The opening weekend. 48 games, thousands of story lines, and 16 survivors. Tomorrow, the first eight teams will punch their ticket to the second weekend. Let's look at all of tomorrow's games with my two cents on each of them. All times are EDT.
No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 5 VCU - 12:15 on CBS
My bracket says Michigan will win this game, but after Thursday, I'm debating my mind. Shaka Smart has shown how smart he can be come tourney-time, and I found Michigan to be underwhelming in their win over South Dakota State. If Trey Burke can play the way Trey Burke is capable of, it will be difficult for VCU's trademarked "havoc" defensive style to assert itself; however, if they are able to force turnovers, then they can win this game. At the end of the day, the Wolverines are too careful with the ball (averaging only 9 turnovers a game) to let the Rams settle into their style of play. Michigan takes this one 73-65.
No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 6 Memphis - 2:45 on CBS
This game features a contrast of battle-tested team against a team which, by virtue of playing in Conference-USA, played a relatively easy schedule. All three of Memphis' RPI top-50 wins came against Southern Mississippi, while Michigan State went 8-7 against teams in the tournament. While Memphis was able to assert their athleticism advantage against Saint Mary's, the big bodies of Payne and Nix will be too much for them to handle. Spartans roll 68-55.
No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 8 Colorado State - 5:15 on CBS
The number one overall seed, playing in Lexington, who are playing their best basketball of the season at the right time, against Colorado State, who were one of only two teams out of the Mountain West to garner a win in the Big Dance (New Mexico, Boise State, and UNLV all took opening game exits). The extremely pro-Louisville crowd, plus the extreme talent advantage will propel the Cardinals to a commanding 73-60 win over the Rams.
No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 14 Harvard - 6:10 on TNT
Who would have thought on March 2nd that Harvard would be in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament. Fresh off a pair of crushing losses to Penn and Princeton, Harvard needed to win out and get a pair of losses out of Princeton to make the tournament. Fast forward to their opening game of the NCAA Tournament and they knocked off No. 3 New Mexico 68-62. This was Harvard's first NCAA Tournament win in school history, losing in their two prior appearances. But that's enough about Harvard, Arizona knocked off a very talented Belmont team in their opening game in convincing fashion. Sean Miller built a winning program at Xavier before taking over for a legend in Lute Olson at Arizona and bringing them back to their winning ways. Arizona will crush Harvard's Cinderella dreams 68-50.
No. 4 Saint Louis vs. No. 12 Oregon - 7:10 on TBS
Oregon proved on Thursday that they were vastly under-seeded, knocking off Oklahoma State with conviction. Meanwhile, Saint Louis proved that they very much deserved a four seed, beating New Mexico State and their 7-5 player by 20. Saint Louis plays excellent defense and Oregon is turnover prone; however, I smell an upset in this game. Oregon was seeded as if they were missing key cog Dominic Artis, who has missed time throughout the season with an injury; however, with him in the lineup in addition to defensive wizard Arsalan Kazemi, the Ducks could pull off the upset. Ducks take this one in an ugly 58-55 win.
No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 6 Butler - 7:45 on CBS
Marquette has no business still being in this tournament. The worst three point shooting team in the country hits a plethora of big shots at the end and former Wisconsin-commit Vander Blue hits the game winning layup with one second to play to help beat No. 14 Davidson. On the other side of the coin, after an incredibly shaky first 30-minutes, Brad Stevens did what Brad Stevens does during the month of March, win. Andrew Smith helped bring the Bulldogs to a victory over No. 11 Bucknell with a double-double, setting up a match-up of not particularly good shooting teams. Marquette is playing on borrowed time, and can either come out flat or with something to prove. I'm guessing the former and Butler takes this one 66-58.
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Wichita State - 8:40 on TNT
Gonzaga was not too far away from being the first ever top-seed to lose to a sixteen seed in their game against Southern. Kelly Olynyk looked good not great, but turned it on in the second half to lead his team to victory. The Zags certainly cannot feel good about that one, and it will be interesting to see if Mark Few can break the threshold into the second weekend. He goes up against an upstart Wichita State team who soundly defeated No. 8 Pittsburgh on Thursday. While some are predicting a shocker here, I'll take Gonzaga to win this one 72-66.
No. 4 Syracuse vs. No. 12 California - 9:40 on TBS
Syracuse came out last game against Montana and made everyone remember just how good their zone can be when they are active and forcing turnovers. In a game that Doug Gottlieb called as his upset pick for the region, the Orange made no mistakes about who the better team was. They face a Cal squad who beat a very talented but very inconsistent UNLV team in their opening game. If the combination of Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe can hit their shots and feed David Kravish in the high post, the weaknesses of Syracuse's zone, then they have a chance to pull off the upset, but I just can't see it happening. Syracuse continues their momentum that they built throughout the first 90% of the Big East Tournament and win this one 68-58.