The 'Other Four' at the Palace this weekend

March 20, 2013

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- So you've got tickets to see Michigan and Michigan State start their NCAA tournament run.

That's great. I'm sure you know all about Trey Burke, John Beilein, Keith Appling and Tom Izzo. And there are other stories on that will tell you about Michigan's opponents, the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State, and the Valparaiso Crusaders team that will be taking on Michigan State.

But you'll also be seeing two other games at the Palace this weekend, and I wouldn't want you to sound uniformed when your buddies start talking about Virginia Commonwealth, Akron, Memphis or St. Mary's.

So here are some key tidbits about the "Other Four."


HOW THEY GOT HERE: The VCU Zips got an at-large bid after a 26-8 season that included a 12-4 record in the Atlantic 10. Their best win was a neutral-court victory over Memphis on Nov. 22.

The Zips won the Mid-American Conference tournament after going 14-2 in conference play. They went 26-6 overall, despite a season-opening loss at Coastal Carolina. They beat First Four team Middle Tennessee State at home on Dec. 2.

COLLEGE TOWNS: Akron is located, fairly obviously, in Akron, Ohio. Akron's most famous native, other than LeBron James and Stephen Curry, is probably the Goodyear Blimp. Akron is also a favored city for Tiger Woods, who has won seven times at Firestone Country Club.

Richmond, Va., is most famous for being the capital of the Confederate States of America, and Civil War monuments still dominate parts of the city. It was also the hometown of the first African-American male tennis star, Arthur Ashe. Like Detroit, Richmond has a Belle Isle, although the one in Michigan was never a POW camp.

ON THE FLOOR: VCU's style can be summed up in one word: havoc. Shaka Smart has the Rams pressing all over the floor from the opening tip to the final buzzer, and it works. His defense leads the country in turnover percentage, and they forced 22 in the win over Memphis. Point guards Darius Theus and Briante Weber combine for five steals a game, and Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic average a combined 30 points.

Akron is built around defense, too, but in a different way. The Zips have one of the nation's best shot-blockers in 7-footer Zeke Marshall and rely on him offensively after point guard Alex Abreu was suspended for a drug incident.

HEARING THE BOO BIRDS: Two athletes that Detroit fans love to hate have ties to this game. Although King James didn't attend college, he was born and raised in Akron, and former Tigers fan favorite/hated enemy Brandon Inge is a graduate of VCU.

COACHING TREE: Smart was an assistant coach at Akron from 2003-06 and still remains close friends with Zips coach Keith Dambrot. Smart actually recorded a video wishing Akron luck in the MAC tournament, telling them they had the ability to make a run in the Big Dance, only to find his favorite teams playing each other.


HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Memphis Tigers rolled through what's left of Conference USA, going 16-0 in the regular season and winning every tournament game by double digits. They didn't fare as well in non-conference play, losing to Louisville, Minnesota and VCU, although they did win at Tennessee.

St. Mary's had a great season, except for the minor problem of being in the West Coast Conference with Gonzaga. The Gaels went 14-2 in conference play, losing home and away to the Zags, then lost to them again in the WCC tournament. Their 27-6 record was enough to get them a bid into the First Four, and they beat Middle Tennessee State, 67-54, Tuesday night to earn a shot at Memphis.

COLLEGE TOWNS: Memphis is one of the few cities founded by a President of the United States.  Andrew Jackson found time to start a city in between being a hero of the War of 1812 and his election to the White House in 1824. Memphis is also famous for barbecue and a musical tradition that ranges from Elvis at Graceland to the Mississippi Delta blues on Beale Steet.

Moraga, Calif., isn't nearly as well-known as Memphis but is one of the wealthier areas in the San Francisco Bay Area. The suburb doesn't have a rich history of its own, but is just a 30-minute drive across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco and the cultural capital of the West Coast.

ON THE FLOOR: For St. Mary's, everything revolves around Australian Olympian Matthew Dellavedova. The senior point guard had 22 points, six rebounds and four assists in the win over Middle Tennessee State, and has been a key part of the program going back to the 2010 run to the Sweet 16.

Dellavedova will be matched up against Memphis point guard Joe Jackson, who leads the team in points and assists while shooting over 45 percent on 3-pointers. Jackson is prone to turning the ball over, though, having seven in the loss to VCU and eight in the defeat to Louisville.

AUSSIES AT WORK: Dellavedova is one of four Australians on the current roster, keeping up a tradition that started with Adam Caporn in 2001 and continued through San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills. Mills and Dellavedova made up Australia's starting backcourt in the London Olympics.

GOING SOMEWHERE: This was Memphis' last season in Conference USA, but the Tigers can't tell you exactly where they'll be in the fall. Along with fellow C-USA members Houston, SMU, Central Florida, Tulane and East Carolina, the Tigers are headed to the unnamed conference that will be built around the football-playing schools of the Big East.