Big East storylines
1. For Villanova, it's about erasing the doubt
It's not as if the Wildcats haven't been successful in the first round. But, to make the impact they need to this March, a good start against UNC Asheville is needed. A solid shooting performance and good defense against UNC Asheville in Brooklyn could be exactly what Jay Wright and his 'Cats need to give them enough confidence going forward towards the Round of 32, assuming nothing wacky happens here. Given that Iowa has been fledgling, and 'Nova has already taken care of Temple this season, a good matchup is ripe for the taking. If Villanova wants it, of course.
2. For Xavier, a trip to the Final Four is in sight
The Musketeers have never been to the Final Four, just in case you haven't heard. They've done just about everything else, and their road to Houston starts in St. Louis when they meet the 15 seeded Weber State Wildcats. Like 'Nova, Xavier is heavily favored and a win can only boost the confidence of the team, which is perhaps one of the best if not THE best in program history heading into this year's tournament. What happens next? Time will tell.
3. How will Xavier's defense fare?
X's defense has been a little bit leaky towards the end of the season, and it's no doubt cost them down the stretch, especially so against Seton Hall in both encounters where the Pirates shot over 50 percent on 2-point field goal opportunities. Weber State has an assortment of bigs, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award candidate Joel Bolomboy who could present problems for the Muskies' defense Friday night. They'll have to look to shore that up because going forward, suffice it to say, that could be very problematic for this team's chances.
4. Villanova's 3-point shooting
Villanova's 3-point shooting has certainly gotten much better as the season has progressed as they now check in with a mark of 34.4 percent. That hovers around the Division 1 average, so the Wildcats should feel awfully good about that, especially considering where they were to start the season. UNC Asheville's 3-point defense isn't stellar by any means but it's still pretty good, but 3-point field goal rate wise, it doesn't leave much to be desired. We'll see how 'Nova does, but if the last few weeks are any indication they could be in for a good performance at the Barclays Center.
5. Continuing to push ahead
The Big East had a solid showing on Thursday, going 2-1 in games vs. Texas Tech, USC and Gonzaga with the Seton Hall Pirates being the lone team to lose. While it should be expected that Villanova and Xavier win Friday, nothing, as we have learned over the years, is for certain. It's ratheSouth Dakota State r imperative that the 'Cats and Musketeers pick up wins and, perhaps, in big time fashion as well to send a message that they aren't to be messed with this time of year.
1. Another 5-12 upset?
Two 5-seeds went down on Thursday as Baylor and Purdue fell victim to 12-seeded Yale and UALR. The Maryland Terrapins are the lone 5 seed playing on Friday, as they'll be taking on South Dakota State all the way in Spokane, Washington. The Terps have had trouble living up to their preseason expectations this season and the long trip across the country could be the recipe for disaster if they aren't careful.
2. A possibly Wallace-less Cal faces a threat
Cal looked to be a sleeper team to make the Final Four, and make no mistake they still might be. Jaylen Brown is a beast, and the Bears have been superb in the latter portion of the season. They received bad news though on Wednesday night, as Tyrone Wallace broke his non-shooting hand and his status is severely in question. Wallace has been a huge reason why the Bears have been so good this season, so without him, their hopes of making a deep run could be in trouble. Especially considering they'll face a pretty dangerous Hawaii team from the WAC.
3. Dangerous Michigan faces Notre Dame
Like offense? You might like Michigan-Notre Dame in Brooklyn on Friday night. The Wolverines and Fighting Irish possess two of the top offenses in the country and the most efficient as well. Both squads are successful from the 3-point line, both have eFG%'s of at or over 53.5 percent, and both have great scoring options all over the place. You won't see this on the gridiron for a while, so why not take it in on the hardwood?
4. What's Northern Iowa got for an encore?
Last time we saw the Panthers, Wes Washpun got one of the friendliest bounces in recent memory en route to Northern Iowa winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. UNI now faces a tough Texas team coached by the great Shaka Smart, whose NCAA Tournament success is certainly no secret. Do Washpun and the Panthers have any magic left in them against this vaunted Big 12 team? Let's find out, shall we?
5. Holy Cross' crusade continues
See what I did there?
Anyways, this probably won't happen. Bill Carmody and Holy Cross have been on an absurd run, winning their last five games just to be able to say they can go dancing. They'll face a very tough and No. 1 seeded Oregon Ducks team who will likely have a large contingency joining them in Spokane on Friday evening. The Ducks are loaded and should likely trounce Holy Cross, ending their ridiculous run but...