After a wonderful regular season of college basketball, we will be treated to an undoubtedly exciting NCAA Tournament, based on a field that is one of the most competitive and balanced in recent memory.
There are so many intriguing first round match-ups that it is almost impossible to select the five best, but no one said analyzing the tournament would be easy, so here we go (in no particular order):
(8) Iowa State vs. (9) Connecticut – South Region, Louisville, KY, Thurs. 9:20 PM ET
Before the field was announced, one of the biggest questions was where the ultra talented yet maddeningly disappointing UConn squad would end up. Well, they get to play a solid Cyclones team whose star, Royce White, is a versatile beast who won’t be intimidated by the athleticism the Huskies bring to the table.
The question will be how the other Cyclones perform and which UConn team decides to show up. Will it be the lackadaisical and impatient team we’ve seen for most of the season, or the scary good team we’ve only seen in spurts?
Iowa State should not be slept on in this contest, as they have home wins versus Kansas and Baylor this season. The Huskies should at least be used to their surroundings, as they were crushed by Louisville in the Yum! Center in early February.
(5) Wichita State vs. (12) VCU – South Region, Portland, OR, Thurs. 7:15 PM ET
This should be a fun game. Many have lamented the fact that two good mid majors are forced to battle each other, rather than wreak havoc on an unsuspecting power conference team. But, there is not a better first round match-up (yes, I still call it that) than this one.
Coach Shaka Smart brings a hot VCU squad across the country, having won 17 of their last 18 games with a relentless full court pressing attack. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Rams after last season’s Final Four run, but Smart must be one heck of a carpenter.
Wichita State is a popular sleeper pick to reach the Final Four because they are that good. The Shockers had won 17 of 18 in their own right before being upset in the MVC tournament by Illinois State.
(7) Florida vs. (10) Virginia – West Region, Omaha, NE, Fri. 2:10 PM ET
Two middle of the road power conference teams meet in what should be an interesting battle of contrasting styles. Florida is a guard oriented, jump-shooting team, while the Cavaliers are a rugged defensive team that likes to get the ball in the post to forward Mike Scott and keep the score in the 50s if possible.
Both teams come into this game struggling. UVA has lost five of their last eight games and many questioned whether they truly belonged in this tournament. The Gators have lost four of their last five and could be one of the more overrated teams in the country, having been a staple in the Top 25 all season.
So this is an even match-up between two “name” teams. It will be very interesting to see who comes out on top.
(5) Vanderbilt vs. (12) Harvard – East Region, Albuquerque, NM, Thurs. 4:40 PM ET
Many are billing this the “battle of the brains,” but this game will feature some good basketball players and besides, the more points you score on the court, the less you need on your SAT.
Harvard has been on the radar all season long since getting off to a 20-2 start. They gave UConn a decent game in Storrs, beat the likes of Florida State and UCF in the Bahamas, and proceeded to win the Ivy League and earn their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1946. So, they have proven they are legit and are more than capable of pulling off the upset here.
For most of the season, the Commodores struggled to live up to lofty top 5 expectations. It has taken senior center Festus Ezeli a while to recover from injury, but he seems to be rounding into form at just the right time. Can Vandy prove that the preseason predictions of a Final Four run were indeed justified? We’ll see, but they will need their A-game just to get to the round of 32.
(6) San Diego State vs. (11) NC State – Midwest Region, Columbus, OH, 12:40 PM ET
Believe it or not, the Mountain West was a higher rated conference than the ACC, according to the RPI. Well, we will get a chance to see if numbers ever do lie, as the MWC regular season champs face off versus the ACC’s last invitee to the big dance.
The Aztecs surprised every so-called basketball expert by winning 24 games and spending much of the season in the top 25, largely on the back of conference POY, Jamaal Franklin. One train of thought is that the Aztecs overachieved in the regular season and such teams usually come down to earth in a hurry in the NCAA Tournament.
NC State slid in the back door of this dance, but they are playing their best basketball of the season and have the talent to scare good teams. The question is whether they can beat them.
What are your thoughts on these first round games?