Frank Hoops: Friday Games Preview

Where will the best games, the best matchups, and the best players on Friday? Frank Burlison breaks it all down, including the all-important nightcap in Charlotte between the Cardinal and the Bulldogs...

By the time the last (UCLA vs. Texas Tech) of the 16 Thursday first-round matchups wraps up at about 10 p.m. or so Tucson time, you're only going to have some 12 hours or so to re-group and re-fuel for 16 more clashes come Friday.

Hey, no one ever said this watching-as-much-NCAA-tourney-basketball-as-your-eyes-stand stuff was going to be a breeze!

Here's a primer on what you're likely to see Friday – assuming, that is, that your endurance doesn't give out you sometime mid-afternoon ...

THE MOST INTRIGUING GAME: Charlotte vs. North Carolina State (Worcester). The last time these programs met (Nov. 18, 2000, in Raleigh), the 49ers prevailed, 95-78. Things will be much tighter in Massachusetts.

THE COOL HEAD-TO-HEAD MATCHUPS: Eddie Basden (Charlotte) vs. Julius Hodge (North Carolina State), in Worcester; Orien Greene (Louisiana-Lafayette) vs. Francisco Garcia (Louisville), in Nashville. Basden was Player of the Year in the Conference USA and is considered by some the best defender in the country; Hodge was 2004 ACC Player of the Year. Greene was voted the top defensive player in the Sun Belt Conference while Garcia is projected by many as a first-round choice in the next NBA draft.

THIS JUNE OR NEXT, FUTURE NBA LOTTERY PICKS: Josh Boone and Rudy Gay (Connecticut), Raymond Felton and Marvin Williams (North Carolina) and Joey Graham (Oklahoma State). And Hakim Warrick (Syracuse), Wayne Simien (Kansas) and Rashad McCants (North Carolina) could play themselves into that stratosphere, too.

FRIDAY'S MOST UNDER-APPRECIATED (NATIONALLY) PLAYERS: Danny Granger (New Mexico), Eddie Basden (Charlotte), Chris Hernandez (Stanford), Curtis Sumpter (Villanova), Darren Brooks (Southern Illinois) and Daniel Kickert (Saint Mary's).

UPSET CITY? No. 12 New Mexico over No. 5 Villanova. Did any selection committee member ever really watch the Lobos? If so, how could they have thought they were only worthy of a 12 seed?

FRIDAY SHOOTING STAR: OK, J.J. Redick is the first name that comes to mind for anyone who hasn't put their college basketball viewing on hold for the past three seasons. But Gerry McNamara (Syracuse), Troy DeVries (New Mexico), Brendan Plavich (Charlotte) and Paul Marigney (Saint Mary's) could all be big bang-impact jump shooters Friday.

GAMES FRIDAY
(all times local to site)



CHICAGO REGION
At Oklahoma City
No. 2 Oklahoma State (24-6) vs. No. 15 Southeastern Louisiana (24-8), 11:30 a.m. Things to Consider:
The Lions, under Coach Billy Kennedy, are making their program's first NCAA tournament appearance and, since they don't play the Cowboys until Friday, they can always say "we were one of the final 48 teams standing in the 2005 tournament!" But that's where the fun ends against a club that was oh-so-close to being a No. 1 seed.
Frank's Spin: The Cowboys knock down the first domino toward what some see as an inevitable clash with Illinois in Chicago with a trek to St. Louis as the prize.

No. 7 Southern Illinois (26-7) vs. No. 10 Saint Mary's (25-8), approximately 2 p.m.
Things to Consider:
How many other first-round clashes have ever taken place between "mid-major" programs? The Salukis' Darren Brooks is a lot like Luther Head of Illinois – a 6-3 do-it-all type.
Frank's Spin: Assuming Brooks doesn't disrupt their offense (he was MVC Defensive Player of the Year) and offense, the Gaels should come out on top in what promises to be one of the day's tightest games.

ALBUQUERQUE REGION
At Nashville
No. 4 Louisville (29-4) vs. No. 13 Louisiana-Lafayette (20-10), 6:10 p.m.
Things to Consider:
Should the Cardinals have gotten something better than a 4 seed? This is the place to begin to demonstrate that succinctly. Six-six swingman Tirus Wade was both the Sun Belt Conference's Newcomer of the Year and Player of the Year for the Ragin' Cajuns under first-year head coach Robert Lee.
Frank's Spin: It's difficult to imagine that Rick Pitino would allow any scenario in which the Cardinals were looking ahead to a possible second-round showdown with Georgia Tech. Louisville, in a high-scoring game.

No. 5 Georgia Tech (19-11) vs. No. 12 George Washington (22-7), approximately 8:40 p.m. Things to Consider: The Yellow Jackets seem to finally have regained the cohesiveness that was lost after B.J. Elder suffered that hamstring injury in Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas, on Jan. 1. And, as is the case with Connecticut, Duke and Oklahoma State, they have a lot back from their Final Four club of a year ago. Don't snooze on the Colonials, though, who played as well as they have all season in beating Saint Joseph's in the A-10 final and knocked off Michigan State and Maryland in consecutive games in December.
Frank's Spin: A No. 12 seed will win a first-round game – I just don't think the Colonials are going to be the ones doing the trick.

SYRACUSE REGION
At Charlotte
No. 8 Minnesota (21-10) vs. No. 9 Iowa State (18-11), 12:30 p.m.
Things to Consider:
Does an NCAA matchup come any more "Midwestern" than this one? Couldn't they have played this puppy in Indianapolis? Will pre- and post-game meals be at a Steak-N-Shake?
Frank's Spin: It's been an amazing turnaround for the Gophers (12-18 a year ago) under Coach Dan Monson. But Curtis Stinson & Co. will take them out in the first round.

No. 1 North Carolina (27-4) vs. No. 16 Oakland (13-18), approximately 3 p.m.
Things to Consider:
Oakland's players and coaches got all of the celebrating out of their systems Tuesday night after their play-in (excuse me . . . opening-round) game victory over Alabama A&M. Defensive stops will be a bit more difficult to come by for the Golden Grizzlies in this one.
Frank's Spin: This is just a tune-up for tougher tasks ahead for the Tar Heels – and the same thing can probably be said about UNC's Sunday game, too.

At Nashville
No. 4 Florida (23-7) vs. No. 13 Ohio (21-10), 11:25 a.m.
Things to Consider:
The Gators come into the tournament as one of the "we'd better hitch our ropes to this wagon, these guys are hot''-type teams. And that's understandable, what with Billy Donovan's team chomping NCAA tourney clubs Mississippi State (by 16 points), Alabama (by six) and Kentucky (by 17) in the SEC tournament.
Frank's Spin: The Bobcats didn't play a team in the regular season that is playing in the NCAA tournament, much less beat one. They'll end the season 0-1 in that regard.

No. 5 Villanova (22-7) vs. No. 12 New Mexico (26-6), approximately 1:55 p.m.
Things to Consider:
The Wildcats, even more so than eventual regular-season champion Boston College, were major surprises with their performance in the Big East this season as Jay Wright's great recruiting class of 2002 is paying major dividends. The Lobos won their final nine games, knocking off Utah in the Mountain West Conference tournament for an NCAA bid that wouldn't have come their way via an at-large selection.
Frank's Spin: For all of you who didn't stay up late on Monday nights/Tuesday mornings to watch the Mountain West Conference games on Big Monday, get ready to be introduced to New Mexico's Danny Granger, a player every bit as good as any big man Villanova faced in the Big East. The Lobos get to the second round.

At Oklahoma City
No. 6 Wisconsin (22-8) vs. No. 11 Northern Iowa (21-10), 6:20 p.m.
Things to Consider:
The Badgers are taking on one of the three teams from the Missouri Valley Conference in the tournament, one that is balanced with strong post play and excellent long-range shooting, the latter being supplied by Ben Jacobson (.453 on 3's) and Eric Crawford (.404 on 3's). The Badgers, however, are among the more difficult teams in the country to get a good shot against, much less score many points on.
Frank's Spin: The Badgers have a 1-2 combination of Mike Wilkinson and Alando Tucker that is good enough to help Bo Ryan's team earn a pop at Kansas Sunday.

No. 3 Kansas (23-6) vs. No. 14 Bucknell (22-9), approximately 8:50 p.m
Things to Consider:
Any chance that the Jayhawks might take the team from Lewisburg, Pa., lightly went out the window when Coach Bill Self pointed out that Bucknell handed Pittsburgh its first loss this season, on the Panthers' home floor.
Frank's Spin: Keith Langford is due back for Kansas after missing the Big 12 tournament (turned ankle and the flu). And, by the way, Wayne Simien is more dominant than ever, which is why the Jayhawks will get by this one without a lot of fuss and muss.

At Worcester
No. 7 Charlotte (21-7) vs. No. 10 North Carolina State (19-13), 12:15 p.m.
Things to Consider:
It was just a few weeks ago that the 49ers looked like the best team in the Conference USA before they dropped a decision at eventual regular-season (and tournament) champion Louisville, then lost at South Florida in a regular-season finale and to Memphis in their first C-USA tourney game. NCSU seems to be heading in the opposite direction, winning six of its past nine with just tight losses to a couple of top seeds (North Carolina and Duke) and a two seed (Wake Forest) in that stretch.
Frank's Spin: The Wolfpack come out on top in this in-state and ACC vs. Conference USA showdown.

No. 2 Connecticut (22-7) vs. No. 15 Central Florida (24-8), approximately 1:40 p.m.
Things to Consider:
Sure, the backcourt depth is beyond borderline non-existent with Marcus Williams the only scholarship playmaker on the roster. But the defending national champions still possess the nation's best frontcourt and Williams' game has elevated to the point where he is now capable of directing the Huskies all the way to St. Louis.
Frank's Spin: One down and five more to go in Jim Calhoun's quest for back-to-back national titles.

AUSTIN REGION
At Charlotte
No. 1 Duke (25-5) vs. No. 16 Delaware State (19-13), 7:25 p.m
Things to Consider:
If there's an inside-outside combination on par or better than the Blue Devils' Shelden Williams-J.J. Redick, there's only one of them and it goes by the name of Channing Frye-Salim Stoudamire and plays for the University of Arizona Wildcats. Daniel Ewing has been the under-appreciated (nationally, at least) member of Mike Krzyzewski's team this season.
Frank's Spin: When was the last time a Duke team lost in the first round of an NCAA tournament? You have to go all the way back to 1996, when the Blue Devils fell to Eastern Michigan in Indianapolis. FYI: it's not happening Friday.

No. 8 Stanford (18-12) vs. No. 9 Mississippi State (22-10), approximately 9:55 p.m. Things to Consider: Check out a very nice inside battle between a couple of 6-9 players, Stanford junior Matt Haryasz and MSU's Lawrence Roberts, a consensus All-America a year ago as a junior. We'll call that a push but the Cardinal has the edge in the backcourt, where 6-1 junior Chris Hernandez is the best point guard the Pac 10 has to offer.
Frank's Spin: Somewhat surprisingly, Stanford has won five of its eight games since losing its leading scorer, Dan Grunfeld, to a season-ending knee injury. It's six of nine after this one.

At Worcester
No. 4 Syracuse (27-6) vs. No. 13 Vermont (24-6), 7:10 p.m.
Things to Consider:
The next loss will be the final college game for one of two post players, Hakim Warrick of Syracuse or Taylor Coppenrath of Vermont, who only seem like they've been enrolled at their respective schools for eight or nine years. The Orange zone is likely to surround Coppenrath so the play of guard T.J. Sorrentine will be critical if the Catamounts are going to catapult to the second round of the tournament.
Frank's Spin: Vermont will have a lot of folks in its corner, pulling for what could rank as the biggest upset of the first two days of the tournament. Better for Syracuse, it's got Warrick and Gerry McNamara in its uniforms and will be playing Sunday.

No. 5 Michigan State (22-6) vs. No. 12 Old Dominion (28-5), approximately 9:40 p.m.
Things to Consider:
This is just another game that is a popular choice among some commentators, nationally, to end in one of the first week's biggest upsets. That being said, the toughest team Old Dominion faced outside of the Colonial Athletic Association was NIT squad DePaul, which it fell to by 13 points in Chicago.
Frank's Spin: Coach Blaine Taylor will have the Monarchs as well prepared as possible but the Spartans aren't being upset in the first round for the second year in a row.



Recently elected to the USBWA Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's National Basketball Expert and also covers college basketball for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com.

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