March Madness: Play In Round … N.C. State

Let the Tournament begin... NC State up first

Let the Tournament begin… NC State up first

NCST XavLet the fun begin! Yes, starting tonight March Madness, which some say is the best three weeks in sports, begins with two of the four play-in games. In the late game, with tip off time being at about 9:10 p.m. EST (televised on TruTV), will feature North Carolina State (21~13) versus Xavier (21~12). Before I go on with my view on this game I have to say this is a “eat the crow” game for me, as I thought that the Wolfpack,one of six ACC programs in the tournament, would not be going to the Big Dance this season.

Now, on to the game. Without a doubt this is much more of a home game for Xavier, as they will be playing about an hour from their campus. On the other hand, they will be playing at an arena, the University of Dayton Arena, where a rival since 1919 resides. Meaning that N.C. State fans might have some extra help in the stands from the Flyers fan base in this one.

“I’m sure it will be a bit of oil-and-vinegar tomorrow night,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said.

For N.C. State it’s going to be sophomore forward T.J. Warren, this year’s ACC Player of the Year, leading the way. The Wolfpack will go as far as the young man can take them. Unfortunately, a year ago Warren did not have a great game on this same court, and for him and his team mates this can not happen again if they wish to advance to play on Thursday.

On the other side of the ball, Xavier will be leaning a lot on sophomore guard Semaj Christon, who is the team’s leading scorer. But the Musketeers will also be waiting to see how junior center Matt Stainbrook, a top rebounder in the Big East, fares in this game. If he is back to the same as he was before getting injured it’s going to be tough to stop him. On the other hand, if he is not Xavier will not be as strong in the paint.

“I feel a ton better,” Stainbrook said before practice Tuesday. “I’ve had a little more time to get my legs back.”

N.C. State ranks 128th in team scoring, with 76.3 ppg, with almost a third of those points coming from Warren at 23.1 ppg (9th in the country). On the other side Xavier scores 75.0 ppg, putting them 148th in the nation. Xavier has the advantage on rebounding, 39.9 to 37.3, but that will depend a lot on whether of not Stainbrook. N.C. State has almost five less turnovers per game, 9.4. to 14.1, while Xavier is a lot better from beyond the arc, 35.3% to 26.7%. And both teams are less than good from the charity stripe, with the Wolfpack shooting 63.2% and the Muskeeters 58.5%.

The Vegas insiders have Xavier a 2.5 points favorite. Many have N.C. State not only winning this game, but also making noise for another round or so. While I am torn, due to whether the Xavier’s big man plays or not, I will go with my gut feeling and take the Muskeeters, as I feel the Wolfpack might just have a let down as they got into a tournament most thought they would not.

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