I covered the 32 reasons why the NCAA Tournament, year after year, is great. By looking at all 32 first-round matchups, I explain why the 2013 Tournament, specifically, will be memorable.
1. Louisville vs. Liberty/North Carolina A&T
Liberty will need to win its play-in game in order to get into the field of 64 and take on Louisville, but I’m sure they are relishing their spot on national television, where the 15-20 Flames can show Duke transfer Seth Curry what he’s been missing.
2. Colorado State vs. Missouri
Get ready for some Norfolk State highlights, Mizzou fans.
3. Oklahoma State vs. Oregon
The Cowboys are probably wondering why they have to play a 4 seed in the first round.
4. St. Louis vs. New Mexico State
The Billikens and Aggies can explain their mascots to each other.
5. Memphis vs. Middle Tennessee State/St. Mary’s
If Middle Tennessee wins its play-in game, it would set up an in-state showdown between two nearly identical teams, statistically. Memphis and MTSU shoot the same percentage from three and turn the ball over at the same rate. Their point distributions are virtually the same (as far as twos, threes, free throws), and their efficiency numbers on offense and defense are within a point per 100 possessions. The upside for the Tigers is that they only need to prepare for St. Mary’s; they essentially see MTSU in practice.
6. Michigan State vs. Valparaiso
I’d love to see the sideline reporter interview Valpo coach Bryce Drew in the style of “The Chris Farley Show” from SNL:
Reporter: Remember in 1998 when you guys played Ole Miss and you hit that buzzer beater to win the game?
Reporter: That was awesome.
7. Creighton vs. Cincinnati
A top-15 offense (Creighton) vs. a top-15 defense. I believe Greg and Doug McDermott are the only father-son pair in this year’s Tournament; Canisius and Detroit fell short in their conference tournaments.
8. Duke vs. Albany
Duke did not get a 1 seed! And they are in the toughest region! That, more than anything, tells you how wild this college basketball season has been.
9. Gonzaga vs. Southern
Southern, out of the SWAC, is the best team the Zags have faced in weeks. I am only half-joking.
10. Pittsburgh vs. Wichita State
The box score will be devoid of every statistic except rebounds.
11. Wisconsin vs. Ole Miss
Marshall Henderson vs. the most disciplined program in college basketball. I could easily see Henderson snapping and punching a Wisconsin player. I could also see a kid like Wisconsin freshman Sam Dekker, a pure scorer who doesn’t get as many minutes as he should, looking at the Rebels’ free-wheeling offense and transferring at halftime.
12. Kansas State vs. Boise State/La Salle
Boise gets one of the last spots in a playoff to determine the sport’s champion? Chris Petersen asks, “Where can I sign up?”
13. Arizona vs. Belmont
Is this the year the Bruins win a Tournament game? Belmont has been to the Dance five times since 2006, but other than a one-point loss to Duke in 2008, hasn’t competed too well. Arizona seems beatable.
14. New Mexico vs. Harvard
I’m sure there were plenty of casual hoops fans who saw New Mexico as a 3 seed and realized they hadn’t watched all that much college basketball this season.
15. Notre Dame vs. Iowa State
My older brother runs a bracket contest every year and always gives his thoughts on Notre Dame’s draw in his invitation email. This is what he wrote this year: “ND will probably lose to Iowa State in crushing fashion. That is all.”
16. Ohio State vs. Iona
Am I the most qualified person in the country to assess this matchup? Yes, and I’m telling you it doesn’t look good for the Gaels. Their leading scorer, the guy who is most certainly going to take a lot of shots in an NCAA Tournament game, is negated by perhaps the best on-ball defender in the country. MoMo Jones vs. Aaron Craft will be fun, but not for Iona.
17. Kansas vs. Western Kentucky
I have this vision in my head of Big Red swallowing Jeff Withey whole.
18. North Carolina vs. Villanova
Can we just replay this matchup from the 2005 Sweet 16? Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, Allan Ray, Raymond Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants—these guys are available, right?
19. VCU vs. Akron
Facing Havoc without your point guard? You’re cruel, selection committee.
20. Michigan vs. South Dakota State
I could talk about the similarities between these teams or how Trey Burke vs. Nate Wolters should be thrilling, but I’d rather focus on Tim Hardaway (the dad) and his winter hat. After his son makes his first basket, expect the cameras to show pops in the stands with his hat covering no more than 10 percent of his head.
21. UCLA vs. Minnesota
The experts are saying Minnesota will win the opening tip and spend the next 40 minutes rebounding their own misses.
22. Florida vs. Northwestern State
We’ll certainly see highlights of the last time Northwestern State was in the Tournament, in 2006. As a 14 seed (same as this year), the Demons beat Iowa by one in one of the craziest finishes I’ve ever seen.
23. San Diego State vs. Oklahoma
Any game involving San Diego State is great because it allows for two things: the “I believe that we will win” chant and reminiscing about the Aztecs’ miraculous point spread cover against Temple in the 2011 Tournament.
24. Georgetown vs. Florida Gulf Coast
I saw FGCU in person when they played St. John’s close in November. Sherwood Brown is a great scorer who won’t be intimidated by a Big East school.
25. Indiana vs. LIU Brooklyn/James Madison
Ask Tom Crean if he’d rather switch spots with Louisville, the No. 1 overall seed, and I’d bet say he’d no. While the Hoosiers won’t play in Indianapolis, they won’t have to go through the same gauntlet as the Cardinals.
26. North Carolina State vs. Temple
N.C. State is this year’s classic underachiever relegated to the 8-9 game. Are we supposed to believe the Wolfpack will just turn it on for the Dance? They enter the Tourney with two more wins than they had at this time last year, and that squad went to the Sweet 16 as an 11 seed. That team came also within a basket of winning the ACC Tournament, so there were signs of a turnaround.
27. UNLV vs. California
Yes, the first meeting between these two teams was thrilling (UNLV won on a last second shot at Cal on Dec. 9), but thrilling enough to warrant a rematch in the first round of the NCAA Tournament?
28. Syracuse vs. Montana
The Grizzlies probably aren’t going to pull off the upset, but at least their conference doesn’t hate them.
29. Butler vs. Bucknell
This figures to be a low-possession, low-scoring, physical game. What else is playing in this time slot?
30. Marquette vs. Davidson
Davidson, a 14 seed, is only a 3.5-point favorite. The school that blessed us with Stephen Curry enters the Dance on a 17-game win streak, the longest in the country.
31. Illinois vs. Colorado
Illinois beat two No. 1 seeds this season but lost to non-Tourney teams Purdue, Northwestern, and Iowa. Will the three-pointers be falling against Colorado?
32. Miami (FL) vs. Pacific
The USBWA press release announcing the Coach of the Year Award referred to the winner as Jim Larrañaga. Larranaga is of Cuban descent, but I had never seen his name spelled that way. Is this the kind of distraction the Hurricanes need as they head into the Tournament?