By the time Thursday's schedule is finished millions of brackets will be ruined, which should come as no surprise given the regular season. This year also marks the first time that four networks will televise the games, which could take away from the tradition of "live look-ins" but at the least fans of a particular team know they can watch their squad from start to finish.
12:15 PM (12) Clemson vs. (5) West Virginia (CBS)
2:45 PM (13) Princeton vs. (4) Kentucky (CBS)
While Clemson will serve as the first example of how a "First Four" winner deals with the quick turnaround, the second game of the afternoon should be intriguing as well. Ivy League champion Princeton takes on SEC tournament champ Kentucky, and both teams should enter Thursday's game brimming with confidence. The Wildcats have been bolstered by their upperclassmen, led by SEC Tournament MVP Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins. When Miller, who is fourth on the team in scoring, plays aggressively on offense Kentucky is an even tougher team to slow down. And in Liggins they've got one of the premier defenders in the nation.
The Tigers are an experienced group led in scoring by forwards Ian Hummer and Kareem Maddox, and guards Douglas Davis and Dan Mavraides get the job done on the perimeter. The key for Princeton: keep the Wildcats, especially Josh Harrellson and Terrence Jones, off of the offensive boards. Kentucky grabs 35% of their misses, a good number for a team that gets nearly 29% of its points from three (long rebound opportunities). The two teams are separated by just two possessions per game and the Wildcats have been the more efficient of the two offensively. Look for this contest to be an entertaining affair.
12:40 PM (9) Old Dominion vs. (8) Butler (TruTV)
The matchup between the Monarchs and Bulldogs will be among the best of the day, especially if viewers like defense. Butler was centimeters to the left away from an improbable national title last season, and as the season's worn on Brad Stevens' club has adjusted to the personnel losses from that team. Guard Shelvin Mack and forward Matt Howard are the top offensive threats for Butler, but they both will run into tough matchups. Guard Kent Bazemore is the best defensive player in the CAA, winning the league's Defensive Player of the Year award, and ODU has a big man in Frank Hassell who was named MVP of the conference tournament.
Blaine Taylor's Monarchs allow opponents to shoot just 40.4% from the field and 28% from three, one of the best marks in the country. Butler can ill-afford to resort to simply firing away from deep, but they do get 30.8% of their points from beyond the arc. If Old Dominion can take this aspect of Butler's offense away look out. The Bulldogs will need to keep Old Dominion off the offensive glass. The Monarchs have an effective field goal percentage of 48.7%, but their offensive efficiency (108.4) ranks among the best in the CAA due to the fact that they grab 45.3% of their misses. First team to sixty wins? More than possible in the nation's capital.
3:10 PM (16) UNC Asheville vs. Pittsburgh (TruTV)
6:50 PM (15) UC Santa Barbara vs. (2) Florida (TBS)
9:20 PM (10) Michigan State vs. (7) UCLA (TBS)
Tom Izzo is widely regarded as one of the best tournament coaches in the game, and six Final Four appearances in addition to the Spartans' overall success during his tenure more than backs it up. But this current team isn't on the same level of those outstanding teams that racked up the hardware and NCAA Tournament success, casting doubt on the idea that the Spartans can get hot come tournament time. Their opponents don't enter the Big Dance playing their best either, with UCLA suffering a bad loss in the Pac-10 quarterfinals against Oregon. But the Bruins do have weapons, led by wing Tyler Honeycutt and forward Reeves Nelson. The matchup between Nelson and Draymond Green should be fun to watch, and Michigan State needs Green back on his game after a quiet Big Ten Tournament.
Outside of Kalin Lucas it's tough to peg who exactly had a standout three games in Indianapolis last weekend, and Michigan State needs Durrell Summers to find his game if they're to hang around Tampa for the entire weekend. Summers shot 50% or better just once in Big Ten play, and that was in their quarterfinal win over Purdue with him taking just four shots. That can't happen against UCLA, and the Spartans will also need to hope that the tradition of Pac-10 teams struggling the first weekend when having to travel three time zones continues. UCLA will go as far as point guard Lazeric Jones can take them from a distribution aspect, as he's their most effective player at the point. Malcolm Lee and Joshua Smith will also be needed offensively, and they should have opportunities to make things happen.
7:15 PM (14) Wofford vs. (3) BYU (CBS)
9:45 PM (11) Gonzaga vs. (6) St. John's (CBS)
Steve Lavin has St. John's back where their fans expect them to be at the least: playing in the NCAA Tournament. And for all the criticism Coach Lavin took during his tenure at UCLA, it needs to be noted that of the seven teams he took to the NCAA Tournament five went to the Sweet 16. The Red Storm will be without senior wing D.J. Kennedy but this is a group that's had to call on contributions from a number of players throughout the course of the season. It won't be one player that shoulders the full load left by their most versatile player but rather a number of guys who do a little bit more than usual. Guard Dwight Hardy has been outstanding for St. John's and with his role as the initiator of the offense in addition to his own scoring, Gonzaga will need to control him if they're to win.
The Bulldogs have three very good offensive weapons in Steven Gray, Elias Harris and Robert Sacre, but there have been other contributors for Mark Few's team. Sam Dower and David Stockton are two freshmen who have stepped up for Gonzaga, and Dower will be important in dealing with an experienced St. John's front line that has some muscle as well. Gonzaga has a rebounding margin of plus-4.9 and they will enjoy an advantage on the boards against St. John's. But the Red Storm use a variety of defenses, turning over their opponents 24% of the time, meaning that the rebounding disparity could be nullified if the Bulldogs are too reckless with the basketball.
7:27 PM (13) Belmont vs. (4) Wisconsin (TruTV)
9:57 PM (12) Utah State vs. (5) Kansas State (TruTV)
There wouldn't be much surprise if both of these games in the Old Pueblo were won by the lower seeded team, with both Belmont and Utah State having won 30 games this season. But the focus here is on the nightcap, with Kansas State improving their play over the last month of the season (they don't match up well with Colorado) and Utah State far and away the class of the WAC. Jacob Pullen missed practice on Wednesday due to some food he ate, but he's tough and will be on the floor for the game. The question for the Wildcats is who steps up offensively to help him out, and two candidates there are Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels. And they will be tested by an experienced frontcourt led by WAC Player of the Year Tai Wesley.
Wesley averages 14.7 points and 8.0 rebounds per game for the Aggies, who have won eight straight games. On the perimeter junior Brockeith Pane has more freedom to make plays and senior Pooh Williams is a solid defender who will challenge Pullen for much of the night. Kansas State turns the ball over 15 times per game, and while they force nearly 16 per contest their opponents have been good at taking care of the basketball for much of the season. K-State also needs to hit the offensive boards as they rebound 41.3% of their misses on the season. If the Aggies can limit the Wildcats' good looks while also keeping them off the offensive glass they'll beat Kansas State, and it shouldn't be considered an upset either.
1:40 PM (13) Morehead State vs. (4) Louisville (TBS)
4:10 PM (12) Richmond vs. (5) Vanderbilt (TBS)
Here's another "12 over 5" scenario that would surprise few were it to happen. The Spiders start four seniors led by point guard Kevin Anderson and forward Justin Harper, two of the best players in the Atlantic 10. Vanderbilt is tougher than previous editions that made the NCAA Tournament but Kevin Stallings' team can still struggle in big road/neutral games. The Commodores are very good offensively however, with John Jenkins leading the way on the perimeter and big man Festus Ezeli in some areas being an upgrade when compared to the departed A.J. Ogilvy. Vandy averages 76 points per game, but they're going to have a hard time reaching that number against the Spiders.
Richmond has held each of their last six opponents to below 40% shooting from the field, and none of those teams shot higher than 28% from three either. The Spiders are very good in their defensive scheme when it comes to forcing challenged shots, an important characteristic given the fact that they don't force many turnovers (the high in turnovers for their last six opponents: 11). Offensively the Spiders can punish opponents that fall asleep with backdoor cuts, and if teams sag off an Anderson or Harper can go to work. This game will more than likely be one of the games that go right down to the very end.
2:10 PM (10) Penn State vs. (7) Temple (TNT)
The Nittany Lions and Owls get to fly across the country to meet, with Temple winning their most recent NCAA Tournament meeting (2001 Sweet 16). Temple won that game and has won 25 of the last 31 meetings, most recently beating Penn State 45-42 last season. The Owls have won six straight in the series but head coach Fran Dunphy has struggled in the Big Dance with a 1-12 career record in the event. Guards Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore will have their hands full with senior Talor Battle, but Temple is good enough defensively to keep tabs on arguably the greatest player in Penn State history. Temple allows opponents to shoot just 41% from the field and they enjoy a turnover margin of plus-2.5.
Temple has also been the better rebounding team of the two, and Lavoy Allen has stepped up since the loss of center Micheal Eric due to injury. But with the Owls' diminished depth up front comes increased opportunities for Nittany Lions such as Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones to hit the boards on both ends of the floor. Temple makes things difficult on their opponents, allowing an offensive efficiency of just 93.7, meaning that Penn State will need to get their offense from a variety of sources if they're to live to play another day.
4:40 PM (15) Northern Colorado vs. (2) San Diego State (TNT)
7:20 PM (14) Bucknell vs. (3) Connecticut (TNT)
9:50 PM (11) Missouri vs. (6) Cincinnati (TNT)
The final game of the day in Washington should be an entertaining contest, with a Missouri team that won just one conference road game taking on a Cincinnati club that's played better basketball over the last month or so. Yancy Gates has been more active for the Bearcats, and when he's ready to go the effort boosts the entire team. Five players average at least eight points per game for Cincinnati, and sixth man Sean Kilpatrick will be one of the key offensive options for them against a team that likes to ramp up the tempo. Missouri forces an average of 18 turnovers per game, but the Bearcats hand it over just 11.6 times so something has to give. A key for Cincinnati in their quest to keep Missouri from turning the game into a track meet will be their rebounding.
Missouri is not a very good rebounding team, allowing opponents to grab 36% of their misses on the season. Laurence Bowers and Ricardo Ratliffe are the key cogs up front for the Tigers, but they're not particularly big and the team has a rebounding margin of minus-2.0. Cincinnati's been better and if they're able to control the rebounding the flow of the game likely follows. Marcus Denmon, Michael Dixon Jr. and Kim English are the three leaders on the perimeter, but Mike Anderson will play a number of bodies throughout the course of the game. Eight players play 17 minutes or more per game for Missouri while nine play 13 or more for the Bearcats. Both teams have bodies to look to for contributions, but there's a big difference in how quickly these two want to play. He who controls tempo ultimately controls the outcome.