The real first round of the NCAA Tournament starts today, with the slate of 16 games that will leave us all wondering which bracket-busting upset will come first—or if the favorites will survive unscathed. TheSportsNotebook’s daily sports league will run through the games in the sequence they’ll appear on TV…
Valparaiso-Michigan State (12:15 PM ET, CBS)
Bucknell-Butler (12:40 PM ET, truTV)
Comment: All of these games have some level of trendiness in them when it comes to upset picks. I’ve been hearing media talk about Valpo, but I frankly respect Tom Izzo and the defense Michigan State plays too much to be thinking about a shocker here. For Bucknell-Butler it’s about the next round—both teams are seen as good shots to beat #3-seed Marquette. Apparently nobody’s watched Butler played the last two months.
Wichita-Pitt (1:40 PM ET, TBS)
New Mexico State-St. Louis (2:10 PM ET, TNT)
St. Mary’s-Memphis (2:45 PM ET, CBS)
Davidson-Marquette (3:10 PM ET, tru TV)
Comment: Apparently no one believes in Marquette, because they’re also a trendy pick to be knocked out by Davidson. I understand why—the fact I’ve been extolling the coaching job MU’s Buzz Williams did all season means that I think the Golden Eagles are a little bereft of deep talent, and that always catches up to you eventually. But a team that plays hard defensively will win a game like this. The Wichita-Pitt and St. Mary’s-Memphis games are both really good ones, and we watch with baited breath to see if Pitt can finally win a tough game in the NCAA Tournament.
Southern-Gonzaga (4:10 PM ET, TBS)
Oregon-Oklahoma State (4:40 PM ET, TNT)
Comment: Oregon is a 12-seed and a team a lot of people like to advance. I’m not one of them, which almost certainly bodes well for the Ducks. But if you watch this game you’ll not only see a pretty good matchup, but an immensely talented freshman in Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart.
N.C. A&T-Louisville (6:50 PM ET, TBS)
South Dakota State-Michigan (7:15 PM ET, TBS)
Belmont-Arizona (7:20 PM ET, TNT)
Cal-UNLV (7:27 PM ET, tru TV)
Comment: I’ve got Cal-UNLV is the best game of the entire first day. The Golden Bears are my upset pick, going to the regional final as a #12 seed, and a live dog at 60-1 to reach the Final Four. But the Rebels have good forward talent with Anthony Bennett and Mike Moser. Michigan and Arizona are seen in various circles as prone to the upset, but I’m not buying on either one. I don’t think Belmont is good enough do to it, and I think Michigan will have the twofold advantage of being backed by the home crowd at the Palace (home of the Detroit Pistons) and the fact that they’ve heard everyone talk all week about how good South Dakota State guard Nate Wohlers is. Excuse me, but Michigan has a guard named Trey Burke who isn’t exactly under-the-radar.
Missouri-Colorado State (9:20 PM ET, TBS)
Akron-Virginia Commonwealth (9:45 PM ET, CBS)
Harvard-New Mexico (9:50 PM ET, TNT)
Montana-Syracuse (9:57 PM ET, tru TV)
Comment: It’s an East-Coast friendly card. As in, there’s not a lot the folks on the East Coast have to worry about missing if they don’t feel like staying up until midnight. The favorites should mostly hold serve. Missouri-Colorado State’s intrigue lies in the fact that I think Mizzou could give Louisville some problems this weekend, whereas CSU is not as likely. But Colorado State is also a veteran team that could certainly win this game. If you’re a Louisville fan, or one of the many who have them going a long way, pull for Colorado State.
CLEANING UP FROM WEDNESDAY
James Madison and LaSalle won their play-in games from Dayton. A big thumbs-up to the defensive effort from JMU. They weren’t as good as Long Island to begin with and then they had their best player, Rayshawn Goins, suspended for the first half. James Madison stepped up, held Long Island to 35 percent from the floor and give Goins credit—he only played 13 minutes, but he was aggressive, getting eight rebounds.
LaSalle beat Boise State 80-71 in a game where the offenses controlled play. LaSalle shot a sizzling 63 percent, including 11/21 from three-point range—I don’t think we’ve seen a team from Philly shoot that well in the NCAA Tournament since Villanova hit 78 percent to beat Georgetown in the epic 1985 NCAA final. It turned out LaSalle needed it—the hot shooting overcome Boise’s rebounding edge, a nice 49 percent shooting effort from the Broncos themselves and Anthony Drmic being the best player on the floor with 28 points. LaSalle also got an unexpected 22 points off the bench from Tyrone Garland. I picked the Explorers to win this game, but to be honest, if I’d have known how much would have to go right for them, I’m sure I would have thought twice.
LEST WE FORGET
They still play pro basketball and hockey during March Madness. It’s a light NBA schedule tonight, with Portland-Chicago from the Windy City being the notable game. The Blazers are four back of the playoffs in the West, while the Bulls are three out of the #4 seed and first round homecourt in the East.
In the NHL, the game of the night is Boston-Ottawa. The Bruins lead the Senators by three points on the 4-5 seed line, meaning home ice in the first round. Both teams are on the heels of Montreal for the Northeast Division and possible #1 seed in the East.