First Four preview: Cal Poly vs. Texas Southern; Iowa vs. Tennessee
We know two of the four teams making their way into the round of 64, but we're not done yet. There are still two more games to be played as a first course on Wednesday night before the rapid fire non-stop barrage of games hits us on Thursday.
Make sure and enjoy the rest of the Final Four: It's simple and clean like a good French meal. (Yes it's flawed and there are ways it could -- and should -- be tweaked.) The flavors are there, the plating isn't anything crazy, and we're not overwhelmed by choice. You want a roast chicken, you're getting a roast chicken.
With Cal Poly vs. Texas Southern and Iowa vs. Tennessee coming up, soon we'll be able to close the book on another First Four in Dayton. Then it's time to turn our attention fully into the French Toast Jalapeño Bacon Cheddar Stuffed Burger with Sweet Potato Fries and Garlic Aioli that is waiting in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
No. 16 Cal Poly Mustangs (13-19, 6-10 in Big West Conference) vs. No. 16 Texas Southern Tigers (19-14, 12-6 in Southwestern Athletic Conference)
How to watch: 6:40 p.m. ET, truTV
Why you should watch: First and foremost, you have to see if the run for the Mustangs is going to continue. Cal Poly had only won three games in a row once during the regular season, but it hit stride in the Big West tournament, beating UC Santa Barbara, top-seeded UC Irvine and Cal State Northridge to earn the league's autobid.
The team was so far off the rest of the NCAA basketball radar that the channel guide for the Big West title game on DirecTV advertised the wrong team playing.
"Said Cal Poly Pomona versus Cal Poly Northridge," Odister said. "We're like 'oh.' I mean, it was Northridge, we were like 'wow.' So we just want to make a statement so everybody knows now we're Cal Poly San Luis Obispo."
Odister's teammate, Chris Eversley, chimed in: "DirecTV is right there with you."
For the record, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo defeated Cal State Northridge last Saturday to win the Big West title at the Honda Center.
Cal Poly Pomona also plays basketball, just not on the same level. In fact, the Broncos won the men's NCAA Division II championship in 2010.
If there's anything Cal Poly does well, it's taking care of the basketball. The team is top 20 in turnover percentage, at just 14.8, and the Mustangs don't get the ball stolen from them often. That could be good news against a Texas Southern team that has one of the worst defenses in the nation.
The Tigers don't offer much resistance, but they do have a veteran ball club under former Indiana and UAB coach Mike Davis. And that includes former West Virginia player Aaric Murray, who was dismissed from the program. He left LaSalle for WVU and had a possession of marijuana charge during the year he had to sit out after transferring to the Mountaineers. He was eligible to play right away at Texas Southern, and he's tried to make the most of his opportunity.
"A year ago I was facing a lot of bad stuff," Murray said during the team's press conference Tuesday, "difficult times, getting dismissed from West Virginia, not knowing where I was going to end up. But then I got to Texas Southern and coach told me about ‑‑ I listened to him and let him guide me that the future is promising. And I have just been listening and doing what he says to do, and now we're here at the NCAA tournament."
No. 11 Iowa Hawkeyes (20-12, 9-9 in Big Ten Conference) vs. No. 11 Tennessee Volunteers (21-12, 11-7 in Southeastern Conference)
How to watch: 9:10 p.m. ET, truTV
Why you should watch: The KenPom numbers love both Tennessee (11) and Iowa (28), way more than the RPI or the selection committee did. That's understandable. There was a stretch for both teams -- the Vols' came in the middle of February as they dropped four of six, Iowa ended the season losers of six of its last seven -- where they definitely didn't look like they belonged in the tournament. And that's partly why they're relegated to the First Four, destined to earn an opportunity to play their way into the round of 64.
Tennessee can score efficiently, which bodes well for the watchability of this one. The Vols get after it on the offensive boards, and that leads to a bunch of second-chance opportunities. This could be a problem for Iowa, who has looked downtrodden defensively recently, allowing an average of 77.4 points per game in the last seven.
The Hawkeyes played a paltry non-conference slate, ranked 315th in the country via KenPom, but Iowa did some damage in the Big Ten -- grabbing wins over Nebraska, Ohio State, and Michigan. The Hawkeyes have a terrific offense, and behind Roy Devyn Marble (17.3 ppg, 3.3 reb, 3.5 ast) and Aaron White (13 ppg, 6.7 reb), there are seven other players who average at least five points per game.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery's son Patrick had surgery Wednesday to remove a tumor on his thyroid, and McCaffery was in Iowa City. The surgery went "as planned," and McCaffery should return in time for the game. “Coach McCaffery is our guy,” Marble said on Wednesday. “We love him. We’re all like family. Pat is a guy that’s basically at practice with us every day. He’s like our little brother. So I think as a unit we will rally behind it, and hopefully everything goes well for them. […] We’re just trying to make this as simple and easy for him as possible.”