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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, March 21, 2014 at 12:18 PM

HERE’S THE SATURDAY “DANCE CARD”

AS THE NCAA TOURNAMENT BOPS ITS WAY INTO THIRD-ROUND ACTION AND WE BRING YOU THREE OF THE MUST-SEE GAME PREVIEWS

Okay, so not everyone that won an NCAA Tournament second-round this past Thursday had to go overtime to get “mission accomplished” but it sure seemed that way, right?

A single-day, tourney-record four games went into OT Thursday with Connecticut, Saint Louis, North Dakota State and San Diego State all have their own “war stories” as to just how they copped second-round overtime wins and what about the fact the likes of Dayton, Louisville and Texas had to experience high-wire acts wins just to survive-and-advance here into these Saturday showdowns?

In case you were wondering, the Thursday games featured a dead-even split of favorites vs. underdogs as the 16 NCAA Tournament games went this way:

Seven favorites covered, seven dogs covered and there were a pair of pushes and no doubt there’s plenty of folks who were either on the right or wrong end of some proverbial half-pointers —some pro-Arizona State bettors had the Sun Devils “too early” and lost by a half-point; some wagered on Arizona State near game time and gobbled up 2½ points in that last-second 87-85 loss to Texas … now who says timing isn’t everything in life?

In today’s "Jim Sez" we’ll examine three of the top tilts on this Saturday “Dance Card” but first this key reminder …

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NCAA TOURNAMENT —

Now let’s go through the NCAA Tournament here for third-round action …

ORLANDO —MIDWEST REGION:
#5 SAINT LOUIS (27-6) vs. #4 LOUISVILLE (30-5) —approximately 2:45 p.m. ET, CBS

The night action in central Florida was somethin’ else on Thursday night as first Saint Louis came from 16 points down to wrest away an 83-80 win/spread push against N.C. State and then Louisville’s nail-biting 71-64 non-cover win against 16½-point pup Manhattan followed —and no doubt U of L Cardinals fans were saying their private “thank you’s” to “Cool Hand” Luke Hancock for his two late-game dagger triples against the Jaspers.

The $64,000 question here is does Saint Louis leave Hancock alone —ever —from beyond the arc in this clash or can he assume that Jim Crews’ club will go with a gimmicky defense such as a box-and-one?

The Redbirds —who are attempting to become the first repeat national champ since Florida in 2007 —know they ain’t going anywhere in this tourney by shooting 36.4 percent from the field (that’s 20-of-55 made FGs) and conversely the Billikens can forget any/all hopes of landing the upset here if it shoots less than 50 percent from the charity stripe … can you believe that Saint Louis beat N.C. State while hitting on just 12-of-26 free throws as (normally) that’s no way to stage a comeback from your death bed!

In the other Orlando game, it’s …

#9 PITTSBURGH (26-9) vs. #1 FLORIDA (33-2), 12:15 p.m. ET, CBS

SPOKANE— WEST REGION:
#12 NORTH DAKOTA STATE (26-6) vs. #4 SAN DIEGO STATE (30-4) —6:10 p.m. ET, TNT

No question it was tough to tell what was the “best story” that came from Thursday’s thrilling action but you gotta put North Dakota State’s 80-75 OT win against 3-point fav Oklahoma right at or near the top of the charts, don’t you?

Not only did excitable head coach Saul Phillips’ Bison club force the extra session thanks to a Lawrence Alexander triple with 11 seconds left, but North Dakota State outscored the OU Sooners 14-9 in OT as little-used sub G Carlin Dupree stepped into the breach and made like a hoops version of “Rudy” with a key in-close shot to go along with a pair of gut-check free throws —now if everyone on this “first Thursday” of NCAA Tournament action would have canned their foul shots like Dupree and the Bison did (see 20-of-22 FTs overall) than the brackets would have looked a whole lot different!

The hunt for a Sweet 16 spot for favored San Diego State won’t be easy:

Not only should the Aztecs assume North Dakota State’s best player Taylor Braun (just 11 points in 42 minutes before fouling out) will perform better here, but you wonder what might happen to Steve Fisher’s team should G Xavier Thames —one of the top five players in the country that doesn’t get a whole lot of national pub —not turn into Superman as his 23-point, 5-assist game was enough for SDSU to snag that 73-69 non-cover win against gritty New Mexico State in Round II action.

If Thames’ quickness on defense is the difference here, no one should really be surprised, alright?

SPOKANE— EAST REGION:
#12 HARVARD (27-4) vs. #4 MICHIGAN STATE (27-8) —approximately 8:40 p.m. ET, TNT

Okay, Harvard, now let’s see how smart you are!

Now that the Crimson’s won an NCAA Tournament game for the second year in a row —yes, we had to go back to the Princeton teams of Petey Carrill in 1983-84 to discover the last time an Ivy League crew won a “Big Dance” game in consecutive seasons —we’ll see what answers Tommy Amaker’s club has for this juggernaut Michigan State team that chewed up Delaware 93-78 on Thursday thanks to Adreian Payne’s whopping 41-point game that featured four consecutive made triples (before missing one) and 17-of-17 from the foul line.

Tom Izzo’s team has been picked by just about everyone in the civilized world (including President Barack Obama) as this year’s eventual champion, but this one offers up a real challenge to Sparty as Harvard swingman Wesley Saunders is athletic (loved his dipsy-do basket in the 61-57 win against 2½-point fav Cincinnati on Thursday afternoon) plus Harvard does sport the country’s 13th-best defense and so limiting these Big 10 guys with their field-goal attempts is right at the top of the “to-do list” here.

One X-factor at work:

If Michigan State reserve G Travis Trice (19 points on 7-of-8 FG shooting against Delaware) pumps energy into the Spartans’ overall game than Harvard’s in big, big trouble.

In the games in Buffalo, it’s …

#11 DAYTON (24-10) vs. #3 SYRACUSE (28-5), 7:10 p.m. ET, TBS
#7 CONNECTICUT (27-8) vs. #2 VILLANOVA (29-4), approximately 9:40 p.m. ET, TBS

In the games in Milwaukee, it’s …

#7 TEXAS (24-10) vs. #2 MICHIGAN (26-8), 5:15 p.m. ET, CBS
#7 OREGON (24-9) vs. #2 WISCONSIN (27-7), approximately 7:4 p.m. ET, CBS

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