The NCAA Tournament selection committee didn't do the Eagles any favors in matching them up with Kansas St. of the Big 12 in the first round.
The Wildcats this season are a mirror of their head coach, tough and intimidating. They are not going to blow you away with style points, but they will get in your face and play a type of defense that tries to impose its will on their opponents.
Most impressive is their play inside a very solid conference this season. Missouri wants no part of the Wildcats as KSU defeated them twice this season, and they also knocked off in state rival Kansas.
This is the fourth appearance in the last five years for Kansas St., and Coach Frank Martin has really built consistency into his program. They went 10-8 in a very difficult conference, and they beat Alabama and Long Beach St. in OOC play.
Rebounding has been a calling card for Frank Martin coached teams, and this one is no different. They outrebound their opponents by an average of five per game, while also protecting the rim.
They have a balanced offensive attack behind leading scorer Rodney MacGruder, a 6'4 junior who averages 15.4 points per game. Five different Kansas State players average between seven and 11 points a game, making it difficult to key on just one guy.
A tough match-up for the Eagles will be inside with Wildcat center Jordan Henriquez (6'11) looking to make life miserable in the paint for opponents.
Southern Miss must also get a handle early on MacGruder, who can fill it up once he gets in rhythm. In fact, they were 7-2 when he scores 20 or more points in the game.
One area the Eagles should have an advantage is on the free throw side. Kansas St. shot 66% as a team this season, and could be vulnerable in a close game down the stretch.
The Eagles must get out to an early lead to have a chance, and then try to throw the Wildcats off their game. Once they get settled in, they can be very difficult to score on.
Both teams seem to match-up style wise, as Southern Miss also tries to play a tough, physical game with an emphasis on defense and rebounding. The Eagles will also not wow with style points, but have just found a way to get it done all season long.
Expect a low scoring, very physical and tough game.
Game time is set for 11:40 CST in Pittsburgh in the East Regional. The winner of this game will likely, unless history is made, go on to meet the #1 seeded Orangemen of Syracuse.