No. 4 San Diego St. Aztecs (30-4, 16-2 MWC) vs. No. 12 North Dakota State Bison (26-6, 12-2 Summit)
When: Saturday, March 22, 2014, 6:10 p.m. ET, 3:10 p.m. PT
Where: Spokane Arena, Spokane, Wash.
Last meeting: These teams last met Dec. 15, 1971, when the Aztecs beat the Bison 86-69 at the San Diego Sports Arena. SDSU owns the all-time series advantage 3-0.
SDSU is fresh off its narrow 73-69 OT victory against New Mexico State. The Aztecs are favorites entering today's third-round matchup, but red-and-black fans know that's not always a good thing with their team.
If Mercer hadn't defeated Duke in the second round yesterday, NDSU would possibly have been the nation's sweetheart just like Florida Gulf Coast was last year against SDSU. But the Bison are still pretty dang happy with their first ever NCAA Tournament win after beating Oklahoma 80-75 in overtime.
SDSU's key to victory: Coach Fisher's stated key every single game: outrebound the opponent and shoot more free throws than they attempt. NDSU matches up very well against the Aztecs: Lawrence Alexander (6'3") and Kory Brown (6'4") are big, tall guards who can give Xavier Thames fits. Taylor Braun (6'7"), the Summit League Player of the Year, and TrayVonn Wright (6'7") matchup well in terms of size with Winston Shepard and Dwayne Polee II. And at 6'8", Marshall Bjorklund will battle with Josh Davis and Skylar Spencer in the paint. Despite the size similarities, SDSU simply possesses more talent than NDSU. If the Aztecs play solid, low-mistake basketball, they should avoid the upset against NDSU and advance to the Sweet 16 in Anaheim, Calif. What's a simple goal that would help SDSU play low-mistake basketball? Outrebound the Bison and get to the line frequently, just like Fisher constantly advocates. Ideally, SDSU would shoot higher than its 65.7% season average from the charity stripe.
NDSU's key to victory: Surprise March Madness teams don't advance deep into the tournament without big-time performances from big-time players on a nightly basis. Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayword--the list goes on and on. For NDSU to beat SDSU, Braun must be that type of player. And he's shown the ability to do so. This senior leads the Bison in average points (18.0), rebounds (5.5), assists (3.8), steals (1.6) and 3-point field goal percentage (42.7%). And if you're thinking, well Braun has never played a defense like SDSU's so he won't be prepared at all, you're wrong. The Bison lost 79-62 to Ohio State University earlier this year, and OSU is a great defensive team. Braun recorded 21 points, five rebounds and two assists in this loss, but those numbers clearly weren't enough. Braun will need double-double type numbers to beat SDSU. He's recorded two double-doubles so far this year. If he can record his third, the Bison have a real chance to win this game. It sure won't be easy for Braun: J.J. O'Brien, SDSU's best overall defender, will most likely guard him most of the game. But doesn't it just feel like NDSU has all the momentum right now?
Prediction: To the fans: you will be stressed the entire game, but Fisher's squad will beat the nation's best shooting team 69-66.