Thursday, 10:30 am, Taco Bell Arena in Boise, televised on TNT
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA GREENSBORO SPARTANS
Conference/Record: Southern Conference regular season and tournament champs (27-7)
Head coach: Wes Miller
Scouting report: Scouring the season stats for the Spartans, nothing leaps out to make it look like UNC Greensboro can beat Gonzaga, save one line: the team's three-point shooting. Collectively, the Spartans make about 10 three-pointers per game and shoot 36 percent from long range as a team. Given Gonzaga's weakness defending the three-point line, Zags fans will have to hope the Spartans don't have an unusually hot night and hit, say, 15 three-pointers to make things interesting. With only two players averaging double digits in scoring, the team leans on Spanish junior guard Francis Alonso and senior forward Marvin Smith for its inside-out attack for a team that averages about 74 points a game while holding opponents to 62.
If they win, the Zags will play the winner between Ohio St. and South Dakota State on Saturday
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
Conference/Record: Big Ten Conference tied for second place (24-8)
Head coach: Chris Holtmann
Scouting report: Zags fans undoubtedly remember the 27-point dismantling Gonzaga put on Ohio State back at the Thanksgiving weekend tournament in Portland. The Buckeyes have grown up a lot since then under first-year head coach Chris Holtmann. They put up a 15-3 record in the competitive Big Ten, including wins over highly seeded squads Michigan State, Michigan and Purdue. The team boasts four double-digit scorers, and are led by leading scorer and rebounder Keita Bates-Diop, a junior forward who averages 19 points and nine rebounds per game. The Buckeyes lost early in the Big Ten tourney, and will be looking to rebound strong. If they can beat South Dakota State and get a rematch with the Zags, expect a closer game than their first matchup.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE JACKRABBITS
Conference/Record: Summit League regular season and tournament champs (28-6)
Head coach: T.J. Otzelberger
Scouting Report: The Jackrabbits enter March Madness having won 11-straight games and 19 of their last 20, and they'll be a popular pick to pull an upset in their matchup with Ohio State. This is South Dakota State's third-straight tournament appearance (they lost to Gonzaga by 20 in the first round last year), and they are a high-scoring squad, averaging 85 points per game. They're led by Mike Daum, the junior forward averaging 24 points per game, along with 10 rebounds. While Daum bangs inside, freshman guard David Jenkins Jr. gives them an outside threat, averaging 16 points. If the Jackrabbits get hot, they can make life interesting for both the Buckeyes and, potentially, the Zags on Saturday. ♦