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NCAA Tournament Storylines to Watch in Buffalo



As someone who doesn't have truly strong ties to any team within this year's 64-team field, I'm just hoping to see exciting basketball. Looking at the matchups taking place here in Buffalo today, that seems like a strong possibility. Every game seemingly has the potential to be a memorable one. Here are the some of the storylines to keep an eye whether you're attending the games or watching from home.

The Battle of Ohio
The first game on the schedule (12:15 PM) pits in-state foes against one another as the sixth-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes take on the 11th-seeded Dayton Flyers. Due to the distance between Ohio and Buffalo, both groups of fans will likely make the trip, which in turn will create a fantastic environment for the neutral fan. After watching the reaction of the Dayton team during the NCAA Tournament reveal show on CBS, this appears to be exactly the matchup they wanted. Although the teams have not played one another since an NIT game in 2008, Dayton coach Archie Miller believes there is very much a "big brother-little brother" relationship between the two programs. Ohio State coach Thad Matta was quick to discount any added meaning between the two schools. "I think people want to put tags on situations," Matta said. "But for us, and for Dayton, you win or you go home. There's not a whole lot more than that.'' Despite Matta's mentality, it's hard not to imagine a little extra adrenaline flowing through the veins of each player on both sides of the court.
 
As far as the on-court matchup, Ohio State prides itself on it's defense. America's love affair with Aaron Craft continues as he's lauded for his on-ball defense, experience, and leadership. Ohio State ranks in the top ten in the nation in 3-point defense, steals, and points allowed per game. Dayton meanwhile relies on their depth and balance. During the regular season, the Flyers had nine players that saw at least 12 minutes a game.
 
Syracuse Close to Home
The Orange certainly had an interesting regular season. After winning their first 25 games, Syracuse has lost five of their last seven games. Out of those five losses, two (Duke and Virginia) shouldn't present much of a concern. However, losses to Boston College, Georgia Tech, and play-in winner N.C. State are troubling. Syracuse's problems revolve entirely around their offense. Leading scorer C.J. Fair and three-point specialist Trevor Cooney struggled to consistently score down the stretch. If both players can rediscover their early to mid-season form, the third-seeded Orange have the opportunity to advance deep in this year's tournament.

Standing in their way in the second-round are the 14th-seeded MAC Champions, the Western Michigan Broncos.The Broncos are back in the tournament after a decade-long absence. If Western Michigan is able to pull off the upset, they will likely do so because of two fifth-year seniors. Guard Davin Brown led the MAC with 19.4 points per game and earned MVP of the conference tournament after scoring a career-high 32 points that included five 3-pointers in the final against Toledo. 6-foot-11 center Shayne Whittington provides the Broncos with an imposing presence inside.Whittington averaged 16.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game during the regular season for the Broncos.
 
UConn Returns to the Tournament
After a one-year absence from the tournament due to NCAA sanctions, the Connecticut Huskies return as a seventh seed in this year's tournament. For the first time since 1979, the Huskies will compete without legendary coach Jim Calhoun. Instead, UConn is led by Kevin Ollie, who was a star for the school in the early 1990's. Calhoun, who picked Ollie as his successor, is happy with the job that Ollie has done. ''He's taken it over. He's done a wonderful job,'' said Calhoun, who since his retirement assumed the role of special adviser to the athletic director. ''I'm really proud of him.'' Ollie coaches a group that is led by senior guard Shabazz Napier. Napier, who was named the AAC player of the year, leads the Huskies in scoring (17.4 points), assists (4.9) and steals (1.7).
 
On the other side, coach Phil Martelli leads a Saint Joe's team that has been on quite a run since early December. On December 7th, Saint Joe's lost to rival Villanova 96-68. Since that blowout loss, the 10th-seed Hawks have gone 20-5, which includes three straight victories over the weekend to win the A-10 tournament championship. The Hawks are led by forward Halil Kanacevic. Kanacevic averaged 15.3 points and 14.3 rebounds on his way to winning the MVP of the A-10 tournament.
 
Villanova Looks Poised to Advance
Despite a surprising loss to Seton Hall in the Big East quarterfinals last week, Villanova looks a likely candidate to move on to the third-round. The second-seeded Wildcats finished second in the Big East in scoring, averaging 78.5 points a game. Down the stretch, Villanova's defensive effort picked up as well. Over the last six games, the Wildcats held their opponents to 39 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Senior James Bell led Villanova in both points (14.5) and rebounds (6.1) per game during the regular season.
 
Villanova will take on the 15th-seeded Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers. The Panthers have had a season of highs and lows. On the school's "Senior Night," the Panthers stumbled their way to a loss against the last-place Illinois-Chicago Flames, who finished the year 6-25. However, after a win against Detroit in the regular season finale, Wisconsin-Milwaukee beat Valparaiso, Green Bay, and Wright State to win the Horizon League tournament championship. The Panthers are led by senior guard Jordan Aaron, who bounced back from an early-season four-game suspension to lead the team in scoring (15.0 per game).
 
Predictions
(11) Dayton defeats (6) Ohio State
Dayton comes in with a chip on its shoulder and upsets the Buckeyes.
 
(3) Syracuse defeats (14) Western Michigan
Although I'd like to pick Western Michigan, I think if I'd like to continue interning at WGR, I shouldn't pick against station-favorites Syracuse.
 
(7) Connecticut defeats (10) Saint Joseph's
Shabazz Napier leads the Huskies into the third round.
 
(2) Villanova defeats (15) Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Despite the feel-good story of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's turnaround, I think Villanova moves on comfortably.

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