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Previewing Portland: Evening games

PORTLAND -- Let's take a look at the evening games:

No. 5 Wichita State (27-5) vs. No. 12 VCU (28-6), 7:15 p.m. ET

Just call Wichita State-VCU a major mid-major matchup.

Last year, VCU rolled all the way to the Final Four. This year, Wichita State is the vogue pick for a team outside a BCS conference to make some noise in the NCAA tournament. In fact, ESPN's Joe Lunardi, Ph.D. in Bracketology, has called the Shockers "the best true mid-major in the tournament."

"You talk about the power six conferences, [but] any good mid-major team can play with any good power six conference team," Shockers 7-foot center Garrett Stutz said.

Further, these teams have a little history. The Rams beat the Shockers 68-67 last year in a regular-season nail-biter. The Rams and coach Shaka Smart went on to become national darlings. Wichita State didn't get invited to the NCAA tournament, despite a 24-8 record, but went on to win the NIT.

The Shockers remember the loss to the Rams with just a bit of a "that could have been us" wistfulness.

"It's something that's been in the back of our minds for a long time now," Stutz said. "When they beat us, that kind of gave them momentum into their NCAA tournament round. So there's definitely still some ... I won't call it a rivalry, but there's still some motivation for us."

VCU was supposed to be rebuilding after losing four starters from a team that was just the third 11th seed to reach the Final Four, but the Rams have won 17 of 18. Their leader is senior guard Bradford Burgess, who already has broken Patrick Ewing's record for most consecutive starts (144 in a row).

The Shockers, playing in their first NCAA tournament since reaching the Sweet 16 in 2006, are an intriguing, veteran team with a highly respected coach, Gregg Marshall. They have six players who averaged between 8.3 and 13.5 points per game. Stutz tops that list and adds eight rebounds per game. Seven Shockers play at least 22 minutes a game. Their average margin of victory -- 15.3 points per game -- ranks third in the nation. They are plus-6.7 in rebound margin (12th in nation), shoot 48.5 percent from the field (13th) and average 77.7 points per game (15th).

While Wichita State can wow you with offense, VCU is all about "havoc defense." "Havoc" defense? It's not just that opponents averaged only 59.8 points per game against the Rams. VCU forces a turnover on 27.4 percent of its possessions, grabs 10.7 steals per game and forces 17.9 turnovers per game; each of those numbers ranks first in the nation. The Rams average 20.4 points per game off turnovers.

And the Rams need those points. VCU is not good on the boards -- minus-2 per game -- and shoots a piddly 41 percent from the floor, which ranks 286th nationally. The Shockers can play some D also. They rank 21st in field goal percentage defense (39.1).

So this game turns on whether Wichita State can handle the Rams' pressure and force them to score in conventional ways, which they haven't consistently been able to do.

No. 4 Indiana (25-8) vs. No. 13 New Mexico State (26-9), 9:45 p.m. ET

One of the big stories in college basketball this season was the return of Indiana to the national scene. And lookie here: The Hoosiers are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008. Isn't that nice?

But if you've been around college basketball for anything more than, oh, 10 years, it still seems a bit off-putting to hear Hoosiers coach Tom Crean asked before a matchup with New Mexico State whether his team will be "blinded by the glitter of the NCAA."

"There's nobody that feels like they've arrived or that they're just happy to be here," Crean said.

This is, by the way, the Hoosiers' 36th appearance in the tournament, which ranks first in the Big Ten and sixth in the nation. This season, Indiana has wins over Kentucky, Michigan State and Ohio State. "Happy to be here" won't be in play until the Sweet 16 in Atlanta.

Of course, college basketball has changed since Indiana's golden years under Bob Knight. Crean, for one, wasn't interested in providing a pat on the Aggies' head for being such a formidable "mid-major."

"They're a big team," Crean said. "I would put them for sure in the upper-half -- well into the upper-half -- of size, strength, body types of what we would face in the Big Ten. There's nothing, quote-unquote, 'mid-major' about them."

That's not just coachspeak. The Aggies appear to have an edge in the paint in this one, with high-scoring senior forward Wendell McKines, who averages 18.8 points and 10.8 rebounds, and 6-foot-11 senior center Hamidu Rahman.

The Aggies are high-scoring -- 78.4 points per game -- while being a poor 3-point shooting team. That's because they own the boards. Their plus-8.7 rebounding margin ranks third in the nation. They've grabbed 135 more offensive rebounds this season than their opponents.

Further, they are adept at drawing contact. While they are a poor free throw shooting team -- 66.7 percent -- they lead the nation in free throw attempts per game, a stunning 29.9. So, despite the low percentage, they've made more free throws (699) than their opponents have attempted (663).

And, yeah, it's fair to wonder what New Mexico State's record would be if the team hit at, say, a 75 percent clip.

On the other side of the floor, the Hoosiers should be able to take advantage of a weak Aggies defense. Indiana has a nice inside-outside game, with 6-foot-11 freshman Cody Zeller (15.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg) -- the Big Ten Freshman of the Year -- manning the paint and the Hoosiers hitting 43.3 percent from behind the 3-point arc.

A major concern is that Indiana lost senior guard Verdell Jones to a torn ACL in the Big Ten tournament.

"We miss him," Crean said. "There's no way around it. He's a stabilizing force."

It wasn't too long ago that Indiana was a stable force in college hoops. But the Hoosiers won't officially be back until they stack up a couple of tourney wins.