Texas-San Antonio (19-13) vs. Alabama State (17-17)
Wednesday, March 16th, 6:40 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Andy Schlight, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: University of Dayton Arena (13,266) -- Dayton, Ohio. Television: truTV. NCAAT Record: UT-San Antonio 0-2, Alabama State 0-3. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: Day two of the inaugural "Field of 68" play-in format for the 2011 NCAA Tournament has the champions of the Southland Conference, Texas-San Antonio, squaring off against the Southwestern Athletic Conference champs, Alabama State, from Dayton, Ohio.
Dubbed the "First Four", Wednesday's matchup is the third of four games over two days at UD Arena as part of the NCAA's re-formatted expansion of the traditional 64-team field. The winner of this matchup moves on to face the tournament's top overall seed, Ohio State, in the East Region Friday in Cleveland, Ohio at Quicken Loans Arena.
Texas-San Antonio triumphed as the Southland Conference champs as an improbable seventh seed, dispatching with second seed, Northwestern State (97-96), in the quarterfinals, third-seeded and defending Southland Tournament champs Sam Houston State (79-70) in the semis, and finally regular-season champion and top seed McNeese State (75-72) in the final. It was the Roadrunners' third conference tourney crown and first since 2004. This will be their fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament, having lost on all three previous occasions -- the last in 2004 to No. 1 seed Stanford. UTSA has won five in a row entering the tournament and seven of its last nine games overall.
Alabama State captured its second SWAC Tournament championship in the last three seasons by running the table as the No. 4 seed in 2011. It was the Hornets' fourth tourney title overall, defeating Alabama A&M (81-61), regular- season champs and top seed Texas Southern (73-66) in the semis, and finally Grambling State (65-48) in the final for their 11th win in the past 12 games and a fourth trip to the Big Dance. ASU stands at 0-3 in the tournament with its last loss coming in 2009 to Morehead State.
This game marks the first-ever meeting between these two programs in men's basketball.
The Roadrunners are led by standout senior Devin Gibson, who is the only player in the nation currently averaging at least 16 points (17.0), five rebounds (5.4), five assists (5.6) and 2.5 steals (2.7) per game. Gibson's effort in getting his teammates involved in the action had atop the conference. Sophomore Melvin Johnson III has provided a big boost since joining the starting lineup midway through the year, averaging 14.8 ppg, while Southland Conference Freshman of the Year, Jeromie Hill, contributes a solid 13.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per outing. In addition, his field goal percentage (.479) and three-point field goal percentage (.412) lead the team. Still, UTSA's offense is mediocre by Southland standards, ranking fifth in scoring (70.9 ppg), 11th in field goal percentage (.431) and fourth in free throw percentage (.706). The defense does well to limit opponents to 69.6 ppg, good for sixth in the league, and 41.7 percent shooting, the second-best mark in the conference.
The Hornets' top player is junior Tramaine Butler, who put up 10.9 points and 3.9 rebounds during the course of the season. He was the team's leading scorer during the SWAC tournament, averaging 14.7 points per game while shooting 48.0 percent from the field and 55.0 percent from three-point range -- a significant improvement upon his season totals of 36.5 percent shooting from the floor and 26.6 percent from long distance. Tramayne Moorer continued a late-season surge for Alabama State, capturing tournament MVP honors after averaging 13.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while shooting 45.0 percent from the field and 83.0 percent at the free throw line. Moorer, an eligible graduate student, appeared in just 15 games for the Hornets this season but posted team-highs of 12.5 points and 5.7 boards in that time. Kenderek Washington has also stepped up his play in the postseason, averaging 12.3 points and 7.7 rebounds after posting season averages of 8.7 ppg and 4.4 rpg. ASU has the SWAC's seventh-ranked scoring offense at 61.3 ppg and the team shoots just 39.7 percent from the field, though that percentage stands fourth- best in the league. The Hornets placed second in the conference in permitting 63.6 ppg, but eighth in free throw percentage (.601). During tourney play, the team collectively raised its game to shoot 44.0 percent from the field and 73.0 percent from the charity stripe.
Both of these teams overachieved to gain a spot in the NCAA Tournament and one will move on yet again before facing the unenviable task of matching up against top-ranked Ohio State. It seems Alabama State lifted its game well above the normal level, which unfortunately is usually a recipe for a letdown at some point. UTSA's offense is far superior and should be able to rack up enough points to put away the Hornets.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texas-San Antonio 73, Alabama State 65
03/16 10:32:58 ET