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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 11:09 AM

On Friday, it’s …

EAST REGIONAL Madison Square Garden — New York City, NY

#7 CONNECTICUT (28-8) vs. #3 IOWA STATE (28-7) — 7:27 p.m. ET, TBS

Okay, so much is being made of the fact the UConn Huskies are more-or-less playing a “home game” here in the “World’s Most Famous Arena” but our question is if that’s such an advantage then why is Iowa State — a 2-point betting right now — the side that’s been taking the early-week money?

No doubt Connecticut has major mojo on its side following last Saturday’s 77-65 win over 4 ½-point fav Villanova as G Shabazz Napier wowed the good folks in Buffalo with his 25-point performance that included 4-of-8 trifecta hits and how about the fact the Huskies just clamped down on “D” just like the good old days of Jim Calhoun as ‘Nova shot just 18-of-51 from the field (that’s 35.3 percent)?

Now, Kevin Ollie’s club knows it must gum up the works for a high-octane Iowa State squad that — let’s face it — didn’t really seem to miss injured star F Georges Diang (broken right foot) in last Sunday’s wild 85-83 win/cover versus 1 ½-point pup North Carolina.

The Cyclones drained 12-of-26 triples and do-it-all G DeAndre Kane was a stat-sheet stuffer deluxe with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists and his driving hoop that won it with 1.6 seconds left might go down in I-State hoops lore if this Big 12 team can win it all.

Might this simply be a match of who scores more … Napier or Kane? Stay tuned.

#4 MICHIGAN STATE (30-8) vs. #1 VIRGINIA (32-6) — approximately 9:57 p.m. ET, TBS

It’s not often that a #4 seed will be the betting favorite — the Michigan State Spartans are a 2-point choice right now (and rising)— against a #1 seed in NCAA Tournament play but, let’s face it, Sparty is the people’s choice as seemingly everyone including President Obama tabbed this Big 10 team to snag the national championship this year but we have a different slant to things here … and that’s Michigan State will be ones playing with a bit more pressure on ‘em and top-seeded Virginia could be/should be the more loosey-goosey squad for this game at MSG.

The Spartans felt some heavy-duty pressure in that 80-73 great-escape non-cover win against 9-point underdog Harvard last Saturday in Spokane but a clutch triple by underrated G Travis Trice saved M-State’s bacon and Tom Izzo’s club survived despite an ultra-quiet game by big man Adreian Payne who followed up his epic 41-point game against Delaware in second-round play with just 14 points against the Ivy Leaguers.

No question Payne must pile up whatever numbers he can here against the nation’s top defensive team but gut feeling is the Cavaliers will go right at Payne in the paint and try to draw some early fouls — if Tony Bennett’s club can get to open up the floor more with Payne on the bench, then it’s major advantage to the Wahoos.

Virginia is a better-than-you-think offensive team as proven in last Sunday’s rollicking 78-60 triumph over 6½-point pup Memphis. The Cavs had five players go for double-digit scoring in that tilt with G Joe Harris topping the charts with 16 points but we believe bench guys F Anthony Gill (13 points and 8 rebs against Memphis) and G Justin Anderson (10 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists) will really decide matters here:

If both guys can provide a jolt to a Virginia team that still prefers to play games in the 60s, then the region’s top seed will have slayed the big green dragon.

P.S., we know Izzo has mucho tourney experience but not about to rate him more than a single point better than Bennett here as this Virginia team has great chemistry — maybe the best in the land — and does a lot of little things (like shoot free throws) as well as anyone in the country.

Why does it feel like this one’s comin’ down to a final shot?

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MIDWEST REGIONAL

Lucas Oil Stadium — Indianapolis, IN

#11 TENNESSEE (24-12) vs. #2 MICHIGAN (27-8) — 7:15 p.m. ET, CBS

If you’ve wagered on both Tennessee and Michigan thus far in this man’s tourney then you’re a spiffy 5-and-oh versus the vig … good stuff!

It’s the Volunteers who’ve come from that “First Four” group that’s won three games already in this year’s “Big Dance” and guess the good folks in/around Knoxville won’t be shoving head coach Cuonzo Martin out the door anytime soon, eh?

Martin’s team has ratcheted things up this post-season with NCAA Tournament victories against Iowa (in OT), Massachusetts and Mercer and maybe you’re saying that’s not exactly a who’s who of college b-ball teams and you’re correct.

However, consider the domination in those last two wins as Tennessee thumped UMass 86-67 and bashed Mercer 83-63 as board-banger Jarnell Stokes pulled down 18 rebounds last Sunday after snagging 14 caroms in the UMass game.

The question here is will there be many rebounds for Stokes and sidekick Jeronne Maymon (8 boards versus Mercer and 26 totals boards in this tourney so far) against a Michigan team that’s shooting lights out these days?

The Wolverines — yes, a very different team personnel-wise then the one that made it all the way to the NCAA Tournament Championship Game last year — nailed 14 treys in last Saturday’s 79-65 win/cover against 5-point dog Texas as G Nik Stauskas bagged four triples and Tennessee better play some in-your-grill defense against both Stauskas (17 points versus the Longhorns) and his perimeter-minded mates including G Caris LeVert, who nailed three big trifectas against Texas.

In all, the maize-and-blue registered 14 of its 24 FG makes against Texas from beyond the arc and so Tennessee has to play some bump-and-run with Michigan’s deep shooters and then hope Stokes and Maymon can be backboard behemoths once again.

#8 KENTUCKY (26-10) vs. #4 LOUISVILLE (31-5) — approximately 9:45 p.m. ET, CBS

Hey, what’s all the fuss about an 8 seed playing a 4 seed … oh, now we get it!

The Bluegrass State showdown for the right to move onto the Elite 8 has — surprise, surprise — captivated the hoops nation at large but let’s start out this game preview by digging into what’s at the root of all things here:

The Kentucky Wildcats — fresh off their spine-tingling 78-76 win against 4½-point favorite Wichita State last Sunday afternoon — have been one of the most inconsistent major-college teams in recent memory but now you wonder what everyone’s wondering and that is John Calipari’s team ready to reach its peak here and in the next couple of weeks?

Certainly, Kentucky answered the bell against a very good Wichita State team that shot 55.1 percent from the floor (that’s 27-of-49 made FGs) and still could not get “mission accomplished” and what will make the Wildcats so tough for defending national champ Louisville here is the fact so many UK players can handle the ball and get their own shots as evidenced by four guys with 13-or-more points against the Shockers.

Maybe Kentucky super-frosh Julius Randle will wind up the far-and-away best pro of ‘em all on this Calipari team but it’s twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison who are the real keys here as both guards must handle the Cardinals ball-hawking pressure/traps and both must be offensive sparks too after they combined for a nifty 12-of-22 FG game for 39 points against previously unbeaten Wichita State.

On the flip side, that aforementioned Louisville pressure must get the ‘Cats to turn the ball over and immediately create points off said turnovers — note that Saint Louis coughed the ball up 18 times in last Saturday’s 66-51 win by 10-point fav Louisville (yes, many of the Billikens’ turnovers were self-inflicted botch-ups but they all count!) and we’ll see if G Russ Smith can get his offensive game straightened away plus we’ll calling the “magic number” 20 points because that’s what we believe sharpshooter Luke Hancock must get for the ‘Ville is it’s gonna survive and advance to an Elite 8 date on Sunday.

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