In case you missed it, the NCAA got off to one hell of a start last night. The players for Mississippi Valley State remembered with 5 minutes to go that they would have to face Anthony Davis and his unibrow if they won, then Iona played the real life version of that game in Mighty Ducks 3 where the Ducks get up 9-0, then remember they can't play defense and end up tying 9-9.
Of course, there are no ties in basketball, so Iona lost and ruined my idea of picking the Gaels to beat Marquette when I eventually get around to filling out my "Wisdom of the Crowds" bracket. I wonder if there were any MAAC teams thinking to themselves, "oh, yeah, we probably should have tried a zone."
I am thrilled that Kansas State is playing in the first set of games and matched up against a guard-oriented team that doesn't seem to have as much talent as KSU. The Golden Eagles of Southern Miss have also lost four of their last 7 in Conference USA, including an 11-point shellacking in the C-USA semifinals to a much more athletic but not all that impressive Marshall team.
All of that is my way of showing you that as long as K-State plays something resembling its best basketball, it should win this game and advance to a surprisingly favorable matchup against Syracuse. Of course, we are all more than aware that getting the best out of this team is far from a guarantee, so let's not get ahead of ourselves.
For some more on what to expect from Southern Miss, click the jump.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I have not seen USM play at all this year. If you want a more in-depth analysis and aren't afraid of numbers, ksu_FAN put together a pretty good preview over at the goEMAW forums. Just don't stay to read the threads, particularly the ones that delve into nasty racist stereotypes.
The best team USM played this season was Murray State (a 2OT loss in Alaska in November that doesn't really tell us a whole lot) and their best win came at home against Memphis at the beginning of February, which is kind of impressive. To their credit, this is a team that does not get blown out, though you might argue that's because they haven't played anyone who got better than a 6 seed in the tourney.
As noted by Joe Lunardi, this is one of those teams with a way-too-high RPI (No. 21 RealTime RPI) even though they didn't really have a great year. The key was probably scheduling 5 road games and 3 neutral court games in the nonconference, even though most of those were against mediocre to bad opponents (they did lose at Denver).
It does seem that K-State struggles most against teams with good big men or especially big, athletic small forwards, and USM doesn't really fit that bill. They're undersized and don't have any standout players, with 5-11 guard Neil Watson (from KCK and best friend of Will Spradling) leading the way in scoring at 12.2 points per game, which earned him Sixth Man of the Year honors.
Of course, Watson plays starter minutes (even more so than Michael Dixon) and he's one to watch for USM, along with 6-2 guard LaShay Page and 6-0 point guard Angelo Johnson. All three of those guys shoot the 3, with all of them languishing between 34 and 38 percent.
Inside is where Kansas State should be able to hurt USM the most offensively, as their starters at the 4 and 5 positions are 6-10 guard (yes, that's what the roster says) Maurice Bolden and 6-6 forward Jonathan Mills. 6-7 guard Darnell Dodson averages 11.1 points in just 18 minutes off the bench, but he's been wildly inconsistent, with four games in his last nine where he scored 4 points or less while barely even taking any shots.
The Golden Eagles generally rebound pretty well, but I'd like to think that's more because of their competition and K-State should have a decided edge there. Certainly Jordan Henriquez and Jamar Samuels have much more size and athleticism than any of the guys they'll be matched up against tomorrow.
As always, Rodney should lead the way, and it would be extremely helpful if Kansas State's 3-pointers are falling. USM doesn't commit a lot of turnovers, so it could be vital for K-State to do the same and avoid giving the Golden Eagles extra possessions.
If you want something to be concerned about, Southern Miss does like to attack the basket and gets to the free throw line quite well, as evidenced by their 23.1 free throw attempts per game. That's one less than KSU, but the Golden Eagles make one free throw more per game, because they've figured out that a wide open shot from 15 feet away isn't actually that hard.
Of course, I'd be remiss not to mention that our old friend Larry Eustachy won C-USA Coach of the Year this season and will bring a very disciplined team to Pittsburgh. Say what you will about his embarrassing (and hilarious) actions off the court, the guy knows how to coach.
Although this is still to some extent a K-State team that we should just be glad played a strong enough season to earn an eight seed, the Wildcats were gifted with what appears to me to be the weakest team in any of the tourney's 8/9 matchups, though St. Louis may be close. With that in mind, I'm definitely going to be sorely disappointed if K-State stumbles and comes up short tomorrow afternoon.
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