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March Madness Open Thread 3.26.10

After a fairly exciting day of Sweet 16 action yesterday, we're right back at it, sans Women's NIT game. Today we have the closest thing left to a Pac10 team, St. Mary's. GO GAELS! GO BEARS (Cal, not Baylor)! GO GAELBEARS! Here is today's schedule:

(6) Tennessee 27-8 (Road: 5-5) 7:07pm

(2) Ohio St. 29-7 (Home: 17-1) E

(10) St. Mary's 28-5 (Road: 9-2) 7:27pm

(3) Baylor 27-7 (Home: 15-1) ET

(9) Northern Iowa 30-4 (Road: 9-3) 9:37pm

(5) Michigan St. 26-8 (Home: 15-2) ET

The formatting is acting weird, but Purdue is taking on Duke at 9:57 PM ET. After the jump, learn more about each game.

Tennessee v. Ohio State:

The last time Tennessee faced Ohio State in the NCAA tournament, the Buckeyes had a roster that made NBA general managers drool, with monstrous Greg Oden dominating inside and Mike Conley Jr. making sure everything flowed smoothly.

Must be a relief to the Volunteers that they won’t have to see those guys again in Friday’s Midwest Regional semifinal, huh?

Yeah, right.

he second-seeded Buckeyes (29-7) might look a lot different than they did when they held off the Vols in the regional semifinals three years ago, but they’re no less formidable. In fact, Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said this Ohio State squad might be even more daunting.

"They’re a more difficult team to game plan for," Pearl said Thursday. "What they did (in 2007) is what they did. They weren’t as multiple."

There wasn’t much mystery to the Buckeyes when they made their run to the 2007 national title game, where they lost to Florida. Sure, they had Daequan Cook, Conley and sharpshooters Ron Lewis and Jamar Butler. But the 7-foot Oden was the one who set Ohio State apart, offensively and defensively, and everybody knew it.

Evan Turner is, without a doubt, the star of this year’s Ohio State squad, and a leading candidate to add national honors to his Big Ten player of the year award. With 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists a game, however, the slippery guard is more versatile than Oden.

Northern Iowa v. Michigan State:

Northern Iowa has an immovable anchor inside with a feathery touch from outside. Its point guard is a pull-on-the-leash pitbull, another guard an unflinching giant killer. The roster is filled with interchangeable parts, one seemingly a better 3-point shooter than the next.

The Panthers have been called underdogs, Cinderellas, a mid-major with all those smirky, negative connotations.

None fit anymore.

Northern Iowa (30-4) is just good. Not small-conference good. Not might-pull-off-an-upset good. Flat-out good, enough to stare down big programs, not bow to them.

So when the ninth-seeded Panthers take the floor against No. 5 Michigan State (26-8) on Friday, it won’t be as underdogs. Northern Iowa has earned the right to be called equals, maybe even favorites with all the injuries the Spartans have.

"We feel we can play with everybody," Northern Iowa senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh said Thursday.

Northern Iowa established its foundation in 2004, starting a run of three straight NCAA appearances. The Panthers got back to the NCAA tournament last season and topped it this year, winning their first Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title, another conference tournament crown and their highest NCAA seeding ever.


Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski cringes at the notion that his teams have failed to live up to the program’s high standards in recent years.

The Blue Devils (31-5), the top seed in the South Regional, will try to reach the round of eight for the first time since 2004 when they face No. 4 seed Purdue (29-5) on Friday night.

Duke leads all teams with a .750 winning percentage in the tournament (a 90-30 record), but the road has ended in the regional semifinals in three of the last five seasons, with losses to lower-seeded teams. The Blue Devils didn’t even survive the opening weekend in 2007 and ’08.

Krzyzewski counters critics by pointing to the 11 trips to the round of 16 in 13 seasons and the 111 victories over the past four seasons. Sure, Duke hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2004, but Krzyzewski would rather face the challenge of getting the program back than leading one to its first.

"Since and never," Krzyzewski said. "Try to look at those words and see which category you would rather be in. We like being in the ‘since’ category."

Purdue’s pedigree leans toward the ‘never,’ with no Final Four appearances since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The Boilermakers are back in the regional semifinals for the second straight year, but haven’t advanced to the round of eight since 2000.

St. Mary's v. Baylor:

With his dominating play and crackling one-liners when he talks or tweets, Omar Samhan is making sure that people take notice of surprising Saint Mary’s.

The 6-foot-11 center is certainly having fun during the Gaels’ NCAA tournament run into the round of 16, where they will play Baylor on Friday night in the Bears’ home state.

When Samhan stepped into the spotlight shining on the interview podium Thursday, he stopped before sitting and waved to everyone. He later made sure the television cameras were aimed at him before professing his love to singer Taylor Swift.

"He’s enjoying this, which he should be," Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. "He’ll be ready to compete. He knows this is the time to have some fun, enjoy the moment. … O’s smart. He knows the deal."

The 10th-seeded Gaels (28-5) had won only one NCAA tournament game, back in 1959, before beating higher seeds Richmond and Villanova last week. Samhan made 24 of 32 field goals for 61 points with 19 rebounds, playing as well on the court as he performs off of it.

"When it’s time to play, you better bring it," Samhan said. "Because if you don’t, they revert back to this: `He was having too much fun and he wasn’t focused."’

In contrast to Samhan’s often-comedic interaction on the podium with two of his teammates, the Baylor trio led by senior guard Tweety Carter already appeared to be in game mode. The three rarely smiled while answering questions directly.