The NCAA tournament begins this week, and here are ten games worth watching. All times are Eastern.
1. No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 11 Belmont (Thursday, 7:20, TNT)
Arizona has notoriously been known for early exits in the tournament, and this year’s team has the potential to be upset by Belmont, especially if Belmont gets hot from behind the three point line. Belmont beat Murray State to get into the tournament and Arizona, a team that has played down to its opponent this year, may make this game interesting. An Arizona win potentially sets up a second round clash with No. 3 New Mexico. Arizona and New Mexico have two of the most rabid fan bases in all of college basketball and a clash between those two teams could blow the roof off in Salt Lake City. Arizona, a team that has beaten teams like Miami, San Diego State, and Florida this season, can also come out of this regional as well.
2. Play-in Game for 13th Seed: La Salle versus Boise State (Wednesday, 9:10, truTV )
Breitbart Sports had Boise State and La Salle as locks. But the selection committee disagreed and assigned these teams to the “play-in” game on Wednesday. Boise State and La Salle played in the Mountain West and the A-10 conference, respectively. Both conferences this year were stronger than in years past, and these two teams are seasoned. This game is important because the winner of this game could be a bracket buster, and could knock off Kansas State on Friday.
3. No. 12 Ole Miss vs. No. 5 Wisconsin (Friday, 2:40, truTV)
Ole Miss’s Marshall Henderson is the most polarizing player in college basketball. He is in your face and plays the game with reckless abandon. He is the anti-Bo Ryan, Wisconsin’s head coach. Wisconsin is disciplined and does not make fundamental mistakes. Wisconsin plays methodically. Henderson and Ole Miss play an unpredictable brand of basketball. Sometimes, it does not seem like even Henderson knows what he is going to do next. Any game in which Henderson plays will be must-see television, but this game will be especially worth watching because of the direct contrast in styles between Henderson’s Ole Miss, who had to win the SEC tournament to make the tournament, and Bo Ryan’s disciplined Wisconsin team.
4. No. 5 Oklahoma State vs. No. 12 Oregon (Thursday, 4:40, TNT)
Oregon won the Pac-12 tournament, albeit against a wounded UCLA Bruin team, and seems like a No. 12 seed primed to upset Oklahoma State and star player Marcus Smart, especially since the game will be played in Pac-12 territory on the west coast. Oklahoma State could arguably be seeded higher as well. This game has the makings of a classic with two unpredictable and inconsistent teams who both have showed flashes of potential this season. Oregon, bizarrely seeded No. 12 while Arizona and UCLA are seeded No. 6, matches up well with Oklahoma State’s style of play. This has the makings of a great game.
5. No. 4 Saint Louis vs. No. 13 New Mexico State (Thursday, 2:10, TNT)
Saint Louis played in the tough A-10 conference and won the conference crown. They are also playing in honor of their late coach Rick Majerus, who passed away in December. Saint Louis could well make it to the Sweet 16, and it will be interesting to see how this team starts off the tournament. If Saint Louis thunderously defeats New Mexico State, they could be primed for a run.
6. No. 7 Creighton vs. No. 10 Cincinnati (Friday, 2:45, CBS)
Creighton’s Doug McDermott is one of the best players in basketball, and he will face Cincinnati’s tough defense. This game is worth watching for all the Duke haters to scout Duke’s potential second-round match-up. Both teams could give Duke a run for its money in the next round. Creighton can beat Duke with its shooting and Cincinnati has the toughness and athleticism to beat Duke in an ugly street fight of a game. Cincinnati lost to New Mexico by one point and has struggled offensively, but teams not used to the Bearcats aggressive defense may be thrown off guard.
7. No. 12 California vs. No. 5 UNLV (Thursday, 7:27, truTV )
This game has the makings of one that will go down the wire. Cal essentially has home court advantage in San Jose, and star guard Alan Crabbe can put the Golden Bears on his back. UNLV played in a tough Mountain West Conference. The two teams played this season (and yet, somehow, the NCAA matched them up in the first round even though there are rules supposedly against this), and UNLV beat Cal by one point. Look for this game to be just as close.
8. No. 6 UCLA vs. No. 11 Minnesota (Friday, 9:57, truTV )
UCLA was primed to make a deep run in the tournament after beating Arizona last Saturday in the Pac-12 tournament. But Jordan Adams broke his foot on the last play, and the Bruins lost the Pac-12 tournament to Oregon. UCLA still has freshman sensation Shabazz Muhammad, but Adams’ injury probably allowed the Bruins to fall a spot or two–to face Minnesota.
9. No. 5 VCU vs. No. 12 Akron (Thursday, 9:45, CBS)
VCU’s “havoc” style of play and press leaves teams frazzled. VCU potentially can knock out Michigan, but the VCU is not the same team outside of Virginia. The game against Akron will be a test of how the team is clicking in what will be tuneup for a potential second round battle with Michigan in a game that will essentially be a road game for VCU in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
10. No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 13 South Dakota State (Thursday, 7:15, CBS)
This game features two of Value Add’s most heralded players–Michigan’s Trey Burke and South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters. Burke, Value Add’s top player, will battle Nate Wolters, the sharpshooter the computers and humans have hyped. Enough said. This is a “box office” match-up. And Bill Raftery will do the color. Onions. The winner faces the winner of VCU and Akron.