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Columbus, Nationwide Arena set for NCAA Tournament play

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Starting Friday, Columbus will play host to one of collegiate athletics most storied events, the NCAA Tournament.

At Nationwide Arena, four second-round games and two third-round games will be played on Friday and Sunday, respectively.

Big Ten Tournament champion and West Region No. 1 seed Michigan State, and Midwest Region No. 3 seed Georgetown, highlight an eight-team pod with four schools each from the West and Midwest regions.

Midwest Region’s No. 6 seed San Diego State and No. 11 seed North Carolina State will kick the day session off at 12:40 p.m., with Georgetown and Midwest Region No. 14 seed Belmont playing 30 minutes following the conclusion of the game between the Aztecs and Wolfpack.

The winners of the SDSU-NCST game, and Georgetown-Belmont bout, will meet in the third round on Sunday.

Midwest Region: No. 6 seed SDSU vs. No. 11 seed NCST, 12:05 p.m., truTV

The Aztecs (26-7, 10-4 Mountain West), are led by sophomore guard Jamaal Franklin (17 ppg), and junior guard Chase Tapley (15.2 ppg).

Sophomore forward C.J Leslie, junior forward Scott Wood and sophomore guard Lorenzo Brown head the Wolfpack’s attack, combing for 39.4 points per game.

SDSU coach Steve Fisher said the length and athleticism of Leslie and NCST (22-12, 9-7 Atlantic Coast), could pose problems for his smaller team.

“We have to do a good job of not letting (NCST) throw it inside and get angles to go on us,” Fisher said.

While the Aztecs don’t possess similar size to that of the Wolfpack, they do have something that NCST does not: NCAA Tournament experience.

SDSU advanced to the Sweet 16 last season, before falling to eventual national champion Connecticut, while none of NCST’s players have ever been to the tournament.

“The experience of having to do this and having to do this and having an open 40-minute shootaround and having to change the way you prepare the day before a game, they’ve done it before. I think it’s a factor,” Fisher said.

Midwest Region: No. 3 seed Georgetown vs. No. 14 seed Belmont, 30 minutes following SDSU vs. NCST, truTV

Georgetown started the year unranked, and picked to finish tenth in the preseason Big East media poll.

The strong play and leadership of senior guard Jason Clark (14.3 ppg) and senior forward Henry Sims (11.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg) propelled the Hoyas (23-6, 12-6 Big East) to a fourth place finish in the Big East.

“As the year progressed, right from the beginning, I felt-we felt that if the stars line themselves properly, that this group could have some success, a lot more success than was anticipated,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said.

Belmont (27-7, 16-2 Atlantic Sun) has relied on its outside shooting, attempting 23 3-pointers a game, and Bruins coach Rick Byrd said the game against the Hoyas could come down to how well his team shoots from deep.

“We do rely on it and there’s a big difference in making 11 out of 25 (3-point shots) and 5 out of 25 (3-point shots). It’s like 18 points. And that could be the difference,” Byrd said.

The night period begins at 6:50 p.m., as West Region’s No. 8 and No. 9 seeds, Memphis and Saint Louis, face off, and 30 minutes after that game, MSU and West Region No. 16 seed, Liu Brooklyn, will cap Friday’s session.

The winners of Memphis-SLU and MSU-LIU will battle in the third round on Sunday.

West Region No. 8 seed Memphis vs. West Region No. 9 seed Saint Louis, 6:50 p.m., TBS

Conference USA Player of the Year, sophomore guard Will Barton (18.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg), drove Memphis (26-8, 13-3 C-USA), to a conference title this season.

St. Louis (25-7, 12-4 Atlantic 10), had a three-pronged attack, with senior forward Brian Conklin (13.9 ppg), junior guard Kwamain Mitchell (12.1 ppg), and junior forward Cody Ellis (10.5 ppg), all averaging double figures in points.

Barton said the key matchup between the Tigers and Billikens will be down low, between Memphis sophomore forward Tarik Black and Saint Louis senior forward Brian Conklin.

“I think Tarik is our biggest advantage. They’re not the biggest team as far as height in the paint,” he said. “So I feel like we have a real big advantage down low with (Black).”

The Tigers front line of Barton, Black and junior forward Ferrakohn Hall, stands at 6-foot-6, 6-foot-8, and 6-foot-8, and the wingspan of each player allows them to play even taller.

West Region: No. 1 Seed Michigan State vs. No. 16 seed LIU Brooklyn, 30 minutes following Memphis vs. Saint Louis, TBS

Co-regular season Big Ten champion, and Big Ten Tournament winner Michigan State (27-7, 13-5 Big Ten), enters its matchup against Liu Brooklyn (25-8, 16-2 Northeast) as a heavy favorite.

A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No.1 seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament.

Spartan coach Tom Izzo said his team’s vault into one of the country’s premier teams this season surprised him.

“If I was being honest, did I think it would get to this point? Not really. I didn’t think. I didn’t think we’d get all those parts together,” he said.

One of the main reason’s why MSU has been successful has been the play of first-team all-Big Ten senior forward Draymond Green (16.2 ppg, 10.3 rpg).

This weekend, the Spa
rtans will try to win games in a city home to one of its rivals, Ohio State.

Izzo said he hopes the fans in Columbus will be rooting for one of OSU’s conference foes.

“I’m pulling for Ohio State in Pittsburgh, and so if the Buckeye fans want to wear their red and pull for Michigan State, I’d be happy as hell,” he said. 

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