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First Four notes: Nick Muszynski will play, Prairie View A&M will press, and more

Notes from day one in Dayton

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Four Practice Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

DAYTON — Mere hours after the NCAA Tournament field was unveiled, four of the eight teams sent to Dayton arrived at UD Arena for open practice and media availability. It was a quick turnaround, but with March Madness upon us, excitement overpowered fatigue.

Here are the news and notes from a busy Monday at the First Four:

Nick Muszynski will play for Belmont

The Belmont freshman did not play in the Ohio Valley championship game against Murray State after sustaining an injury in the semifinals. Belmont coach Rick Byrd told the media on Monday that Muszynski practiced for the first time earlier in the day and would play Tuesday night against Temple.

“He was a little rusty and he was a little tentative like you would be if you hadn’t really gone full speed since you turned your ankle pretty bad,” Byrd said. “I hope that in another 24 hours with treatment and aa little adrenaline that you get when you play in the NCAAA Tournament, it’s going to help him be the player he was before he got hurt.”

The 6’11 Muszynski averaged 14.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game in the regular season and shot nearly 61 percent from the field. He also led the OVC in block percentage.

Get used to hearing about Prairie View A&M’s defense

The Panthers have lost just once in 2019, dominating the SWAC with their pesky defense. They rank second in the nation in turnover percentage, according to KenPom, and are 12th in steal percentage.

Junior Antione Lister says the coaching staff hammered home its emphasis on defense in the preseason when they would spend 45 minutes at a time on shell drills during practices that would stretch for three hours.

Coach Byron Smith explained that the team had to be elite defensively in order to succeed.

“If you look at our roster, you’ll see we don’t have a lot of size,” he said. “So we’ve got guys who can guard 1 through 5, which kind of helps us.”

It’s become Smith’s niche as a coach. In each of his three seasons at the helm, the Panthers have ranked in the top 25 in turnover percentage nationally and have improved in defending the perimeter each year. This season, opponents made less than 31 percent of their three-point opportunities as Prairie View ranked 22nd in three-point percentage defense.

Fairleigh Dickinson will lean on its tournament experience

The Knights are the only team playing Tuesday that has real NCAA Tournament experience. Seniors Mike Holloway Jr. and Darnell Edge both played in FDU’s 2016 First Four loss to Florida Gulf Coast, and just as importantly, Greg Herenda learned what does and does not work in a tournament setting as a coach.

“I remember in 2016 we just practiced like Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers, and we probably went overboard,” he said. “Today we took care of business and rested a little bit.”

In fact, Herenda seemed laid back during his entire press conference. He quoted Malcolm X when talking about Prairie View’s defense (“the fear of the riot is worse than the riot itself”), joked around with student reporters, and confirmed the he probably will not catch Mike Krzyzewski or Bob Hurley in all-time wins.

We’ll have more on the teams playing Wednesday after they meet with the media Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday game schedule:

6:40 p.m. ET: Fairleigh Dickinson vs. Prairie View A&M, TruT
9:10 p.m. ET: Belmont vs. Temple, TruTV