Must-Watch Thursday Game:
Southeast No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 Michigan St., TBS, 9:20 PM
These two teams have two of the richest basketball traditions of any schools in the country, but they have been pretty bipolar this season. UCLA’s strongest wins of the year were a 7-point victory at home over BYU in December and a 21-point blowout of Arizona in February. Michigan State entered the year as a top-5 team and was expected to win the Big Ten. This team hung with Duke in Cameron, beat then-No. 11 Washington and blew out Purdue in the conference tournament. If either of these teams get hot, weak No. 2 Florida better be ready for a tough matchup.
Honorable Mentions: Southeast—No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Belmont, No. 6 St. John’s vs. No. 11 Gonzaga, No. 5 Kansas St. vs. No. 12 Utah St.
Must-Watch Friday Game:
Southwest No. 6 Georgetown vs. No. 11 USC/VCU
This Georgetown team is another one which is difficult to figure out. The Hoyas enter this matchup having lost four games straight; however, in a two-week span ranging from late January to February, they recorded wins against St. John’s, Villanova, Louisville and Syracuse. Senior guards Austin Freeman and Chris Wright will hope to right the ship and get rid of the bitter taste in their mouths from last year’s opening round loss to No. 14 Ohio.
Honorable mention: West-No. 5 Arizona vs. No. 12 Memphis
Least Interesting First Round Game: West-No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 9 Tennessee
Sleepers: Michigan St., Belmont
No. 1, 2 or 3 seed most likely to lose this weekend: Florida
Players to Watch:
Derrick Williams, Arizona. Arguably the nation’s most dominant big man, Williams has been overlooked by many fans because of the Pac-10’s down year. The athletic 6-foot-8 sophomore led the Wildcats to their first Pac-10 title since the 2002-03 season. Williams’ level of play will dictate whether Arizona falls in its first game or makes a deep run in the tournament.
Kalin Lucas, Michigan St. After being named Big Ten Player of the Year as a sophomore, the Spartans lost in the national championship game to the Tar Heels. Last season, Lucas injured his leg in Michigan State’s victory over Maryland. After averaging over 17 points-per-game this season, including a 30-point performance in a victory over Purdue in the Big Ten tournament, you can be sure this is a 10-seed that nobody wants to match up against.
Final Four: UNC, Duke, Pitt, ND
Final Four Most Outstanding Player: Brad Wannamaker
National Champion: Pitt
Pitt got the easiest draw of the one seeds, and I don’t think anyone in their bracket can keep up with their physical style of play for 40 minutes. After winning the arguably the strongest conference in decades, they will hoist the trophy in Houston.