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First Four Preview: Last at-large teams in the field aim to prove they belong

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger
NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-North Carolina State Practice
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NC State's T.J. Warren (USATSI)

The First Four tips off Tuesday night in Dayton. To help you decide whether any of the four games is worth scouring all 1,400 cable to hunt down TruTV, here's a closer look at each of the matchups:

No. 16 Albany (18-14) vs. No. 16 Mount St. Mary's (16-16)
Tipoff time: Tuesday, 6:40 p.m. ET (TruTV)
Players to watch: Peter Hooley, G, Albany; Rashad Whack, G, Mount St. Mary's
Why it's worth watching: The contrast of styles has the potential to be entertaining. Albany is one of the slowest-paced teams in the nation and seeks to get Hooley and forward Sam Rowley clean looks via patient offense. Mount St. Mary's is a run-and-gun team that thrives at a fast tempo and has attempted 797 threes in 32 games, nearly twice as many as the Great Danes.
Why you should skip it: The best team Albany beat all season is Vermont. The best team Mount St. Mary's beat all season is American. Your rec league team stands about as good a chance of beating Florida on Thursday as the winner of this game does.
Key to the game: Which team will be able to get the tempo in its favor? Unless Mount Saint Mary's is able to knock down threes, get out in transition and force Albany to play at a higher tempo than it is normally accustomed to, the Mountaineers could have a difficult time.
Projected winner: Albany

No. 12 NC State (21-13) vs. No. 12 Xavier (21-12)
Tipoff time: Tuesday, 9:10 p.m. ET (TruTV)
Players to watch: T.J. Warren, F, NC State vs. Semaj Christon, G, Xavier
Why it's worth watching: With Xavier playing less than an hour from its campus but also in the venue of its most hated rival, the atmosphere should be charged. Dayton fans already had no love for the Musketeers but they're especially angry that Xavier got the invite to the Big East over the Flyers and hasn't agreed to an annual non-conference game between the two longtime A-10 rivals yet. Expect there to be a lot of Flyers fans in the crowd pulling for NC State. 
Why you should skip it: Xavier limped into the tournament losing three of four and its top big man is ailing from a knee injury. NC State went 3-9 against the RPI top 50 and was lucky to be selected at all. Both these teams have a chance to upset Saint Louis in the Round of 64 but neither is making a VCU-esque run.
Key to the game: This might come down to the health of Matt Stainbrook and a scoring battle between ex-roommates. The 6-foot-10 Stainbrook injured his knee late in the regular season and played limited minutes in both of Xavier's conference tournament games, but he says he's feeling healthy enough to play more Tuesday night. And ACC player of the year T.J. Warren and all-Big East guard Semaj Christon were both teammates and roommates at Brewster Academy. Both teams rely heavily on their stars, so whichever one has a better game will have a great chance to win.
Projected winner: NC State

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No. 16 Cal Poly (13-19) vs. No. 16 Texas Southern (19-14)
Tipoff time: Wednesday, 6:40 p.m. ET (TruTV)
Players to watch: Chris Eversley, F, Cal Poly; Aaric Murray, F, Texas Southern
Why it's worth watching: There will be some familiar faces. Mike Davis, the former Indiana and UAB coach, will be leading his third team to the NCAA tournament after accepting a fresh start at the SWAC school almost two year ago. And Murray, the reigning SWAC player of the year and defensive player of the year, is a pro prospect who began his career at La Salle and played last season for West Virginia before Bob Huggins cut him loose after repeated disciplinary issues. 
Why you should skip it: Cal Poly finished seventh in the Big West this season, lost twice to last place UC Davis and dropped games to UC Riverside, Cal State Fullerton and Loyola Marymount. Texas Southern plays in the nation's worst Division I conference and still lost six league games. 1976 Indiana, these teams are not.
Key to the game: What can Cal Poly do to slow down Murray? And can the Mustangs match Texas Southern bucket for bucket at the other end? Texas Southern has been very efficient and effective against mid-major competition playing through Murray because few teams have a big man with anywhere close to his size or talent. At the same time, the Tigers are a mess defensively despite Murray's shot blocking and often allow less talented teams to stay in the game as a result. 
Projected winner: Texas Southern

No. 11 Iowa (20-12) vs. No. 11 Tennessee (21-12)
Tipoff time: Wednesday, 9:10 p.m. ET (TruTV)
Players to watch: Roy Devyn Marble, G, Iowa vs. Jordan McRae, G, Tennessee
Why it's worth watching: The winner of this game has a real chance to win at least one more game with criminally overseeded UMass up next in the Round of 64. The Minutemen earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament despite finishing sixth in their own conference. And if that's not enough, there's the chance to rubberneck at unraveling Iowa. The Hawkeyes have lost six of seven including a stunner against Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament. An early deficit could pave the way for a Fran McCaffery meltdown. 
Why you should skip it: Iowa has crashed and burned in late February and March. Tennessee beat two NCAA tournament teams all season and none since December. Perhaps it would be wise to get some work done or to take your significant other out for dinner and a movie so that nobody bothers you come Thursday and Friday.
Key to the game: The first key is Iowa's mental state. Do the Hawkeyes believe they can win despite all their woes down the stretch? If so, whether Iowa can handle the heft of Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon in the paint will be critical, as will whether Tennessee can take care of the ball and avoid fueling Iowa's fast break. The Hawkeyes are deep and talented but they've shown little interest in defending in recent weeks.
Projected winner: Tennessee

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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