RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.
#6 Murray State vs. #11 Colorado State – West Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS
Anytime you enter the NCAA Tournament with just one loss and 4-0 record over NCAA Tournament teams, you’re a big story and a threat to go deep in the tournament. That’s the situation Murray State finds itself in. The fact that they’ve got a recent history of some success in the tournament (they knocked off Vanderbilt in the first round in 2010 before losing a heartbreaker to eventual national runner up Butler) makes them an even bigger challenge. In that 2010 loss to Butler, then-freshman guard Isaiah Canaan had the ball in his hands with the clock running down and threw an errant pass that got deflected by Gordon Hayward, effectively sealing the Racers’ fate. Two years later, Canaan is this team’s leader and one of the best guards in the nation, capable not only of getting his own opportunities in a variety of ways, but also creating for his teammates. And he’ll certainly be a problem for a Colorado State team whose guards, though talented scorers offensively, struggle to stay in front of their men on defense. Another issue for the Rams is the fact that they are one of the smallest teams in the nation (there are only five teams smaller, according to Ken Pomeroy’s effective height statistic), with a frontline that doesn’t go any larger than 6’6”. Murray may not have a lot more height (their two main interior players – Ivan Aska and Ed Daniel – go just 6’7”), but the lack of size has been an issue for CSU this year. Still, the Rams can score with just about anybody, but their inability to lock down defensively will be a problem. A bigger problem could be the fact that the Racers are playing not only within an easy drive of their campus, but that the hordes of Kentucky fans who show up for the early session will most certainly convert their allegiance to the Racers, at least temporarily.
The RTC Certified Pick: Murray State
#8 Kansas State vs. #9 Southern Miss – East Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV
This could be an ugly game right off the bat. Neither of these two teams shoots the ball particularly well, especially Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles have an awful two point field goal percentage (43.3%) and rank second to last among NCAA Tournament teams in effective field goal percentage. Only 16th seeded Western Kentucky is worse. Despite the poor shooting numbers, Larry Eustachy’s Golden Eagles have a respectable offensive efficiency number thanks to a minimal turnover percentage and solid offensive rebounding. If Southern Miss is going to win this game, it must rebound the basketball and score on second chance opportunities. While Kansas State is regarded as a team that plays terrific defense and rebounds well, the Wildcats are vulnerable on the defensive glass. Provided Southern Miss and point guard Neil Watson can keep a good handle on the ball and get some decent looks, this team will hang around. For Kansas State, it must get Rodney McGruder going early and often. McGruder is the best offensive player on this team and has been playing at a high level of late. Kansas State should win the game if it rebounds well and plays its typical brand of physical hard-nosed basketball. The Wildcats should get plenty of offensive rebounding opportunities against a Southern Miss team that has just one player taller than 6’7.” The free throw battle could be important as well. Each team gets to the line well but also fouls a lot when playing defense. The Golden Eagles shoot it much better from the stripe and they’ll need to today in order to offset the rebounding disadvantage.