How will Wooden Award favorite Doug McDermott
follow up a stellar regular season and Big East tournament? (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Thursday brought us overtimes, buzzer beaters, game winners, game-tying threes, upsets and big shots galore. There was a moment at one point in the evening where it felt like we were privy to something special. That this was a room we knew we weren't supposed to be in, but that the security guard was going to let it just be our little secret.
And then it kind of hit everyone at once -- we had another day just like it (hopefully) coming up: 16 more games on Friday. Thursday's last game ended after 1:30 a.m. ET and there would be basketball in just under 11 hours. Because it comes just once a year, you kind of forget how great it actually is until you're right in it.
We're lucky. We really are.
Midwest Region: No. 14 Mercer (26-8, 14-4 in Atlantic Sun) vs. No. 3 Duke (26-8, 13-5 in ACC)
Mercer team preview and prediction | Duke team preview and prediction
How to watch: 12:15 p.m. ET, CBS
What to watch for: Jabari Parker, obviously. But outside of that, Duke has an offense that is incredibly gifted and fun to watch. Rodney Hood is a nice complement to Parker, Blue Devils' guards Quinn Cook or Rasheed Sulaimon can hit jump shots or take their defender off the bounce and the team makes the most of its possessions. Mercer's going to try to slow the game down, but if Duke gets on one of its 12-0 flash runs, the Bears will have to find a way to stay calm.
West Region: No. 11 Nebraska (19-12, 11-7 in Big Ten) vs. No. 6 Baylor (24-11, 9-9 in Big 12)
Nebraska team preview and prediction | Baylor team preview and prediction
How to watch: 12:40 p.m. ET, truTV
What to watch for: This Baylor team (like most Baylor teams, honestly) is volatile. It has the potential to beat anybody in the country and also lose head-scratching games that make no sense. The Bears have terrific talent, especially inside, but will need a well-rounded effort to beat a surging Nebraska team playing with a lot of confidence under Tim Miles.
South Region: No. 10 Stanford (21-12, 10-8 in Pac-12) vs. No. 7 New Mexico (27-6, 15-3 in Mountain West)
Stanford team preview and prediction | New Mexico team preview and prediction
How to watch: 1:40 p.m. ET, TBS
What to watch for: New Mexico has dropped games in the first weekend for a few years in a row now and the Lobos have to be getting sick of it. Stanford wasn't a lock to make the tournament for a few weeks until a close win over Utah to close the regular season and a couple wins (including one over Arizona State) in the Pac-12 tourney sealed it. Both teams are pretty balanced on both sides of the ball, but New Mexico might have the edge by the numbers.
West Region: No. 16 Weber State (19-11, 14-6 in Big Sky) vs. No. 1 Arizona (30-4, 15-3 in Pac-12)
Weber State team preview and prediction | Arizona team preview and prediction
How to watch: 2:10 p.m. ET, TNT
What to watch for: If this is your first true exposure to Arizona's defense, you're in for a treat. We didn't get to see the big ol' blowout in the No. 1 vs. No. 16 yesterday as Albany gave Florida a real test, but something tells me Weber State won't have the guys to keep up with the Wildcats' pair of Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon along with having to worry about 'Zona's stellar D.
Midwest Region: No. 11 Tennessee (22-12, 11-7 in SEC) vs. No. 6 UMass (24-8, 10-6 in Atlantic 10)
Tennessee team preview and prediction | UMass team preview and prediction
How to watch: 2:45 p.m. ET, CBS
What to watch for: This will be another strange game where the lower-seeded team is actually favored. Tennessee has size and length and can be a matchup nightmare defensively. The Vols seem to have bought into Cuonzo Martin's defensive philosophy of late, and that led to a charge down the stretch. Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae are the real deal, and the computers really like the Volunteers -- Tennessee is No. 9 overall in KenPom.
West Region: No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette (23-11, 11-7 in Sun Belt) vs. No. 3 Creighton (26-7, 14-4 in Big East)
Louisiana-Lafayette team preview and prediction | Creighton team preview and prediction
How to watch: 3:10 p.m. ET, truTV
What to watch for: Louisiana-Lafayette had a great run in the Sun Belt tournament, knocking off a very talented team in Georgia State to get to the Big Dance. But we're kidding ourselves if we're not watching this one to see how many points Doug McDermott can drop, right?
South Region: No. 15 Eastern Kentucky (24-9, 11-5 in Ohio Valley) vs. No. 2 Kansas (24-9, 14-4 in Big 12)
Eastern Kentucky team preview and prediction | Kansas team preview and prediction
How to watch: 4:10 p.m. ET, TBS
What to watch for: The Colonels can shoot, and if players like Glenn Cosey (.425 3pt) are hitting their jumpers early, this could be a fun up and down game. Kansas hasn't had much trouble scoring with Joel Embiid out, and Andrew Wiggins has been taking over, but the Jayhawks aren't really stopping anybody either lately.
West Region: No. 9 Oklahoma State (21-12, 8-10 in Big 12) vs. No. 8 Gonzaga (28-6, 15-3 in WCC)
Oklahoma State team preview and prediction | Gonzaga team preview and prediction
How to watch: 4:40 p.m. ET, TNT
What to watch for: Most teams aren't making the NCAA tournament with a sub-.500 conference record unless they win their conference tournament. But most teams aren't Oklahoma State, which had some extenuating circumstances. Marcus Smart's suspension came during a mid-season slide, and after he returned the Cowboys were playing at a high level again with Smart and Markel Brown scoring early and often. Gonzaga has some playmakers of its own, and this is an 8-9 game that shouldn't disappoint.
East Region: No. 9 George Washington (24-8, 11-5 in Atlantic 10) vs. No. 8 Memphis (23-9, 12-6 in AAC)
George Washington team preview and prediction | Memphis team preview and prediction
How to watch: 6:55 p.m. ET, TBS
What to watch for: Good luck trying to predict what Memphis is going to do in the tournament. The Tigers split with Oklahoma State and beat Louisville and Gonzaga this year, but lost to Houston and needed overtime to beat Temple. They can look dazzling for a five-minute stretch then go five minutes without a field goal. This could be a good matchup for the Colonials, who boast five players averaging 10 points or more per game.
Midwest Region: No. 16 Cal Poly (14-19, 6-10 in Big West) vs. No. 1 Wichita State (34-0, 18-0 in Missouri Valley)
Cal Poly team preview and prediction | Wichita State team preview and prediction
How to watch: 7:10 p.m. ET, CBS
What to watch for: Cal Poly is a nice story, having gone from 10-19 to the Round of 64 by way of winning its conference tournament and the First Four matchup against Texas Southern. But that fun run should end against the Shockers, who tore through the regular season with an undefeated record after making the Final Four a year ago.
East Region: No. 11 Providence (23-11, 10-8 in Big East) vs. No. 6 North Carolina (23-9, 13-5 in ACC)
Providence team preview and prediction | North Carolina team preview and prediction
How to watch: 7:20 p.m. ET, TNT
What to watch for: We did it everyone, by believing and clapping and hoping really hard we got Bryce Cotton in the NCAA tournament. Thankfully. As a bonus we get to see the Friars' senior square off against another super talented guard in Tar Heels sophomore Marcus Paige, who has the ability to turn it on in the second half and bring UNC back from the dead. This isn't your typical Tar Heels team; outside of Paige there are no reliable shooters, so UNC will need to rebound and establish superiority inside.
South Region: No. 12 Stephen F Austin (31-2, 18-0 in Southland) vs. No. 5 VCU (26-8, 12-4 in Atlantic 10)
Stephen F Austin team preview and prediction | VCU team preview and prediction
How to watch: 7:27 p.m. ET, truTV
What to watch for: I've had this matchup circled since the brackets came out. SFA hasn't lost since late November and runs a slow tempo that emphasizes execution. The Lumberjacks really guard you and make you use as much of the shot clock as they can. Which is exactly the opposite of what VCU is going to do. The Rams run Havoc and do everything fast. VCU shouldn't be bothered by slow teams -- it beat Richmond (302nd in tempo) three times over the course of the season -- but this one could be close.
East Region: No. 16 Coastal Carolina (21-13, 7-9 in Horizon) vs. No. 1 Virginia (28-6, 16-2 in ACC)
Coastal Carolina team preview and prediction | Virginia team preview and prediction
How to watch: 9:25 p.m. ET, TBS
What to watch for: The Cavaliers earned their No. 1 seed the hard way, winning both the ACC regular season and conference tournament. Virginia is getting production out of guys not named Joe Harris (including Malcolm Brogdon, who has taken his game to another level this season), and it continues to be a real nuisance defensively with that Pack-Line defense. So even though it's great that the Chanticleers are in the tournament, this bad offensive team is going to really struggle against the Wahoos.
Midwest Region: No. 9 Kansas State (20-12, 10-8 in Big 12) vs. No. 8 Kentucky (24-10, 12-6 in SEC)
Kansas State team preview and prediction | Kentucky team preview and prediction
How to watch: 9:40 p.m. ET, CBS
What to watch for: The infamous John Calipari "tweak" seemed to work, as the Wildcats made it to the SEC title game and almost knocked off Florida. His gifted but infuriating freshmen (including the dominating Julius Randle) still boat the upside to do big things, but they have to play under control and disciplined against a pretty good defense in Bruce Weber's Wildcats.
East Region: No. 14 North Carolina Central (28-5, 15-1 in MEAC) vs. No. 3 Iowa State (26-7, 11-7 in Big 12)
NC Central team preview and prediction | Iowa State team preview and prediction
How to watch: 9:50 p.m. ET, TNT
What to watch for: The young son of N.C. Central head coach LeVelle Moton was hospitalized after suffering burns from knocking off a cup of coffee. Moton stayed the night in the hospital but traveled with his team to San Antonio, noting how tough it was not having his family there with him. His plucky Eagles should be ready to go. They have a solid defense and boast an early-season win over a very athletic N.C. State team. They'll need to stay focused -- Iowa State has three incredible players in DeAndre Kane, Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim.
South Region: No. 13 Tulsa (21-12, 13-3 in C-USA) vs. No. 4 UCLA (26-8, 12-6 in Pac-12)
Tulsa team preview and prediction | UCLA team preview and prediction
How to watch: 9:57 p.m. ET, truTV
What to watch for: Will we see some late-night voodoo? The Golden Hurricane, coached by (yes, that) Danny Manning, make their money on defense and are in the midst of a nice winning streak, taking the C-USA title over a very solid Louisiana Tech team. But UCLA will pose a serious challenge. The Bruins are terrific on offense, and Tulsa will have its hands full against the likes of Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams in particular.
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