With selection Sunday in the books, it's now time to look ahead to the actual matchups (hooray!). Moreso than selection Sunday, even moreso than the Final Four, the opening round of the NCAA tournament is, in my opinion, the best two days of the sporting year. There are games on every channel (and with MMOD as well as their MMOD app you can do what I'm going to do and have a game on the TV, a game on the laptop, and a game on the iPad)
But with all of the games available, which ones should you go with? Fortunately, we have you covered. Here are five games that you absolutely have to turn in to watch:
11. Bucknell v. 6. Butler, Thursday @ 12:40 PM, TruTV
Bucknell got (probably) bumped up a seed line to an 11 seed, and their reward is facing one of only two teams this year to beat both Indiana and Gonzaga. Brad Stevens has already proven to be an excellent game planner, and now he has to try to stop Bucknell big man Mike Muscala, who not only carries the load on offense, averaging 19 points per game while shooting 53% from two, but he's also the number 1 defensive rebounder in the country. It's not a perfect comparison but Muscala should remind some Butler fans of Matt Howard, especially in that he draws a ton of fouls (6.6 per 40 minutes) and converts at the line (79%).
Butler is no slouch themselves in the defensive rebounding department, and they had the best two point defense in the Atlantic 10. They will face a stiff test inside with Muscala, especially considering they haven't always been able to defend well without fouling, especially against better big men. This will be a popular upset pick, and one I think I am going with as well.
5. Wisconsin v. 12. Ole Miss, Friday @ 12:40 PM, TruTV
The SEC Champs are heavy underdogs in this one (29% chance according to KenPom) but I can't help but be intoxicated by the Marshall Henderson storyline. The Badgers have one of the best defenses in the country, and they led the Big 10 in PPP allowed, eFG allowed, 2pt% allowed and 3pt% allowed. And it is also an extreme contrast stylistically: Wisconsin opponents took the seventh fewest threes in the country this year, and have taken just 100 more than Marshall Henderson has by himself. Surprisingly, given the number of threes he's taken this year, Henderson has gotten to the line his fair share as well, and is shooting 88% at the line.
Mostly though, I am excited to see how Wisconsin's methodical, rigid style of play contrasts with Henderson's brashness. Will he mention Mike Bruesewitz's ridiculous hair? Will he take after a former University of North Dakota hockey player and attack Bucky Badger? Or will Bo Ryan's stare of death scare the crap out of him?
5. Oklahoma State v. 12. Oregon, Thursday @ 4:40 PM, TNT
The consensus is Oregon was served an injustice in being given a 12 seed. The Ducks are ranked 43rd in KenPom so perhaps not, but they face a tough test in Oklahoma State.
It's a matchup in contrasting styles, with the Ducks having six players using 20-24% of possessions, and three more between 16-20%. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, has just two using more than 20%: LeBryan Nash, at 24.8% of possessions and Marcus Smart who is at 28.1%. If the Cowboys are to win this one, they'll need Smart to not take so many shots: he has just a 45.7% eFG on the year and for some reason he has taken 129 threes despite making fewer than 30% of them.
It should be a defensive battle with each team finishing second in their respective leagues defensively. Neither team shoots threes well but the Ducks' inability to hold onto the ball will probably give the Cowboys enough easy looks in transition to win.
4. Michigan v. 13. South Dakota State, Thursday @ 7:15 PM, CBS
The best point guard matchup in the first round of the tournament will come in this one, as should be national player of the year Trey Burke takes on Nate Wolters. Wolters shoots 39% from three, 55% from two and has a 34.5% assist rate. He had 27 points and 6 assists in the Summit League title game, but in order to pull the upset he will need some help. South Dakota State is the 10th best three point shooting team in America, so if they have a hot day the upset is at least possible.
Not to be outdone, though, Burke shoots 40% from three, 52% from two and has a 38% assist rate. Against the Big 10. Michigan also puts its opponents on the free throw line fewer than any other team in America, lessening the free points available for the Jackrabbits. The average college basketball fan has obviously seen quite a bit of Michigan this year, but watching Wolters vs. Burke will be a great way to end the first day of tournament action.
8. Colorado State v. 9. Missouri, Thursday @ 9:20 PM, TBS
The 8/9 matchups seem a bit underwhelming this year, but Colorado State and Missouri figures to be a great one. The big matchups come inside: Missouri is led by Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi, with Oriakhi being the owner of the 8th best true shooting percentage in the country. He also is a great offensive and defensive rebounder, and is a big reason why Missouri ranks 7th in offensive rebounding.
But they will face a stiff test, as Colorado State is only the best rebounding team in the country, ranking 2nd offensively and 1st defensively. They don't have a single rebounder as good as Oriakhi is, but three Rams have offensive rebounding rates 10% or higher and four have defensive rebounding rates of 14% or higher.
Missouri is probably the better team, but if Colorado State can keep it close and get Phil Pressey into thinking he needs to take over by scoring, and they can win the rebounding battle, they can be the ones advancing to take on Louisville. Also I don't think it will happen but I do think there is a possibility that whoever wins this game knocks off Louisville in the second round.