Here's a look at the First Four in Dayton, Ohio
Mississippi Valley (21-12) vs. Western Kentucky (15-18): Western has struggled all season, but lucked out in the Sun Belt tournament when Middle Tennessee was upset in the quarterfinals. The rest of the field was as mediocre as the Hilltoppers. Valley, on the other hand, had one of the best years a SWAC team could have, overcoming a brutal early season schedule to dominate conference play. The Delta Devils need to capitalize on their inside game led by forward Paul Crosby (13.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg).BYU (25-8) vs. Iona (25-7): Up and down they’ll go. This could be the highest-scoring game in the tournament; Iona leads the nation at 83.3 points per game while BYU scores 78.3 points. Iona has lacked focus at times, but the Gaels have to be ready for this one and the backcourt of Scott Machado (13.6 ppg, a nation-leading 9.9 assists per game) and Mo Mo Jones (16.0 ppg) should have a big advantage. The Gaels’ undersized big man, Mike Glover (18.5, 9.0 rpg) will have to deal with an assorted bunch of tall BYU defenders, but he’ll be stronger than all of them. Iona could have a problem stopping BYU’s frontcourt, led by Brandon Davies (15.0 ppg., 7.3 rpg) and Noah Hartsock (16.7 ppg) and their face-up, jump-shooting game. BYU point guard Matt Carlino (12.7 ppg., 4.7 apg) can be spectacular at times offensively, but I’m not sure he can slow down Machado defensively.
Vermont (23-11) vs. Lamar (23-11)
The Catamounts came up big in the America East championship game, beating Stony Brook on its home court. They can win this one too, especially if freshman sharpshooter Four McGlynn (12.0 ppg) is on target. McGlynn’s given name is Patrick and he is the fourth person in his family with the name, thus his nickname. He also wears No. 4. The other top threat for Vermont is 6-8 forward Matt Glass (11.9), who transferred from UMass. Lamar is coached by Pat Knight, son of the legendary Bob Knight, and his postgame rant about his listless seniors sparked a six-game winning streak and the Southland Conference championship. Just like his father’s teams, the Cardinals are a good defensive unit, holding teams to 41 percent shooting.
California (24-9) vs. South Florida (20-13)
Cal was a good team in a bad conference; and the Bears failed to measure up in the big non-conference games (lopsided losses to Missouri and UNLV). However, they have two appealing players in guard Jorge Gutierrez (13.1 ppg, 4.0 apg plus a knack for creativity) and 6-6 Allen Crabbe (15.3 with some outstanding slashes to the basket). Overall, the Bears are an outstanding passing team. South Florida benefited from an easy schedule, but the Bulls and coach Stan Heath have a strategy and they stick to it. They are not a skilled offensive team, and they don’t have a double-figure scorer, so they will slow the tempo, pound it inside and try to make things difficult for Cal when the Bears are on offense. To win, Cal needs to speed things up.
- Michael Vega
- Mark Blaudschun
- Nancy Marrapese-Burrell