5 things to know for Friday’s conference tournament games

Mar 8, 2014; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats forward Justin Jackson (5) drives to the basket during the first half against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.

Jim O'Connor/Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a full day of college hoops across Ohio. Six Division I teams are still alive in their respective conference tournaments. It’s a good bet that at least four and possibly five of them will be playing in the NCAA tournament next week.

Here are five things you need to know about Friday’s action:

*HOT TEAM: Dayton is on a roll, having won 10 of its last 11 games to put itself into position to make its first tournament appearance since 2009. The Flyers beat Fordham 87-74 in their first-round game of the Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn on Thursday to improve to 23-9. Now they get Saint Joseph’s, the only team they haven’t been able to solve during this run of success. The Hawks (21-9) won both games against UD this season, including a 79-53 victory in Philadelphia on Feb. 25.

Tipoff was at 2:30 p.m. The winner advances to Saturday’s semifinals against either No. 1 Saint Louis or No. 9 St. Bonaventure.

The Flyers’ strength all season has been the depth and versatility of their roster. Ten of the 11 players coach Archie Miller used against Fordham scored. Nine of them had at least one rebound and 10 of them had an assist. They will have to figure out a way to slow down Saint Joseph’s senior forward Ronald Roberts Jr. and junior guard Chris Wilson. The two combined for 69 points in the two games against UD.

*SURPRISE, SURPRISE: Two of the biggest surprises of the Big Ten season meet as fifth-seeded Ohio State plays No. 4 seed Nebraska in a quarterfinal game. The Buckeyes (24-8) are surprising in that they’re the ones who were in need of survival against Purdue on Thursday while Nebraska (19-11) sat around and waited to see whom it would be playing. Yeah, I just typed that sentence correctly.

The teams split in the regular season and Nebraska has won 11 of its last 14 games, a streak that began with a 68-62 win over Ohio State in Lincoln. Nebraska needs this win more than Ohio State when it comes to where it will be playing next week but an Ohio State win puts the Buckeyes in the semifinals for the sixth straight year and eighth time in the last nine years.

Tipoff was scheduled for approximately 2:25 p.m. in Indianapolis. The winner gets either top-seeded Michigan or No. 9 Illinois on Saturday.

*MAC QUIZ: Question: When’s the last time the MAC final didn’t feature at least one Ohio team playing?

While you think about that, this year’s semifinals will be northern Ohio against Michigan directionals in Cleveland. Akron (21-11) won the MAC East but is seeded fourth. The Zips will be going for an eighth consecutive trip to the finals when they face No. 1 seed Western Michigan (21-9) in the first game at Quicken Loans Arena, set to tip off at 6:30 p.m. Toledo (26-5) is the No. 2 seed and will play against No. 6 Eastern Michigan (21-13) in the nightcap.

The Zips lost by three points on the road at Western Michigan a month ago. They’ve had the habit of meeting up with Ohio in the finals (it happened three of the last four years) but got past the Bobcats in Thursday’s quarterfinal round, 83-77, behind Demetrius Treadwell’s 19 points and 11 rebounds and 20 points by Quincy Diggs.

Toledo beat Eastern Michigan by 11 points last Saturday to close out the regular season but the Eagles handed the Rockets their most lopsided defeat of the season, 65-44, on Feb. 15. That was easily the lowest point total in a single game for Toledo all season, the only time the Rockets were held to less than 60 points and one of just four times they have failed to reach 70 points.

Okay, the answer: 1995. Ball State beat Eastern Michigan 77-70. It’s been 18 straight years at least one Ohio school has been in the MAC final since then.

*SHOWDOWN: Top-seeded Cincinnati (27-5) survived No. 9 Central Florida 61-58 on Thursday and will face No. 4 Connecticut at 9 p.m. in the second American semifinal. UConn cruised past host Memphis, 72-53, in its quarterfinal game.

The two teams split in the regular season. UC won at home by five points, while UConn won on its home court by six points. Neither game was a blueprint for offense and it shouldn’t be expected that this time would be any different. Justin Jackson will need to stay on the floor and out of foul trouble for the Bearcats to win.

Inside the game itself is one of the best individual matchups of the season with UC’s Sean Kilpatrick and UConn’s Shabazz Napier. Kilpatrick led the conference in scoring and was named the league’s Sportsman of the Year but it was Napier who was named Player of the Year.

The winner of the game gets the winner of the semifinal between No. 2 seed Louisville and No. 6 Houston in Saturday’s final.

*LOVIN’ THE GARDEN: Xavier (21-11) has played two of its best games of the season when it needed to most at Madison Square Garden. The Musketeers beat St. John’s late in the regular season and then held off Marquette, 68-65, Thursday night to advance to the Big East semifinals against Creighton (25-6). Xavier is the No. 3 seed, while Creighton and Big East Player of the Year Doug McDermott are seeded second. Beating Marquette should sew up a tournament spot for Xavier but another win wouldn’t hurt.

Xavier knocked off then tenth-ranked Creighton 75-69 two weeks ago at the Cintas Center, avenging a 95-89 loss in Omaha in January. XU head coach Chris Mack said before the last game that Creighton is the best offensive team he’s ever seen. The Musketeers defended much better the second time around even though the Blue Jays still put up 34 3-point attempts. McDermott got his points but Xavier held the rest of the Blue Jays in check. Xavier got a big boost with the surprise return of center Matt Stainbrook against Marquette from a strained MCL.

Tipoff is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. The winner advances to Saturday night’s final against either No. 8 Seton Hall or No. 4 Providence.