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First Four Preview: Are this year’s games worth searching for TruTV to watch?

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Matthew Dellavedova (Getty Images)

The First Four tips off Tuesday night in Dayton with a double-header featuring Saint Mary's-Middle Tennessee and North Carolina A&T-Liberty and continues Wednesday with LIU Brooklyn-James Madison and Boise State-La Salle.

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To help you decide whether any of those 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 North Carolina A&T (19-16) vs. No. 16 Liberty (15-20)
Tipoff time: Tuesday, 6:40 p.m. ET (TruTV)
Players to watch: Davon Marshall G, Liberty; Adrian Powell, F, North Carolina A&T
Why it's worth watching: Forget South Dakota State or Florida Gulf Coast. The ultimate Cinderella in this NCAA tournament is Liberty. The Flames became only the second 20-loss team ever to make the NCAA tournament when they won four games in four days to capture the Big South tournament title. They'll try to continue that unlikely run against a North Carolina A&T squad that also wasn't supposed to be here but made it through the carnage in the MEAC tournament to grab a bid.
Why you should skip it: One of these teams lost 10 games in the Big South. The other lost eight in the MEAC. If they're within five of top-seeded Louisville at the first TV timeout in the round of 64, they should probably snap a photo of the scoreboard just to savor the moment a bit.
Key to the game: How will Liberty deal with North Carolina A&T's scrambling, physical defense? Cy Alexander's team is adept at choking off the passing lanes, deflecting passes and diving after loose balls, forcing 7.1 steals and 16.1 turnovers per game.
Projected winner: Liberty

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No. 11 Middle Tennessee State (25-8) vs. No. 11 Saint Mary's (27-6)
Tipoff time: Tuesday, 9:15 p.m. ET (TruTV)
Players to watch: Matthew Dellavedova, G, Saint Mary's; Marcos Knight, G, Middle Tennessee State
Why it's worth watching: This could be the final college game for Dellavedova, the dynamic Aussie point guard whose ability as a scorer and playmaker have propelled Saint Mary's into the NCAA tournament the past two seasons. The senior will have his hands full against a fierce Middle Tennessee defense that thrives on forcing turnovers and will probably throw a lot of bodies at him in an effort to keep him out of the lane.
Why you should skip it: Both these teams are fun to watch and good enough to put a scare into sixth-seeded Memphis in the next round, but let's face it, you're going to be watching a lot of basketball this week. Perhaps it would be wise to get some work done Tuesday night 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 two strength-versus-strength matchups. Can Dellavedova's savvy play help Saint Mary's limit their turnovers against Middle Tennessee's defensive pressure? And will the Gaels' prowess on the defensive glass neutralize the Blue Raiders' offensive rebounding success? If Middle Tennessee can't get points off its defense or the offensive glass, it often has a difficult time scoring.
Projected winner: Saint Mary's

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No. 16 James Madison (20-14) vs. No. 16 LIU-Brooklyn (20-13)
Tipoff time:
Wednesday, 6:40 p.m. ET (TruTV)
Players to watch: Jamal Olasewere, F, LIU-Brooklyn; Rayshawn Goins, F, James Madison
Why it's worth watching: The high-octane, fast-paced style LIU-Brooklyn plays is really fluid and entertaining, especially when pass-first point guard Jason Brickman is leading the fast break. Plus, there's the chance to see if Goins can redeem himself for his Selection Sunday arrest on charges of obstruction of justice and disorderly conduct. He's suspended for the first half as a result.
Why you should skip it: The winner of this game is still cannon fodder for top-seeded Indiana in the round of 64. The Blackbirds lost to the three power-conference programs they faced this season by an average of 26.7 points, a product of those teams being able to match LIU-Brooklyn's athleticism while exploiting its defensive inadequacy. The only NCAA tournament team James Madison faced this season was UCLA, which throttled the Dukes 100-70 in November.
Key to the game: Tempo, tempo, tempo. LIU-Brooklyn thrives by running every chance it gets in order to showcase its superior athleticism and knack for finishing in transition. James Madison was one of the CAA's slowest-paced teams this season. Whichever team imposes its will on the other probably has the upper hand.
Projected winner: LIU-Brooklyn

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No. 13 Boise State (21-10) vs. No. 13 La Salle (21-9)
Tipoff time:
Wednesday, 9:15 p.m. ET (TruTV)
Players to watch: Derrick Marks, G, Boise State; Ramon Galloway, G, La Salle
Why it's worth watching: Both Boise State and La Salle have sufficiently strong guard play to not just win this game but also pose a threat to fourth-seeded Kansas State in the next round. The Broncos boast quality wins against Creighton, UNLV, San Diego State and Colorado State in the regular season. The trio of Galloway, Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland led La Salle to back-to-back upsets of Butler and VCU in January that probably got the Explorers into the tournament.
Why you should skip it: Boise State is a football school and La Salle hadn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1992, so casual fans probably aren't particularly familiar with either of these two teams. The pace and style of play will be fun for hoops addicts, but the lack of well-known players or coaches will be a turnoff for others.
Key to the game: On the heels of a nightmare Mountain West quarterfinal against San Diego State in which he missed his first 12 shots and went just 4 of 22 from the field, Derrick Marks must bounce back. The Broncos need him to finish at the rim, to protect the ball and to create chances for their array of 3-point shooters.
Projected winner: Boise State.

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