right here in this second-round game against 12 ½-point pup Mercer … think Krzyzewski can sell his Duke team on the notion that they are truly “underdogs” in this year’s field? Stay tuned.

EAST REGION:

#9 GEORGE WASHINGTON (24-8) vs. #8 MEMPHIS (23-9) — 6:55 p.m. ET, TBS

Ask most in-the-know folks and they’ll tell you this showdown inside PNC Arena is a real coin flip — yes, we know the Las Vegas oddsmakers have installed Memphis as a 3-point betting favorite right now but expect that number to move down a bit by game time — but if the GW Colonials are gonna snag this game than the tandem of Maurice Creek (14.6 ppg) and G Kethan Savage (12.7 ppg) must make every shot count against a Memphis team with active hands on “D”.

Note that Savage played just 19 games this year but he’s back from a broken foot and should get 25-to-30 minutes of game action in here.

Note also that the Tigers are just 4-7 SU (straight-up) against fellow NCAA Tournament teams this season, but Josh Pastner’s squad did beat Louisville twice and G Joe Jackson (14.3 ppg) could be a major thorn in GW’s side if he’s allowed to penetrate Mike Lonergan’s famed zone defense.

Here’s the entire Raleigh bracket:

#14 Mercer (26-8) vs. #3 Duke (26-8), 12:15 p.m. ET
#11 Tennessee (22-12) vs. #6 UMass (24-8), approximately 2:45 p.m. ET
#9 George Washington (24-8) vs. #8 Memphis (23-9), 6:55 p.m. ET
#16 Coastal Carolina (21-12) vs. #1 Virginia (28-6), approximately 9:25 p.m. ET

ST. LOUIS —

Just what should the basketball fans from Kentucky be expecting this NCAA Tournament for their young-and-erratic Wildcats?

In last week’s SEC Tournament, John Calipari’s crew beat LSU and Georgia by 18 and 12 points, respectively, before coming oh-so-close in a 61-60 loss-but-cover against 6-point fav Florida for the mini-tourney crown and now hopes are high — and not just from that dude who had a Kentucky 2014 National Championship tattoo drawn up on his body last week — that this UK club can go far. You might have noticed where the ‘Cats are listed at 35-to-1 to win it all but may we remind you that Kentucky (24-10) never had a winning streak beyond five games this year and you do have to win six in a row to cop the title.

It’s worth noting that in the aforementioned SEC Championship Game loss to the mighty Gators, the Kentucky kids shot just 18-of-51 from the floor (that’s 35.3 percent) and still had a shot to win if not for G James Young slipping en route to the hoop in the closing seconds of play.

Remember the Bluegrass State has won the last two NCAA Tournament crowns with Kentucky nabbing the title in 2012 and Louisville getting the gold last year … might the team that you don’t suspect from the hoop-crazed state do it again this spring?

SOUTH REGION:

#10 STANFORD (21-12) vs. #8 NEW MEXICO (27-6) — 1:40 p.m. ET, TBS

The Pac-12 was one of four leagues in the land that produced six NCAA Tournament teams this year — remember the Big 12 led the way with seven squads or 70 percent of their membership class — but it really wasn’t till late in the year that the Stanford Cardinal “convinced” folks that they belonged in the “Big Dance” field after stringing together back-to-back-to-back wins against Utah, Washington State and Arizona State before a mini-tourney semifinal round loss to eventual champ UCLA.

Now that the six-year NCAA Tourney drought is over for the Palo Alto crew, Johnny Dawkins’ squad obviously wants to make the most of it and so a team that sports four double-digit scorers including top dog G Chasson Randle (18.7 ppg and a 48.5 percent FG shooter) must make this a quick game in which New Mexico front-court stars Cameron Bairstow (20.3 ppg) and seven-footer Alex Kirk (13.6 ppg) are less involved in the action than if this becomes a half court-oriented affair.

Want an X-factor for this bash in the “arch city”?

Then check out whether the Lobos can make their threes as this club shoots just 33.7 percent from beyond the arc — that might not be good enough to survive and advance here.

Here’s the entire St. Louis bracket:

#10 Stanford (21-12) vs. #7 New Mexico (27-6), 1:40 p.m. ET
#15 Eastern Kentucky (24-9) vs. #2 Kansas (24-9), approximately 4:10 p.m. ET
#16 Cal Poly (14-19) vs. #1 Wichita State (34-0), 7:10 p.m. ET
#9 Kansas State (20-12) vs. #8 Kentucky (24-10), approximately 9:40 p.m. ET

SAN ANTONIO —

Here’s a question for y’all:

Can the hands-down National Player of the Year — that’s Creighton’s Doug McDermott (of course) -- now put a great big bow on his senior season with a national championship for the good folks in Omaha?

Make no mistake that the Bluejays are no longer some neat little story — the first-ever Big East Conference members won 26 games this year, slaughtered Villanova twice and went a more-than-respectable 9-5 in games against fellow NCAA Tournament teams but now here’s McDermott looking to put a major exclamation point on his storied career (he’s now the fifth-highest scoring player all time in NCAA hoops history) and many folks believe he’s in a bracket that begs for a long run as the potential opponents after this tilt against UL-Lafayette would include the Baylor vs. Nebraska winner and then quite possibly Wisconsin and Arizona.

Can you get “mission accomplished” Dougie McBuckets?

EAST REGION:

#11 PROVIDENCE (23-11) vs. #6 NORTH CAROLINA (23-9) — 7:20 p.m. ET, TNT

It’s not often that the Big East Tournament champ gets a double-digit-numbered seed before its name in NCAA Tournament play but, let’s face it, this was a whole different Big East this year in the post-Syracuse, post-UConn and post-Louisville (among others) era and so Providence College isn’t get all that upset it’ll have to beat “blue blood” North Carolina in a second-round game come Friday.

What coach Cooley’s crew is hoping is that they have the legs to hold up for a full 40 minutes after playing three grueling games in Madison Square Garden last week … wins against St. John’s, Seton Hall and aforementioned Creighton.

No doubt G Bryce Cotton — who started off that mini-tourney with a crummy 1-of-10 FG shooting game in the 79-74 triumph over 5-point fav St. John’s and ended it with a superb 23-point, 5-rebound performance in the wire-to-wire 65-58 win against 7 ½-point Creighton — must be at the top of his game and the Friars will need UNC to shoot its usual lousy percentage from the foul line where sooner or later Roy Williams’ club is gonna find itself out of this tourney because it can’t make free throws.

Here’s the entire San Antonio bracket:

#11 Nebraska (19-12) vs. #6 Baylor (24-11), 12:40 p.m. ET
#14 UL-Lafayette (23-11) vs. #3 Creighton (26-7), approximately 3:10 p.m. ET
#11 Providence (23-11) vs. #6 North Carolina (23-9), 7:20 p.m. ET
#14 North Carolina Central (28-5) vs. #3 Iowa State (26-7), approximately 9:50 p.m. ET

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SAN DIEGO —

The fifth-seeded VCU Rams (26-8) may be no strangers to NCAA Tournament success but Shaka Smart’s team did get run over by Michigan in third-round play last year and so the Atlantic-10 Tourney runners-up would like to make new brilliant memories this time around:

It all gets started here with a date against Stephen F. Austin — a team that ranks 33rd nationally in scoring (76.5 ppg) and 21st nationally in defense (allowing just 62.6 ppg) and you could say the shoe’s on the other foot here as it’s VCU the expected winner of this game (the Rams are 6-point betting favorites) and not playing the underdog role.

Smart continues to get mentioned as a coach at a “big school” — heck, even buddy Spike Lee said on a New York radio show the other day he’d like to see either Golden State Warriors’ head coach Mark Jackson or Smart become the next head coach of the New York Knicks — but don’t expect that to happen.

P.S., if/when Smart’s season ends this spring, he might be “all ears” should Clemson come calling.

WEST REGION:

#9 OKLAHOMA STATE (21-12) vs. #8 GONZAGA (28-6) — approximately 4:40 p.m. ET, TNT

You tell us:

Is there a better second-round game on this NCAA Tournament docket than this shindig from sunny San Diego?

The Oklahoma State Cowboys are — without a doubt — the biggest X-factor in this now-64-team field whether it’s because of all the Marcus Smart stuff (the Pokes lost all three games he missed because of that suspension for shoving a fan Lubbock) or simply because Travis Ford’s team did defeat six NCAA Tournament teams along the way including Kansas and Texas.

If Smart (17.8 ppg) keeps his emotions under control here and the ‘Boys get a spiffy shooting game from Markel Brown, who nails 47 percent of his field-goal attempts, than this Big 12 squad could win here and make even more noise as the “Big Dance” rolls on.

Keep an eye on Gonzaga’s G Kevin Pangos, who really struggled in the team’s West Coast Conference Tournament win — the sore-footed guard scored just 28 total points in the WCC Tourney wins against Santa Clara, Saint Mary’s and BYU and that ain’t gonna cut it here!

Here’s the entire San Diego bracket:

#16 Weber State (19-11) vs. #1 Arizona (30-4), 2:10 p.m. ET
#9 Oklahoma State (21-12) vs. #8 Gonzaga (28-6), approximately 4:40 p.m. ET
#12 Stephen F. Austin (31-2) vs. #5 VCU (26-8), 7:27 p.m. ET
#13 Tulsa (21-12) vs. #4 UCLA (26-8), approximately 9:57 p.m. ET

Note: Get more NCAA Tournament Previews/Updates in the next edition of Jim Sez!

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