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.
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But before we get to that, a word on the First Four. I could easily include Saint Mary's-Middle Tennessee State and La Salle-Boise State because those are both really, really good games. Yeah, there's no major-conference team there, but all four are just plain good basketball teams. They have faults, but this doesn't feel like weaklings squeaking in. Those games should be really good. Actual appointment television for Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Fantastic.
Now, as for the games that we do have set in stone for later in the week ...
West Region: Arizona (6) vs. Belmont (11). Thursday at 7:20 p.m ET on TNT. Belmont has been a chic upset pick in many of its recent appearances. But it has never been seeded as high as this year, and now I have to believe this is Rick Byrd's moment. His two-guard attack of Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson are going to give fits to Arizona's uneven backcourt. Belmont's not a big team, but it is the best one on defense Byrd's ever had.
Arizona's just out of sorts. It's talented but hasn't fully come into form this year. Most times, I think trendy upset picks of the 11/6 and 12/5 variety need to be avoided. Not here. Expect a really good game to go Belmont's way.
South Region: Michigan (4) vs. South Dakota State (13) Thursday at 7:15 p.m. ET on CBS. It's an incredible matchup of two of the best point guards in the nation. You could make an argument Trey Burke is the best 1 in the land -- and that Nate Wolters is the most vital PG to his team. The Jackrabbits played Baylor in last year's tourney, come back older and better, generally speaking, with the ability to shoot the 3. Michigan has been stumbling as of late. SDSU is a hot team. This could become a trendy upset pick.
Michigan should get a needed boost by playing this game in Auburn Hills. They'll have good crowd support. But South Dakota State has gone into Washington and New Mexico and won road games the past two years. So don't assume too much.
South Region: North Carolina (8) vs. Villanova (9) Friday at 7:20 p.m. ET on TNT. So we're already hearing about the temptation of North Carolina getting to play Kansas in the Round of 32. That would mean Roy Williams would coach against his former school. It's a great story. It's one that's making Williams sick right about now, as he'd like to never have to play KU. But regardless, it's out there.
Only one problem: UNC isn't exactly great. And Villanova has beaten Marquette, Syracuse, Louisville and Pitt this year. So before we all leap onto the KU-UNC game OMGOMG bandwagon, let's just see how this one plays out. Because I think it's going to be a really good one.
South Region: UCLA (6) vs. Minnesota (11). Friday at 9:57 p.m. ET on truTV. Talk on Twitter was that this would be the most popular upset pick of the Round of 64. Minnesota has bigs, is athletic and although was sliding for most of the second half of the season, the team did get wins over Indiana and Wisconsin in the past month.
UCLA is hampered without Jordan Adams, who broke his foot on the last play of the Pac-12 semifinals on Friday. That's why the Bruins are a No. 6 seed instead of a No. 5. But they're still talented. To me, this is one of those situations in which a lot of people will like Minnesota. Tubby Smith's team has lost three straight. It's fun, but it's kind of like UCLA in its erratic play.
And, of course, we have the backdrop of Smith and Ben Howland coaching for their jobs. Does the loser lose his? Could very well be the case.
Midwest Region: Colorado State (8) vs. Missouri (9). Thursday at 9:20 p.m. ET on TBS. OK, so this one's a nutty pairing. I think CSU has the ability and ceiling of a five seed, while Missouri's an underachieving team that probably deserves its No. 9 due to its inability to win on the road. CSU is a terrific, terrific team on the glass. It's the best rebounding team in the country. Missouri likes to run, has good athletes and a really good point guard in Phil Pressey. Can Colorado State guard on the perimeter against this team? That will be a challenge.
And Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers will have one of the five toughest challenges of their playing lives when they have to go up against 6-10 Colton Iverson, the only big man that CSU has -- but what a big he is. There is no more undervalued team in this tourney than CSU, and Missouri will know that. It will have memories of losing to No. 15 Norfolk State last year and look to get that first tourney win for Frank Haith. I love this matchup.
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