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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 1:52 PM

By Jim Hurley:

Hey, don’t despair just ‘cause your NCAA Tournament brackets were wrecked days ago … there’s still plenty of reasons to watch what’s on tap for this Sunday schedule that includes the likes of Mercer and Stephen F. Austin (but just not Duke and VCU).

In fact, dig a little deeper into this Sunday card that features #1 seeds Virginia, Wichita State and Arizona and it’s a type of hoops heaven that finishes off the first full week of this year’s tourney.

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

#8 KENTUCKY (25-10) vs. #1 WICHITA STATE (35-0) – approximately 2:45 p.m. ET, CBS

We’ll see following today’s action whether anyone’s singing “nobody’s perfect” but right here/right now the only unbeaten team in this year’s tourney surely has its collective game face on as evidenced by Friday’s take-no-prisoners 64-37 win against 17-point underdog Cal Poly.

Okay, so Gregg Marshall’s Wichita State crew is “playing angry” and especially after the know-nothing NCAA Tournament Committee stacked the Shockers’ region with so many toughies but had to like the way star Cleanthony Early (23 points and 7 rebounds in just 19 minutes) took charge in that second-round blowout and now he’ll be a major key against a Kentucky team that – at one point – got off seven different shots in a particular hit-the-offensive-backboards sequence in Friday’s 56-49 win/cover against 6 ½-point pup Kansas State.

Maybe the best thing about that Wildcats’ win was John Calipari’s crew only shot 4-of-15 from beyond the three-point arc and only 14-of-21 from the free-throw line and still won relatively easily but here stat-sheet stuffing frosh Julius Randle (19 points and 15 boards against K-State) must flex his muscles and get the aforementioned Early into foul woes too.
In the other game in St. Louis, it’s #10 Stanford (22-12) vs. #2 Kansas (25-9), 12:15 p.m. ET

#8 GONZAGA (29-6) vs. #1 ARIZONA (31-4) – approximately 9:40 p.m. ET, TBS

Most in-the-know folks believed the NCAA Tournament’s West Region was the “easiest” to navigate but the Arizona Wildcats are not buying that junk!

In fact, Sean Miller’s team already got a major run for its money in Friday’s 68-59 non-cover win against frisky Weber State – remember the ‘Cats were down 7-0 before they knew what hit ‘em – and now here comes a well-oiled Gonzaga crew that chopped up 4-point fav Oklahoma State to the tune of 85-77 in second-round play.

Note that Arizona was its usual nasty defensive self in that win against Weber State with 11 blocked shots and also note the Big Sky champs shot just 30.2 percent from the floor (that’s 16-of-53 made FGs) but can the Pac-12 guys reject tough lefty post player Sam Dower here and will Arizona’s combo of Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon (a combined 34 points on 13-of-23 FG shooting in that second-round win) get off many free looks against this underrated Zags defense?

Tell us right now that Mark Few’s club will get a major boost off the bench from G Kyle Dranginis (12 points and some heady play against Okie State) and we’ll tell you the Bulldogs have a real legit shot to steal this one as 6 ½-point underdogs.

In the other game in San Diego, it’s #12 STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (32-2) vs. #4 UCLA (27-8), 7:10 p.m. ET

#6 NORTH CAROLINA (24-9) vs. #3 IOWA STATE (27-7) – 5:15 p.m. ET, CBS

It’s an absolute crying shame that the Iowa State Cyclones – the Big 12 Tournament champs and a real oft-forgotten power team in this year’s Big Dance” – won’t be full strength for this third-round game deep in the heart o’ Texas as everyone by now knows F George Niang (broken foot) won’t be playing the remainder of this year’s tourney.

Niang – who poured in 24 points in Friday’s 93-75 win/cover against 10-point dog N.C.-Central -- busted a bone in his right foot and that’s a real killer when you consider that Fred Hoiberg’s club is – more or less – a six-player unit with no real wiggle room when it comes to depth.

Hey, North Carolina suffered an injury woe such as this two years ago when lefty G Kendall Marshall suffered a broken wrist and that basically sabotaged the Tar Heels’ bright hopes of winning it all and so now I-State must overcome the loss of Niang and trust that Melvin Ejim (17 points and 8 boards versus Central) and mates can get “mission accomplished” against a North Carolina team that continues to either not shoot well from the free-throw line or not shoot enough foul shots as evidenced by a 9-of-13 mark in last Friday’s hang-on-for-dear-life 79-77 non-cover triumph against 4 ½-point pup Providence.

Maybe the best thing to come out of that game for Roy Williams’ squad is that the Heels hauled down 17 offensive rebounds (James Michael McAdoo accounted for a team-high five of ‘em) and unless a physically fit Iowa State squad can keep McAdoo and mates off the glass on that end of the floor, then the ACC guys might just bust their way into this year’s Sweet 16 party … we’ll see!

In the other San Antonio game, it’s #6 BAYLOR (25-11) vs. #3 CREIGHTON (27-7), approximately 7:45 p.m. ET

In the games in Raleigh, it’s …
#14 MERCER (27-8) vs. #11 TENNESSEE (23-12), 6:10 p.m. ET
#8 MEMPHIS (24-9) vs. #1 VIRGINIA (29-6), approximately 8:40 p.m. ET

NOTE: Much more NCAA Tournament News/Notes & Analyses in the next edition of Jim Sez!

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