First Four round of NCAA Tournament begins on

The Sports Network
3/19/2013 11:54:23 AM
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March Madness is about to officially begin.

The First Four round starts with the Liberty Flames taking on the North Carolina A&T Aggies followed by the Saint Mary's Gaels facing the Tennessee Blue Raiders.

Both games can seen live on, with live streaming beginning at 6:30pm et/3:30pm pt.

Liberty Flames vs. North Carolina A&T

After an unlikely run into the field, the Liberty Flames will tip-off the 2013 NCAA Tournament with a first-round matchup against the North Carolina A&T Aggies at UD Arena on Tuesday.

Both of these squads were given 16 seeds by the NCAA Tournament selection committee. The victor of this matchup will be given a shot at the No. 1-seeded Louisville Cardinals in the second round of the Midwest Regional.

This is the first-ever meeting between these two teams. Neither has won an NCAA Tournament game, with NC A&T sporting an 0-9 tournament record, while Liberty is 0-2 in the event.

Liberty ran the table in the Big South Conference Tournament to punch its ticket despite finishing the regular season with 20 losses. The Flames held four straight opponents to 62 points or less before downing the top-seeded Charleston Southern Buccaneers, 87-76, in the championship game. Coach Dale Layer's squad received a huge boost from John Caleb Sanders, who tallied 27 points. Davon Marshall, who was named the tourney's MVP, provided 20 points with six 3-pointers off the bench.

The Flames don't have a ton of scoring depth from there as they net 69.1 points per game on 42.9 percent shooting. Each of those marks is among the bottom half of teams in the Big South. J.R. Coronado (4.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg) makes up for his lack of scoring by ranking third in the league in rebounding. Liberty is just the second school in history to reach the NCAA Tournament with 20 losses, joining the 2008 Coppin State squad. Liberty opened the season with eight straight losses and never won three games in a row until the final stretch of the season.

As for NC A&T, it also overcame the odds and won the MEAC Championship for the first time despite entering the postseason as the seventh-seed. Adrian Powell and Lamont Middleton scored 14 and 13 points, respectively, while Austin Witter registered 11 points and 10 rebounds in the 57-54 victory over Morgan State in the conference tourney title game. It marked the 16th MEAC Championship for the program. NC A&T is fortunate to have won as Morgan State went 8-of-21 at the charity stripe in the contest.

NC A&T is usually much more modest on the offensive end of the court, scoring just 62.4 ppg, but the team makes up for it with a strong defense (61.4 ppg allowed). The Aggies are a poor outside shooting squad with only 30 percent efficiency from beyond the arc, but they force their opposition into 18.3 turnovers per game to make up for it. Powell (12.5 ppg) and Middleton (12.4 ppg) have been neck-and-neck for the scoring lead all year long. Austin Witter is the Aggies' best rebounder with 7.1 per contest which he accompanies with 3.0 rejections per tilt.

Saint Marys vs. Middle Tennessee

The Saint Mary's Gaels and Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders are set to duke it out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at UD Arena with a second-round date with the Memphis Tigers on the line in Midwest Regional action.

Saint Mary's is the only other West Coast Conference school other than Gonzaga in this year's field. The Gaels lost in the conference tournament championship game to the Zags to mark their third loss to the Bulldogs on the season, but they did manage to win all 15 of their other WCC games. Coach Randy Bennett's squad managed to take down NCAA Tournament qualifying programs Creighton, Harvard and Pacific during the regular season. The Gaels are led by senior point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who was the WCC Player of the Year a season ago.

SMC may be a man down after junior guard Jorden Page left the WCC title game with a knee injury. Dellavedova, who is the school's all-time leader in scoring, assists, 3-pointers and games played, still has plenty of help. Gathering in their share of dishes from Dellavedova are Stephen Holt (11.8 ppg) and Beau Levesque (10.7 ppg), the latter being a huge spark off the bench who has knocked down 47.6 percent of his 3-point tries. In the paint, the Gaels lean heavily on Brad Waldow (10.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Mitchell Young (7.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg), who are very good at demanding attention to free up the lane for the team's star point guard.

This will be the first meeting in history between these schools on the hardwood.

Middle Tennessee is not going to be an easy matchup for SMC. The Blue Raiders didn't lose two games in a row all season, a mark of consistency. They won 21 out of 22 games during one stretch, the only defeat coming in overtime at Arkansas State. Their tally of 11 road wins was the second most in the country.

Middle Tennessee was the Sun Belt Conference's best team in the standings this season but in the statistical battle as well, as the squad ranks first in the league in countless categories, including scoring offense (71.2 ppg), field goal percentage (.463), scoring defense (57.8 ppg), field goal percentage defense (.394) and rebounding margin (+6.0). Although the Blue Raiders have just one player who averages in double figures (Marcos Knight, 12.5 ppg), they rely on a true team effort game in and game out, as seven players net at least 6.3 ppg, and 11 pour in 2.5 ppg or more.

Kentucky Wildcats celebrate (Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)


(Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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