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2019 NCAA Tournament: Hartford Sub-Regional

Rob Joyce
March 20, 2019 - 3:09 pm
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The 2019 NCAA Tournament is coming to Connecticut. Sure, UConn isn’t in the field – though Yale is for the second time in four seasons – but eight teams will open up the first weekend of the tournament at the XL Center. Beginning on Thursday eight teams – four from the West Region, four from the South – will head to Hartford for the first two games.

From a few familiar names to a New England underdog to two of the most exciting players in all of college basketball, here’s your primer for Thursday and Saturday’s games downtown:

WEST REGION:

#4 Florida State:

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The Seminoles play in the first game on Thursday at 2 o’clock, facing Vermont. In a season where the ACC had three dominant teams – Duke, Virginia and North Carolina – FSU flew under the radar. At 27-7 overall, the Seminoles fell off everyone’s map when they dropped three straight games in mid-January. Since that point, Leonard Hamilton’s bunch is 14-2, with the only losses coming at UNC and in the ACC championship game to Duke. They don’t have a superstar, but Mfiondu Kabengele, Terance Mann or Trend Forrest can beat you on a given night.

#13 Vermont:

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After being upset in the final seconds on its home floor last year, the Catamounts exacted revenge on UMBC in the America East final to return to the Big Dance. Learn the name Anthony Lamb – the junior won America East Player of the Year honors after averaging 21.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. UVM is most famous for its 2005 upset of Syracuse (paging Taylor Coppenrath!)… this team is as talented and could do the same to the ‘Noles.

#5 Marquette:

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The Golden Eagles were ranked inside the top-15 for most of the season, reaching the top-10 at points, before a late-season stumble dropped them to a five-seed. At 24-9 overall, Marquette ended the regular season on a four-game losing streak before being bounced in the Big East Tournament semis. They do, however, have the nation’s sixth-leading scorer in Markus Howard, who can single-handedly take over a game. The junior has topped 30 points ten times, 40 points three times and poured in 53 in an overtime win against Creighton.

#12 Murray State:

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There might not be a first-round matchup with more star-power than the Golden Eagles and Racers. Marquette has Howard, while Murray State has Ja Morant, a high-flying sophomore guard who’s projected to be a top-five NBA Draft pick in the summer. Morant is eighth in the country in scoring (24.6 PPG) and first in assists (10.0) as he led the Racers to a second straight Ohio Valley Conference title. This will be a trendy pick to reach the second weekend.

 

SOUTH REGION:

#6 Villanova:

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The Wildcats have been to Hartford once or twice before, and Jay Wright has his team peaking at the right time. The defending champs aren’t nearly the juggernaut they were last year, when they steamrolled their way to a second title in three years. But after losing four of six to wrap up the regular season, Nova bounced back to win its third straight Big East Tournament title. Seniors Phil Booth (18.6 PPG) and Eric Paschall (16.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG) lead the way, but Villanova will need help from elsewhere in order to make a charge at a repeat.

#11 Saint Mary’s:

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One of the bid stealers in the tournament, the Gaels were likely on the wrong side of the bubble before they went out and stunned Gonzaga in the WCC final. This is the same Zags team that was riding a 21-game win streak, which included two wins over SMC – one of which came by 48 points! Alas, the Gaels are back in the dance for the second time in three years and travel the 2,994 miles from campus to the XL Center. Led by junior Jordan Ford, a 6-1 junior who pours in 21.2 points per game, SMC will try to upset Villanova in the first game of the night session on Thursday (7:20 pm).

#3 Purdue:

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Kind of like Florida State, the Boilermakers quietly had a good season, while Michigan and Michigan State took most of the Big Ten headlines. A 6-5 start made Purdue an afterthought by Christmas, before it won 14 of its final 16 regular season games. A quarterfinal upset loss to Minnesota ended any hope of a two-seed, but Purdue can still make a run with junior guard Carsen Edwards, who averages 23.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.

#14 Old Dominion:

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One of the feel-good stories of the Tournament, the Monarchs won Conference-USA and are dancing for the first time since 2011. ODU is coached by Jeff Jones, who announced in the fall he is battling prostate cancer. His reaction to the Monarchs winning the C-USA championship will be one of the defining images of March, regardless of whether his group wins a game or not. On the court, watch out for the combo of BJ Stith (16.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG) and Ahmad Caver (16.5 PPG, 5.6 APG, 4.3 RPG), who lead the small-ball attack for the Monarchs.