It's hard to believe that 18 years ago, Florida Gulf Coast University didn't exist. It's even harder to believe that this is the Eagles second year eligible in Division I.
And yet, it fits in so perfectly with the wackiness of the NCAA Tournament this year: a team from a school hardly anyone's heard about takes down a traditional basketball school (or at least "tradition" defined since the mid-1970's). The Eagles beat Georgetown in such dominant fashion that at one point in the game, they were up by 19 over the heavily favored Hoyas. Surely, they made themselves known.
On the other hand, you have San Diego State, now the lone flag-bearer for the Mountain West, after yet another disappointing show for the major, but not quite power, conference. Jamaal Franklin led the Aztecs in a 15-point victory over Oklahoma in their second round matchup with 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists. This is the Aztecs third-straight NCAA appearance under Steve Fisher, and they are looking for a second-straight Sweet Sixteen appearance.
So what can we expect out of this matchup? Obviously the showdown between Sherwood Brown and Jamaal Franklin is key -- they are the two playmakers who both these teams live and die with. Behind Brown, you have Bernard Thompson and Chase Fieler, who average 14.3 and 12.1 points per game respectively. With the Aztecs, Chase Tapley and Xavier Thomas are the heavy contributors, averaging 13.4 and 9.6 in the scoring column.
FGCU has a dangerous weapon in the transition offense, but the Aztecs seemed to have learned throughout the season how to get back on defense. San Diego State, having experienced disappointment from lofty expectations, is finally waking up in this tournament, and pulls it out in the final two minutes.
La Salle is exploring Tournament success for the first time in a very long time. They are doing it with four players all averaging over 10 points per game, in Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren, Tyrone Garland and Jerrell Wright.
However, Duren and Garland were very quiet in the win over Kansas State, and while they don't absolutely need to score their average with a sudden surge of points from Sam Mills, they do need to be a factor of some fashion.
Ole Miss has a phenomenal player in SEC Tournament MVP Marshall Henderson. The junior averages 20.0 points per game and makes 88.2% of his free throws (plus the occasional quotable moment). While Henderson is the focal point of this team, Murphy Holloway should not be forgotten. The forward had a respectable 10 points and nine rebounds against Wisconsin, and should look to dominate the boards.
For La Salle to win this game, its hot shooting must continue through both halves, not just one. The Explorers are not going to shut down Henderson, so the easiest way to counter is to simply outscore him. Ole Miss has not seen a lot of the four-guard lineup, and the Explorers could work that to their advantage.
To sum it up: I think the Explorers will be "Westward, Ho!" with another win over a power conference team.
Doug McDermott has been called "a beautiful player" by Coach Mike Krzyzewski. After his performance in Creighton's win over Cincinnati, that's a fairly accurate assessment, as McDermott racked up 27 points and 11 rebounds in a thrilling 67-63 win. The problem is, outside of McDermott, the players are fairly balanced in scoring so that there's really nobody as a dominant second scorer.
With Duke, that's not an issue, as Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry both average over 17 points per game, followed by Ryan Kelly, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon who average 14.0, 12.2 and 11.4 points respectively. It was Plumlee and Curry who dominated against Albany, while the other three played minor roles.
Both of these teams are hot in shooting the three-pointers, as Creighton shoots 42 percent while Duke shoots 41 percent. While any Duke player can essentially score at will, especially the Plumlee/Curry combo, Creighton will need to have Gregory Echenique step up on the scoring. The other key player to watch for the Bluejays is Grant Gibbs, who will need to distribute the ball on par with his season average of 5.9 assists per game.
If Gibbs can successfully dump the ball off to either McDermott or Echenique, I can see the Bluejays winning this game. However, if all five Duke starters get into the double-digits in scoring, the Blue Devils will walk comfortably into the Sweet Sixteen.