Midwest Region kicks off with lots of quality shooting
MILWAUKEE (AP) Naz Mitrou-Long and Iowa State love to shoot from deep. Same for Marcus Marshall and Nevada. Led by Dakota Mathias, Purdue set a school record for 3-pointers this season. Ernie Duncan and Vermont, they're game, too.
Welcome to the first day for the Midwest region of the NCAA Tournament, where some of college basketball's best shooters are ready to fire away at the home of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks.
Mathias and the fourth-seeded Boilermakers take on Duncan and the Catamounts in the first round Thursday night, followed by Mitrou-Long and the Cyclones facing off with Marshall and the 12th-seeded Wolf Pack.
Then the rest of the region plays on Friday, beginning with Michigan against Oklahoma State in Indianapolis and concluding with Miami versus Michigan State in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
But first things first. Pay close attention to the shooters at the Bradley Center.
''We understand that Iowa State can really, really shoot the basketball and they do a great job of sharing the ball and it's almost like the ball has eyes for them,'' Nevada coach Eric Musselman said.
''And so we're going to just do what we've always done all year, and we'll designate who we feel their top 3-point shooters are and try not to give up too much air space to those guys and contest the high hand.''
That's one difficult task, with five Cyclones making at least 40 3s this season. Iowa State (23-10) averages 10 made 3-pointers per game, tied with Princeton for second among NCAA Tournament teams behind only Marquette. It has connected for 329 3s this season on 40.2 percent shooting.
''The biggest thing with the way we play is, you know, we're fortunate we've got guys who can make shots,'' coach Steve Prohm said. ''We want to spread you out. Spread you out, make the extra pass. Not take quick bad shots. I think tomorrow's slot selection is going to be key.''
The Wolf Pack counter with Marshall, a transfer from Missouri State and one of the country's top shooters. The 6-foot-3 senior guard has made 113 3s on 39 percent shooting this season, becoming the first player from the Mountain West Conference to make at least 100 3s since Jimmer Fredette for BYU during the 2010-11 season.
Nevada (28-6) also excels at 3-point defense, holding its opponents to 30.7 percent shooting.
''They have a lot of lanky guys, very determined, jumping at 3-point threats that they've played throughout the year,'' said Mitrou-Long, who leads Iowa State with 94 3s. ''So we got to credit them to their urgency on running guys off the line.''
Purdue is known for its bruising frontline with Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan and 7-2 Isaac Hayes, but it is shooting 40.6 percent from deep. Five Boilermakers made at least 40 3s for the first time in school history.
''That's the way we play, inside out,'' said Mathias, a 46.5 percent shooter from beyond the arc. ''We're lucky they're, they can pass the ball and see out of double teams and move the ball.''
The Catamounts don't shoot the 3 as much as the other schools in Milwaukee. But they are successful 36.9 percent of the time, led by Duncan's 72 3-pointers. Vermont also has won 21 straight games heading into its matchup with the Boilermakers for the nation's longest active win streak.
''We've done a much better job of guarding the 3-point line this year,'' coach John Becker said. ''That will be a big deal again tomorrow night.''
Here are a few more things to watch on opening day for the Midwest region:
X-FACTOR: Nevada forward Cameron Oliver, a 6-foot-8 sophomore from Oakland, California, has the attention of Prohm. Oliver averages 15.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.
''The ball screen with Oliver is going to be a key to the game tomorrow and how to utilize him and him going inside out,'' Prohm said.
NO INTRODUCTIONS NEEDED: Purdue also played Vermont last season, with the Boilermakers making a school-record 18 3-pointers in a 107-79 win at home on Nov. 15, 2015. But no one seems to think that game means anything now.
''We're a much better defensive team,'' Becker said.
WORTH NOTING: Purdue forward Vincent Edwards needs seven assists to become the second player in school history with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 300 assists, joining E'Twaun Moore.
TOUGH TO STOP: Iowa State guard Monte Morris tops the school lists for career assists and steals. He is averaging 16.3 points this season and leads the country with a 5.71 assist-to-turnover ratio.
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Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap