The five must-watch games in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64
We'll have 32 games to choose from on Thursday and Friday. Here are the five you absolutely need to watch.
We do this post every year. With 32 games going down on Thursday and Friday, you want to know which ones should play out to the closest endings. Which styles will give us really good games. What are upset possibilities? So here we are. The five Thursday/Friday games that you need to make sure you watch are below.
I do want to chime in real quick on the First Four games between at-large teams, though. Iowa-Tennessee is way intriguing. Both teams were expected to be single-digit seeds -- really, No. 6 or better -- entering this season. Both have a lot of talent. Iowa can score and run, but its defense is miserable. Tennessee has talent but is so inconsistent, I believe Vols fans are not even faithful they'll keep it close against Iowa.
I think Tennessee wins. Iowa has dropped six of its past seven.
In the other game, the field's surprise entrant, North Carolina State, plays Xavier. People don't know enough about the Musketeers, who have Semaj Christon. In a word, the guy is a baller. But Matt Stainbrook being healthy enough to play will be vital for Xavier. I'm actually thinking NC State wins a sloppy affair. T.J. Warren had an incredible season. He was the ACC Player of the Year and is one of the 10 best players entering this year's tournament. I'll take the Wolfpack in a close but ugly game.
Now, as for the games that we do have set in stone for later in the week; all times ET and p.m.
South Region -- Ohio State (6) vs. Dayton (11), Thursday, 12:15 on CBS: The intra-Ohio battle is interesting for a few reasons. First, Ohio State won't schedule Dayton during the regular season, so now the Buckeyes have to deal with the Flyers in the ultimate setting. What a thrill. Plus, you have a lot of kids on that Dayton team that probably would have loved to have been a Buckeye at some point. Passed over. That's motivation. Also, Jordan Sibert plays for Dayton. Used to be a Buckeye. Spicy.
It could be the final game of Aaron Craft's career. OSU has had huge issues on offense this season, illustrated by the play that eliminated the Buckeyes from the Big Ten tournament.
Midwest Region -- Louisville (4) vs. Manhattan (13), Thursday, approx. 9:50 on TNT: What a plot line. Rick Pitino coaching against Steve Masiello. Masiello attended Kentucky when Pitino coached there. But the two go back even further. Masiello was a ball boy for Pitino's Knicks teams during the 1980s. Neither man is happy to be coaching in this game. The two must have felt nauseated upon seeing the bracket reveal.
But it will make for a hell of a watch! Louisville is a chic Final Four pick, understandably, but Manhattan is actually the sneakiest upset play of any 12 seed or lower that nobody's taking a chance on right now. Jaspers have vigor!
East Region -- North Carolina (6) vs. Providence (11), Friday, 7:20 on TNT: It's intriguing because North Carolina is an enigma. Yeah, UNC has shown for a while that it's reasonable to consider it a top-20 team. But those bad losses can't be forgotten. And UNC didn't look good in falling 80-75 to Pittsburgh (a Pitt team that's overseeded, by the way) in the ACC tournament.
I just saw Providence win the Big East tournament and basically revive a dormant fan base in the process. It was a thrilling scene at MSG on Saturday night. The Friars are better than a No. 11 seed. Probably a 9, just in terms of what the team is and what it can do. I think they can catch UNC on an off night. Of any Round of 64 game, I feel like this is the one -- outside of the 8/9s -- that has the best chance of being in doubt with 30 seconds to go.
South Region -- VCU (5) vs. Stephen F. Austin (12), Friday, 7:27 on truTV: My single favorite game Thursday or Friday has to offer. VCU has Havoc and Shaka Smart and Briante Weber's awesome stealing ability. The Rams work you, and they're an incredible watch.
And they're going up against a team that has won 29 in a row and 58 of its past 65 games. Stephen F. Austin is an intriguing story. I haven't had time to research this, but at the very least SFA is one of only a handful of teams, if that, to enter the NCAA Tournament with a winning streak of 29 or more games. Small-major team, but they've killed a lot of their opponents. And they play a much different style than VCU. I'm thrilled the NCAAs rewarded SFA with a solid seed. Winning that many games is tough, and they can't control their league schedule. Give 'em a No. 12, and they did.
I think it's a total toss-up. I'll take SFA merely because winning 29 straight blows my mind, no matter what name is on the jersey.
Midwest Region -- Kentucky (8) vs. Kansas State (9), Friday, approx. 9:40 on CBS: Way, way too many people are assuming Kentucky's going to beat K-State. It's an all-Wildcats battle, with the purple-tinged ones owning wins over Gonzaga, Kansas, Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Kentucky has beaten Louisville, Providence and Tennessee. This is no gimme game, folks. Bruce Weber's team stands a very good chance of not only winning, but winning comfortably.
If you're going to take one factor into account here, it's that Kentucky was reportedly way ticked off at receiving a No. 8 seed. I want to see Calipari's guys play with anger. Why not? Then it will get interesting. But I'll believe it when I see it.
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