|We've got 36 games from now until Friday. Below, the five best from the Round of 64. (US Presswire)|
I'll start this post off with a disclaimer: If Iona defeats BYU Tuesday in the first round, its game against Marquette is No. 1 with a bullet on this list. We could have the least-surprising 14 over a 3 in NCAA tournament history if that happens. And I love Marquette. Think Marquette's good enough to reach New Orleans. But Iona's a scoring machine -- and teams that love to run in March are my favorite.
Now, with that out of the way, here are the five can't-miss, set-it-stone Round of 64 tilts. And if yo want to see every tip time, announcer team and location of all the games, click here.
West Region: New Mexico (5) vs. Long Beach State (12). Thursday, 4:10 ET, TBS. Taking a purview of Twitter, texts with friends and watching some tube, it seems this game, not the 5 vs. 12 below, is the one that's the trendy upset pick. The Beach is a blast to watch. It's led by Casper Ware, the NBA-bound senior point guard who's a box of dynamite on the floor. Dan Monson's team played an amazingly tough schedule this season: San Diego State, Pitt, North Carolina, Kansas, Louisville, Xavier. It didn't win most of those games, but it looked good in a lot of them.
So does it benefit now? New Mexico's 27-6 and a team that's playing as well as anyone not on the one or two line right now. I said two weeks ago I was putting this team into the Sweet 16. That's considerably harder to do when I see Long Beach State in its face right at the outset. I love New Mexico, but it played a non-conference schedule that was weak bones compared to LBSU. This one's a complete toss-up to me.
South Region: Wichita State (5) vs. Virginia Commonwealth (12), Thursday, 7:15 ET, CBS. No First Four this time around for Shaka Smart's team. I'm thrilled for this game, primarily because I'll be there to watch it. You should be thrilled about this game because it features one of the best on-ball defensive teams in the country (VCU) going against a Wichita State team that's pretty responsible. We've been treated to a good batch of 5 vs. 12s this year. The committee seeded correctly in every case, so that especially helps.
Additionally, the coaches in this game bring intrigue because, whoever loses, that guy's name will be tossed out for some jobs right away. Smart and Gregg Marshall have been two very coveted guys in the past 12 months.
Player-wise, look out for Wichita State's Joe Ragland, who's one of the deadliest scorers under 75 inches in college basketball. VCU's Brad Burgess vs. WSU's Touré Murray is the battle to watch.
East Region: Gonzaga (7) vs. West Virginia (10). Thursday, 7:20 ET, TNT. Yep, this means you'll need to be watching two games at once -- which is totally doable with March Madness Live. Interesting on two fronts. One, Gonzaga's only been to the Sweet 16 twice in a decade under Mark Few. This year, it looks like another challenge, and it'll start by playing West Virginia in Pittsburgh. Yeah, see, the selection committee does its best to not give lower seeds a crowd advantage in terms of geography, but it failed here. WVU's campus is an hour from Pitt. Gonzaga is on the other side of the country. The Bulldogs are definitely the better team -- it's not even close -- but expect the game to be close because WVU fans know how to travel and fill a building up.
Plus, Bob Huggins has a 15-4 record in his Round of 64 games, formerly known as the first round. The balance to Gonzaga's talent and size down low is Kevin Jones, who's the best player on the floor. He'll wear a West Virginia uniform. This one feels like 68-66 with two minutes to go, Huggins' credential flapping around his waist as he prowls the sidelines.
South Region: Iowa State (8) vs. Connecticut (9). Thursday, 9:20 ET, TBS. Oh, don't tell me you've fallen prey to it, too. You've already put UConn into the Round of 32? Have you forgotten how bad the Huskies have looked this season? Here's the story: UConn doesn't have anyone who can guard Iowa State's Royce White, the dynamic point forward with a passing game that puts anyone on UConn's roster to shame.
It's ISU's first NCAA trip since 2005. Fred Hoiberg's ability to bring in discarded transfers and make an NCAA tournament should get more attention than it's going to this week. You'll hear about it more if the Cyclones win this game, which they absolutely can.
The other story line here: If UConn loses, is it Jim Calhoun's final game? If he wins, yeah, he faces John Calipari and Kentucky. The two had a falling out when Cal was at UMass. That's the sexy story line for the weekend. But we've seen those potential meetings fall short before.
Midwest Region: Georgetown (3) vs. Belmont (14). Friday, 3:10 ET, truTV. Hey, guys, come look at this. I think we've got something here. Remember when Georgetown was a three seed a few years ago and it got pasted by Ohio in the first round? Now the Hoyas, who are a four, really, get to play Belmont, which is really a 13. So this is a game that's expanded one seed line too far in each direction.
Either way, an upset is possible -- and I'm calling it right now. The Hoyas don't want anything to do with Belmont. The Bruins are the 23rd-ranked KenPom.com team with the No. 12 offense in the country. Georgetown's more defensive-oriented, and it's a little bigger, but not by much.
You couldn't get two coaches much more different than the stoic John Thompson III and Rick Byrd. Belmont's 30-win team from a year ago got a brutal draw in Wisconsin. Georgetown is kind of like Wisconsin, only not as good as last year's Badgers. The Bruins have never won an NCAA tournament game. I think they get it here in a close on from start to end.