2016 NCAA TOURNAMENT BRACKET BREAKDOWN: Must-see first round matchups
This is the age of the multi-screen experience. This week, you’ll plop down on your couch with the big screen in front of you and a phone, laptop and tablet within reaching distance. You’ll have the entire NCAA tournament at your fingertips.
Prioritization is the name of the game here. You’ve got to know which games need the 48-inch treatment and which can be relegated to your iPhone. Maybe you need to know when a food run might be in order. Or, in a worst-case scenario, when you might actually consider sneaking some work in on your Thursday and Friday.
Whatever the case, below are the games you’ll want to be sure to carve out time and screen space for.
TUESDAY, March 15
No. 11 Vanderbilt vs. No. 11 Wichita State, 9:10 p.m. ET (truTV): At this point, the Shockers and their story are well known. Their KenPom ranking (12) is nearly as high as their seed after they were bounced by Northern Iowa in the MVC tournament, leaving them on the bubble with a weak tournament resume. The Commodores put themselves in Dayton with a loss to Tennessee in the SEC tournament. Wichita State has KenPom’s top-ranked defense while Vanderbilt ranks in the top-35 on both ends of the floor. Either one of these teams could pose a problem for Arizona on Thursday.
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THURSDAY, March 17
No. 9 UConn vs. No. 8 Colorado, 1:30 p.m. (TNT): Two of the nation’s best defenses square off in Des Moines. The Buffaloes are strong inside and out defensively as teams shoot poorly inside the arc against them while Colorado still manages to keep opponents’ 3-point shots to a minimum. It’s incredibly difficult to score inside on the Huskies, who allow opponents to shoot just 41.3 percent on 2-point shots (fifth nationally) while blocking 14 percent of shots.
No. 13 Iona vs. No. 4 Iowa State, 2:00 p.m. ET (TBS): Look for a lot of possessions and a lot of points in this one. The Cyclones ranked 15th nationally in points per game (No. 3 in KP offensive efficiency) while the Gaels are 31st in points (60th in KP AdjO). On the flip side, both rank outside the top-100 in defensive efficiency. Neither team will slow the pace, either, as they rank among the quickest offenses in the country. There’s star power, too, with All-American Georges Niang headlining for the Cyclones and 22-point-per-game scorer A.J. English for the Gaels.
No. 9 USC vs. No. 8 Providence, 9:50 p.m. (TBS): This may be one of the toughest games to call in the first round, and it could be a heck of a nightcap on the first day of the true tournament. It could come down to which team is able to control tempo as the Trojans will likely be trying to speed the game up while Ed Cooley’s bunch will try to make it a slug-fest. Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil highlight the Friars’ contingent while Andy Enfield’s group has six players averaging at least 9.8 points per game, led by Jordan McLaughlin at 13.4.
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FRIDAY, March 18
No. 10 Syracuse vs. No. 7 Dayton, 12:15 p.m. (CBS): This could be a very fun way to open Day 2. The Orange enter the tournament reeling having lost five of their last six, but remain a dangerous draw with a defense that can really turn teams over. The Flyers boast one of the nation’s best defenses as well, though their offense can stagnate at times. A Jim Boeheim vs. Archie Miller battle is a nice piece to this as well.
No. 11 Gonzaga vs. No. 6 Seton Hall: Gonzaga needed a run through West Coast Conference tournament to guarantee their 18th-straight NCAA tournament appearance after a regular season in which the Bulldogs went 23-7 without racking up much in the way of resume-boosting wins. Still, this is a talented group with Kyle Witljer and Domantas Sabonis out front. The Pirates enter the tournament hot after running through the Big East tournament, knocking off two-seeds Xavier and Villanova in the semis and final. Isaiah Whitehead may be one of the most under-the-radar talents in the country to casual fans.
No. 10 VCU vs. No. 7 Oregon State: VCU played an incredibly demanding non-conference schedule in Will Wade’s first year at the helm, but the Rams had nary few wins to show for their efforts, putting them as the underdog here despite having a better statistical profile than the Beavers. Oregon State’s Gary Payton II is one of the country’s best assist men and - no surprise here - can be a major nuisance defensively for opponents.
No. 11 Northern Iowa vs. No. 6 Texas : After a 2-6 start to MVC play, the Panthers caught fire in the conference tournament, knocking off Wichita State in the semifinals (relagating them to Dayton in the process) and getting a buzzer-beater from Wes Washpun in the finals to beat Evansville. The Longhorns out-performed expectations in Shaka Smart’s first season, and could be welcoming Cameron Ridley back into the mix after he sat out most of the season with a broken foot. The matchup to watch here, though, is Washpun and Isaiah Taylor in a battle of lightning-quick point guards.
No. 14 Stephen F. Austin vs. No. 3 West Virginia: If you like aggressive, pressuring defenses, this is the game for you. No one does it better than West Virginia these days, but Brad Underwood -- a former Bob Huggins assistant -- is 58-1 in Southland games at SFA with a win over VCU in the 2014 NCAA tournament.