2013 NCAA tournament: Previewing Tuesday’s First Four matchups


March Madness kicks off Tuesday night with the first play-in appetizers at University of Dayton Arena, two games for the right to advance to the second round, or the round of 64, or whatever we’re calling it now. Here’s a quick preview for the action. Both games are broadcast on TruTV, following a three-hour marathon of something called “Hardcore Pawn.”

(By the way, hello. I’m Alex Prewitt, the Terps writer here at WaPo. I’ll be handling NCAA tournament live blog duties here on The Early Lead throughout the week. Drop me a line on Twitter, if the mood strikes.)

GAME ONE INFO

Who: North Carolina A&T (19-16, 8-8 MEAC, RPI 213) vs. Liberty (15-20, 6-10 Big South, RPI 287)
When: 6:40 p.m.
Where: University of Dayton Arena, Dayton, Ohio.
TV: TruTV.
Coaches: Aggies – Cy Alexander (first season, 19-16) Flames – Dale Layer (fourth season, 63-67)

GAME TWO INFO

Who: St. Mary’s (27-6, 14-2 WCC, RPI 29) vs. Middle Tennessee (28-5, 19-1 Sun Belt, RPI 28)
When: Approximately 9:10 p.m.
Where: University of Dayton Arena, Dayton, Ohio.
TV: TruTV.
Coaches: Gaels – Randy Bennett (12th season, 262-124). Blue Raiders – Kermit Davis (11th season, 208-138).

STORYLINES

Game One: Upstart Liberty, just the second team ever to reach the field with 20 losses, ran into some travel issues and arrived in Dayton later than expected. Given that the Flames lost eight straight to open the season before reeling off five straight to reach the tournament, such flight delays make perfect sense.

The Aggies enjoyed a similar rejuvenation, winning four straight in the MEAC tournament to climb above .500 and earn an automatic bid. The winner earns the right to face top-seeded Louisville on Thursday, so the winner earns the right to get drubbed by top-seeded Louisville on Thursday.

Game Two: Middle Tennessee’s fascinating profile (1-3 vs. the RPI top 50, zero 50-100 opponents, 27-2 versus teams ranked 101st or lower in the RPI), particularly its 11-3 road record, impressed the selection committee. With 13 upperclassmen, the Blue Raiders are the nation’s second-oldest team, according to Kenpom.com.

Saint Mary’s finished the season 19-3, with all three losses coming against No. 1 seed Gonzaga. The Gaels went 7-5 against the RPI top 100, with wins over Creighton, Harvard and Pacific, three NCAA tournament teams. The winner plays sixth-seed Memphis on Thursday.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Game One: Liberty Jr. G Davon Marshall — The Monroe College transfer has caught fire, coinciding with Liberty’s miraculous run. Over the Flames’s past five games, all wins, Marshall is averaging 18 points on 65.7 percent shooting…on three-pointers.

Game Two: Saint Mary’s Sr. G Matthew Dellavedova – The Gales have a history of producing Australian stars (see: Patty Mills), and Dellavedova is no exception. The aspiring school teacher drained a buzzer-beating heave against BYU on Jan. 16 and averages 15.8 points and 6.4 assists per game. His 58.9 assist rate ranks 33rd nationally.

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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