Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM
Friday - Session 3
Midwest Region - Columbus, OH - Nationwide Arena
#9 Washington vs. #8 Utah State - 6:50 PM EST - TNT
Opening Odds: Utah State -3, 134.5
-- This line hasn't moved much despite the novelty of the Mountain West champion being favored over the team that ran through the Pac-12 wire-to-wire, dominating the regular season before losing to Oregon in the conference tournament final in Las Vegas. Utah State (28-6 SU, 18-15 ATS) stunned Nevada to capture the regular-season title in a memorable game that got testy and caught a break when San Diego State took down the Wolf Pack in Vegas, making the championship game far more manageable as they won 64-57.
-- The Aggies won 17 of their last 18 games, covering in seven of the last nine. West Coast Conference tourney champ Saint Mary’s was their strongest victim in the non-conference portion of their schedule. They also took down Big West champ UC-Irvine but fell to Houston, Arizona State and BYU. -- Washington (26-8 SU, 17-16-1 ATS) had a stretch of 10 consecutive covers between Jan. 5-Feb. 7, part of a 12-game unbeaten run that put the Pac-12 in its back pocket by Valentine's Day.
-- Starting wing Sam Merrill (21.2 ppg) was named the Mountain West Player of the Year after shooting 38 percent from 3-point range, which was actually down from his averages over his first two seasons, where he shot better than 45 percent from beyond the arc. He’s one of the nation’s top shooters and has knocked down over 90 percent of his free-throws, making him a huge asset late in games. The attention he commands from a defense due to his range makes the game easier for everyone else, which explains why he’s averaged over 35 minutes per game over his last two seasons.
-- While Merrill is Utah State’s most important player, its top NBA prospect is 6-foot-11 freshman center Neemias Queta, a native of Portugal. He’s agile and has excellent footwork, so even though he’ll have to put on a lot of weight and is a project as far as scouts are concerned, he’s one with loads of promise. New Mexico State’s Pacal Siakam is similarly built and has blossomed for the Toronto Raptors this season. Queta is averaging 11.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. He’s shooting 55 percent from the field in March and has averaged 9.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks, earning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors. He’s managed to score in double-figures in all five games, matching the longest such streak of his freshman season. It will be interesting to see how he handles the Huskies’ zone defense, which can certainly be confusing and imposing.
-- The Huskies rely on defense to create easy baskets and turn miscues into points well enough to compensate for an inconsistent offense that could struggle feeding Noah Dickerson inside given Queta’s presence. He’s only 6-foot-8 but is typically a load inside and has nice touch, but he struggled immensely in the Pac-12 Tournament, shooting 6-for-18 from the field. Washington clearly has to get him going to be a factor in the NCAAs, but doing so against a team whose strength is interior defense means he’s going to need a special game right out of the gate.
-- Washington leading scorer Jaylen Nowell can really get hot and has an old-school mid-range game, so his ability to make plays with the shot clock dwindling will likely be the x-factor in who advances to face North Carolina. Point guard David Crisp and wing Matisse Thybulle, one of the nation’s most effective defensive players, both struggle to put the ball in the basket, which puts additional pressure on Nowell (16.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg), to produce to keep the Huskies’ attack from bogging down. Nowell shot just 8-for-23 over the last two games of the Pac-12 Tourney, shooting 1-for-5 from 3-point range. He went 4-for-4 in the opener against USC and went from a 35 percent 3-point shooter as a freshman to 43 percent this season.
-- Both the Huskies and Aggies were each 500-to-1 to win the entire NCAA Tournament per the Westgate Superbook.
-- The 'over' was on a 3-0-1 run prior to Utah State's MWC Championship game over San Diego State. The Aggies' 64-57 win fell well under the posted total of 133.5. The low-side is on 13-4 run in Washington games since Jan. 19.
East Region - Columbia, SC - Colonial Life Arena
#16 North Dakota State vs. #1 Duke - 7:10 PM EST - CBS
Opening Odds: Duke -27, 148.5
-- It's no surprise to see Duke (29-5 SU, 18-16 ATS) so heavily favored after its jaw-dropping performance in the ACC Tournament. After getting Zion Williamson back, the Blue Devils saw him put together a perfect 13-for-13 shooting night against Syracuse before following it up with big nights against UNC and FSU. The nation's most heralded NBA prospect shot 77 percent in the ACC Tournament, averaging 27 points and 10 boards. He's healthy following his knee sprain, which means the Blue Devils are going to be tough to beat..
-- The Blue Devils were a 9-to-4 choice at Westgate when the NCAA Tournament tipped off, making them the favorite over Gonzaga (9/2), North Carolina and Virginia (6/1).
-- The fact North Dakota State (19-15 SU, 15-17 ATS) had to play on Wednesday certainly didn't aid its cause as far as the spread is concerned, but teams have rebounded well over the past few years in this situation. We'll see how the Bison hold up after defeating North Carolina Central in Dayton.
-- NDSU shot 9-for-20 from 3-point range to rally against the MEAC champion Eagles, landing four starters in double-figures. Versatile wing Tyson Ward finished with team-highs of 23 points, six rebounds and three assists against NCCU, while point guard Vinnie Shahid added 14 points. They were the team's top scorers this season. .
-- The Bison lost to Gonzaga, Iowa State, East Tennessee State, New Mexico State by double-digits in November and December. The team's best victory this season came over Missouri State on Dec. 15. They had dropped both of their games against Omaha before pulling off an upset in the Summit League championship game.
-- Besides Williamson, freshmen starters R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones will all be playing their first NCAA Tournament game. Talent alone should help stabilize them -- particularly in this matchup -- which is helpful since there aren't many vets to lean on for advice. Junior Javin DeLaurier has the most experience, having participated in four games last season. He's averaged 5.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks over the past four games and should play a large role.
-- Junior center Marques Bolden has also played major minutes for Duke but comes into the NCAAs coming off a knee sprain that has kept him out the past few games. He's expected to play but probably won't be called on to play major minutes until next week since he'll be working his way back.
-- Duke has been favored more than 20 points on 10 occasions this season, winning every time but covering on just six occasions. In their last expected walk-over, Duke narrowly beat Wake Forest as a 24.5-point favorite in the home finale in Durham on March 5. It won 71-70
-- The Blue Devils have seen the 'under' prevail in 13 of their last 17 games and have only surpassed one of the last 13 total set at 150 or higher, which this number may approach by tip-off if public money expect to see a show in a blowout.
Midwest Region - Tulsa, OK - BOK Center
#14 Georgia State vs. #3 Houston - 7:20 PM EST - TBS
Opening Odds: Houston -12, 142
-- Kelvin Sampson continues to work wonders at Houston (31-3 SU, 20-11-2 ATS) and has delivered just the fourth 30-win season in school history. That benchmark hadn't been cleared by the Cougars since 1983-84, when Hakeem Olajuwon led the school to a National Championship game loss to Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown. Houston would set a new school record for single-season victories if it can get out of this weekend unscathed.
-- The Cougs lost in the American Athletic Conference final against Cincinnati, falling by double-digits for the first time. The 69-57 loss came as a result of 30 percent shooting, which included an 8-for-33 effort from 3-point range and an 11-for-18 showing from the free-throw line. The Cougs rebounded from their losses this season with a nine-point win over Wichita State and an 11-point victory over SMU, but both of those bounce-back games came at home. We'll see how they fare in Tulsa.
-- Houston won their first game in last year's NCAAs thanks to a Rob Gray last-second layup over San Diego State before getting denied a trip to the Sweet 16 on a Jordan Poole 3-pointer that game Michigan a 64-63 comeback win.
-- Georgia State (24-9 SU, 18-14 ATS) is a No. 14 seed after garnering a No. 15 seed last year. Cincinnati beat the Panthers 68-53 as a No. 2 in Nashville last season, but they hung around for a half before going cold. Star guard D'Marcus Simonds shot 10-for-20 from the field and scored 24 points, but the rest of his team shot 33 percent and produced just 29.
-- Simonds still struggles to shoot from beyond the arc and shot just 41.5 percent, a career-low, dealing with all the extra attention a reigning conference Player of the Year commands. Seniors Malik Benlevi, Devin Mitchell and Jeff Thomas are all back in addition to sophomore Kane Williams, who has really blossomed into a strong defender averaging two steals per game.
-- Corey Davis, Jr. leads Houston with 16.7 points per game but comes into the NCAAs nursing a hip injury. He's expected to play, but shot just 3-for-13 last time out against the Bearcats, making just two 3-pointers in 10 attempts in one of his worst outings of the season.
-- The Cougars rank among the nation's top 10 percent in 3-pointers made and attempted, while Georgia State was actually more prolific and ranks 15th in the country in 3-point percentage, shooting nearly 39 percent from beyond the arc. They shined in defending the 3-ball in Sun Belt play but will be tested here.
-- Houston has seen the under connect in its last three games, but the 'over' is 3-1 over Georgia State's last four.
East Region - San Jose, CA - SAP Center
#12 Liberty vs. #5 Mississippi State - 7:27 PM EST - truTV
Opening Odds: Mississippi State -7.5., 133.5
-- As of Friday morning, most books had adjusted their stance on Mississippi State (23-10 SU, 16-15-2 ATS) being such a heavy favorite over the A-Sun representative. Most have the number at 6.5 with it trending towards the 6-point range.
-- The Bulldogs had more wins than anyone else in the SEC outside of this year's big four of Tennessee, LSU, Kentucky and Auburn and were really strong in Starkville, but they limp into the NCAAs as losers of three of their last five.
-- Sophomore Nick Weatherspoon, younger brother of leading scorer Quinndary Weatherspoon, remains suspended and didn't even make the trip with the Bulldogs. He's missed nine games and Mississippi State has gone 6-3 without him. Older brother Quinndary is the Bulldogs' leader and top scorer (18.2 ppg) and was named First-Team All-SEC, while senior big man Aric Holman and excellent freshman Reggie Perry hold down the paint as 6-foot-10 towers inside. Guard Lamar Peters is streaky but capable of taking over games
-- The Bulldogs are in search of their first NCAA Tournament win since 2008, but must find a way to remain patient and avoid bad shots and turnovers against the Flames' pack-line defense, which has held opponents to 60.8 points per game, currently fifth-lowest in the country. Liberty (28-6 SU, 17-14 ATS) employs a deliberate pace but has held teams to 41.5 percent shooting, including 32 percent from 3-point range.
-- Scottie James leads Liberty's efforts up front and is consistently the biggest guy on the floor more often than not. He's barely 6-foot-8 and no shot blocker, which should illustrate how diligent the Flames are in utilizing position and technique to lock down opponents.
-- Head coach Ritchie McKay took New Mexico to the NCAA Tournament back in 2005 but lost to Villanova as a No. 12 seed despite the presence of future pro Danny Granger. He's leading the Flames to their first NCAA appearance since 2013. They're 0-3 in this event.
-- Counterpart Ben Howland has taken the Bulldogs to the NCAAs for the first time since 2009 and has plenty of experience, having reached two Final Fours with UCLA after also getting there with Pittsburgh and Northern Arizona. Mississippi State reached the NIT Final Four last year.
-- Rebounding will play a critical role in this game since Liberty is hasn't been too strong on the boards due to a lack of size and will be at a disadvantage in terms of athleticism. If they can't control the pace, they'll have issues slowing the game down like they failed to against Vanderbilt, Alabama, Georgetown and Austin Peay, surrendering an average of 80 points per game in the losses. Liberty beat UCLA 73-58 at Pauley Pavilion.
-- The 'under' is 8-3 in Mississippi State's last 11 games.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA