New Mexico State vs. Clemson
WHY IT WILL HAPPEN: Clemson is great at football, so we will put this in terms a football fan would understand: Clemson ain’t played nobody! (Or, more precisely, it hasn’t beaten any of the best teams.) The Tigers played an extremely difficult Atlantic Coast Conference schedule. The problem is, they went 4-8 against ACC teams that made the NCAA Tournament. New Mexico State, meanwhile, is a solid mid-major that beat New Mexico twice as well as Miami and Davidson before winning the Western Athletic Conference championship. And the San Diego location makes this a far easier trip for the Aggies.
WHY IT MIGHT NOT: The advanced stats at KenPom.com say Clemson had the eighth-best defense, period, in Division I.
X FACTOR: New Mexico State is one of the country’s best offensive rebounding teams. It will need to outmuscle the taller Tigers to steal all the extra chances it can.
WHY IT WILL HAPPEN: After a 31year NCAA Tournament drought, Marshall beat former Cinderella Middle Tennessee State to close the regular season, then held off a late comeback by Western Kentucky in the Conference USA title game. The Herd say they play “Hillbilly ball,” which means they spread the floor, run and take as many 3-pointers as possible. Sound familiar, NBA fans? Did we mention that the coach, Dan D’Antoni, is the brother of the Houston Rockets’ coach, Mike? Also, Wichita State’s defense is not what it used to be.
WHY IT MIGHT NOT: If there is any team familiar with lower seeds playing spoiler in the NCAA Tournament, it’s the Shockers. They won’t be overlooking anybody.
X FACTOR: Junior guard Jon Elmore does it all for Marshall and was the only player in the nation averaging more than 22 points, six rebounds and six assists per game. >> Storied UCLA program experiences its first “First Four” appearance.