Daily Word: Ready for the First Four?
Every day, Andy Katz leads a panel of our college hoops experts in a discussion of the biggest issues, trends and themes happening in and around college basketball.
1. NC State's inclusion was among the committee's most controversial decisions. Should the Wolfpack even be playing against Xavier on Tuesday in Dayton?
Andy Katz: I'm OK with NC State in the field if it were at the expense of BYU, with SMU also getting into the field. The Cougars were a tough sell as a 10-seed, based on their weak losses in the WCC. NC State looked the part lately and probably was one victory away from there being no controversy whatsoever.
Myron Medcalf: I don't think the Wolfpack deserved a bid. But I'm not sure BYU, SMU, UW-Green Bay and some of the other bubble teams that the selection committee probably considered were worthy, either. I think NC State was in contention with multiple squads that had similar résumés, but it managed to secure a late quality win over Syracuse to break the tie. Given the circumstances, I'm fine with NC State's inclusion.
Dana O'Neil: NC State is this year's controversial pick -- there's always one -- and no, I don't think the Wolfpack should be in, at least not over a team like Green Bay. It seems like the committee put a lot of value in State's win over Syracuse and ignored a body of work that lacks real quality wins and features a 9-9 ACC record.
2. If you were Saint Louis, who would you rather face in the next round -- NC State or Xavier?
Katz: The Billikens might have a hard time defending T.J. Warren. Xavier doesn't pose as many problems. The game would be much more of a defensive struggle with the Musketeers. Saint Louis has lost its way a bit lately. Playing a team like Xavier would be a better matchup.
Medcalf: NC State star T.J. Warren has topped 40 points twice in the past two weeks. He has had nine games with 30 points or more. He is the kind of player who could carry a team to a win and an upset. Saint Louis would be better off against Xavier.
O'Neil: That's the kick in the pants. I don't think NC State belongs in the field, but if I were the Billikens, I'd be more worried about playing the Wolfpack. T.J. Warren could give a struggling Saint Louis team fits.
3. Albany and Mount Saint Mary's fight for the right to play overall No. 1 Florida. Can either team stay within 30 points of the Gators?
Katz: A 30-point spread is a bit much. Florida hasn't been blowing out teams as much this season. I wouldn't go 30. Expect a double-figure victory but more in the 15-20 range.
Medcalf: Both can. There's no reason for Billy Donovan to leave his best players on the floor if the Gators build up a big lead. Plus, they only beat Mississippi State by 11 points earlier this season, so 30 doesn't seem likely.
O'Neil: Probably, but only because Billy Donovan is merciful. My guess is if the Gators get out to a sizable lead, he'll give his starters a breather. I don't expect this one to be close, but maybe more like 20-point blowout than 30.
The Latest Dish
Xavier had better know where NC State sophomore forward T.J. Warren is at all times. Warren is averaging 24.8 points per game and hasn't scored fewer than 20 in a game since early January.
Since the calendar flipped to 2014, Warren has gone for at least 30 points six times. And already in March, he's scored 40 twice, once against Pittsburgh on March 3, and once against Boston College on March 9.
Games To Watch
And so the tournament begins. Neither team overwhelmed its conference opponents; Albany went 9-7 in the America East and Mount St. Mary's went 9-7 in the NEC. Both got hot when it mattered and here they are, fighting for a chance to play Florida.
Xavier staggers into this one, having lost three of four. And while a bulk of attention will be on NC State's T.J. Warren, Xavier's Semaj Christon can score, too. He has averaged 20.6 points in his past five outings. And he's consistent, scoring 18 points four times in his past seven games.