The real first day of the NCAA tournament kicks off with the second round and two number one seeds, Gonzaga and Louisville, beginning their way, hopefully to the Final Four in Atlanta, with games against Southern and North Carolina A&T respectively, hoping not to make 2013 the year in which a 16th seed finally pulled off the biggest upset of them all.
In other quite interesting clashes, Oregon, quite angry about being seeded only 12th, will play Oklahoma State and a very interesting matchup between Missouri (9 seed) against Colorado State (8 seed, obviously) also takes place to spice up things on the first day of the round of 64.
#14 Valparaiso vs #3 Michigan State (Midwest)
The Cursaders may have had a 13-3 record in the Horizon league and boast an impressive player in Ryan Broekhoff, averaging 15.9 points and 7.7 rebounds this season, but Michigan State and general Big Ten basketball is probably going to be a little new to Bryce Drew’s team. The Spartans finished with a 13-5 record in the Big Ten, led by Keith Appling (13.5 points), Adriean Payne and the big, fearsome Derrick Nix, which isn’t likely to be stopped in the second round.
#11 Bucknell vs #6 Butler (East)
Bucknell have their double double monster, Mike Muscala, averaging 19 points and 11.2 rebounds this season, and has also shown his ability outside the Patriot league with 25 points and 14 rebounds against Missouri. BUtler have quite the sharpshooter in Rotnei Clarke, making 42% of his three-point shots and averaging 16.7 points per game. Butler need defense to work for them, and hoping Andrew Smith, their big man, makes life difficult for Muscala, and try and make Bucknell make mistakes, who turnover the ball on only 15.1% of their possessions, which is second best in the nation. Smells like an upset in favor of Bucknell.
#9 Wichita State vs #8 Pittsburgh (West)
The Shockers are in for quite a shock against Pitt, who allowed only 55 points per game during the regular season. Both teams aren’t offensive juggernauts and don’t have one player on which everything falls upon, but the big key should be Pitt’s ability to hit three pointers; they were second in the Big East with 36.2% from beyond the arc, and have held opponents to only 28.3%. If Wichita can’t get Carl Hall to work wonders in the paint, they’re gone early.
#13 New Mexico State vs #4 Saint Louis (Midwest)
The Billikens are huge favorites to move through into the round of 32, mostly thanks to their defense, which is ranked 8th in the nation in defensive efficiency. They are led by Dwayne Evans, averaging 13.7 points per game, but Saint Louis has six players averaging at least 7.2 points per game. For the Aggies, winning their last five games entering the tournament, it’s about getting Daniel Mullings hot from beyond the arc, hoping he goes off for at least the 14 points he averages each night. Saint Louis should be a bit too strong either way.
#11 Saint Mary’s vs #6 Memphis (Midwest)
Saint Mary’s were the only true competition Gonzaga have seen all season in the WCC and they still lost to the Zags three times. While Matthew Dellavedova is clearly the star for the Gaels (15.8 points, 6.4 assists), there’s a huge talent and athletic gap between the two teams; Memphis went 19-0 in their conference and tournament, and should be way too much to handle for Saint Mary’s.
#14 Davidson vs #3 Marquette (East)
Davidson might be the hottest team in the nation with 17 consecutive wins, but that did happen in the Southern conference, which makes people put their achievement in some sort of proportions. Still, Marquette have had problems playing away from home over the last couple of months (4-5), which didn’t stop them from grabbing a share of the regular season title in the Big East. They do need to worry about a tight game, because the Wildcats are the best free throw shooting team in America at 80.1%.
#16 Southern vs #1 Gonzaga (West)
Gonzaga are 23 point favorites against the SWAC team, and regardless of the fact that they’re probably overrated at a number one seeding, not #1 has lost to a #16, and the Bulldogs, with the fearsome inside presence of Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris, should have way too much offense and diversity for the Jaguars to compete with, despite keeping teams at below 59 points per game this season.
#12 Oregon vs #5 Oklahoma State (Midwest)
Oregon, unlike what we usually see from Pac-12 teams, are about defense first. They missed the Pac-12 double (won the conference tournament) because of a slide in the last two games of the season, but feel quite disrespected for only getting the 12th seed. Oklahoma State are mostly about Marcus Smart, maybe the best Freshman in the nation, who is going to the NBA next season if rumors are to be believed. Unfortunately for him, it’ll be without a tournament win.
#16 North Carolina A&T vs #1 Louisville (Midwest)
The Aggies are a 5-12 team on the road and finished the season with a 8-8 record in the MEAC. They also average 15 turnovers per game against a Cardinals team that forces a turnover on 27.6% of their opponents’ possessions, second best in the nation. If that isn’t enough, the mighty Gorgui Dieng, with 2.5 blocks per game this season, is waiting in the middle. No chance an upset happens here.
#13 South Dakota State vs #4 Michigan (South)
Yes, everyone is interested to see if Nate Wolters (22.7 points per game) can hold his own facing Trey Burke, and yes, Michigan can be a bit too depndant on the All-American and possible national player of the year. Still, they have much more than just Burke, including a backcourt of “sons” with Hardaway and Glenn Robinson, which will be too much for the Jackrabbits to handle on defense.
#11 Belmont vs #6 Arizona (West)
The Wildcats are just 2-4 outside Tucson since Valentine’s Day. It’ll be about Belmont trying to force some turnovers off Arizona, being one of the best in the nation in making their opponents make mistakes. They also have Ian Clark (18.1 points per game) to cling to when it comes to scoring, while Arizona are hoping point guard Mark Lyons wakes up on his good side, which should happen.
#12 California vs #5 UNLV (East)
The two teams have already met once this season, with the Rebels winning 76-75. They feature Anthony Bennett, who’s going to be a high pick in the next NBA draft according to the buzz, despite being a freshman. He’s averaging 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. On the other end of the floor is going to be another future pro, Allen Crabbe (Junior), averaging 18.7 points per game. The team that gets to step it up defensively wins the game, and it’s most likely to be UNLV.
#9 Missouri vs #8 Colorado State (Midwest)
Mizzou didn’t have the best of seasons in their new home of the SEC, going 11-7 in the conference. They’re more than likely to repeat their opening game loss from last season (Norfolk State), although it wouldn’t be such a surprise for a team completely reliant on the ability of Phil Pressey, averaging 7.1 assists per game but is also quite careless with the ball at times. The key for the Rams will be Collin Iverson (14.7 points, 9.8 rebounds) and making sure he dominates the paint like he usually does.
#12 Akron vs #5 VCU (South)
Akron are playing without their starting point guard, which is good news for VCU and their “havoc” defense, creating the most turnovers per game in the nation. While Akron are entering the game as the hotter team, they will be missing Alex Abreu, and that will be too much for them to overcome, even if Zeke Marshall has a big day.
#14 Harvard vs #3 New Mexico (West)
Harvard didn’t have the perfect season in their return to the Big Dance, having two players suspended due to an academic scandal which is something you never expect from an Ivy league team. Despite having Cinderella written all over them, New Mexico are way too good to fall for a team missing its two best players. Kendall Williams is the reigning Mountain West player of the year and should Alex Kirk stay out of foul trouble, the Lobos will too.
#13 Montana vs #4 Syracuse (East)
As always, there are a lot of people waiting for Jim Boheim to fall and fail, but it’s not going to happen in the tournament opener for them. Their defense, keeping teams at 60.1 points per game this season, will probably a bit too much for the Grizzlies, heavily relying on the ability of Will Cherry, missing their leading scorer Mathias Ward. It sounds a bit too good to be true for the Orange, doesn’t it?