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The 10 first-round NCAA tournament games you can’t miss


Mike Miller

There are 32 games on Thursday and Friday. It’s been impossible to watch them all in the past, but the new staggered TV times makes it possible.

Still, not everyone can watch everything. So here are the 10 games you can’t miss.

10. (2) Kansas vs. (15) Detroit: With Ray McCallum Jr. at the point the Titans have the floor general needed to author an upset, but they’ve also got multiple options inside to help deal with Thomas Robinson. Eli Holman and LaMarcus Lowe are both experienced big men who will offer up challenges to the Jayhawks, especially if Jeff Withey struggles. The Titans are experienced and they’re talented as well, and unlike most high-major teams in a position like Kansas’ the Jayhawks don’t enjoy a huge edge in the depth department.

9. (7) Gonzaga vs. (10) West Virginia: Gonzaga makes the trek east for their NCAA tournament games, taking on the Mountaineers in Pittsburgh. The Steel City may be 90 miles away from Morgantown but given the “Backyard Brawl” it’s tough to figure out how much of an advantage Bob Huggins’ team will enjoy with regards to the crowd. A bigger concern for the Bulldogs is defending Kevin Jones, who led the Big East in both scoring and rebounding. Elias Harris and Robert Sacre’ counter Jones and Deniz Kilicli, and in Kevin Pangos the Bulldogs have one of the best freshman guards in the country. WVU will need smart decisions from Truck Bryant if they’re to advance.

8. (3) Georgetown vs. (14) Belmont: This Midwest Region battle in Columbus has the potential to result in an upset due to the caliber of the underdog. Rick Byrd’s Bruins go eight deep and are led by guard Kerron Johnson, one of the top players in the Atlantic Sun. Belmont also has two big men in Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders capable of defending Henry Sims, and from a style standpoint this match-up could be a better fit for them than last year’s game against Wisconsin. Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson have played well for the Hoyas and freshman Otto Porter has improved as the season’s progressed, but this has the look of a game that could go down to the wire.

7. (4) Wisconsin vs. (13) Montana: This East Region battle will feature some very good guards, and while most of the country will know of the Badgers’ Jordan Taylor the Grizzlies have a pair of very good guards as well. Junior Will Cherry and sophomore Kareem Jamar are integral parts of the Montana attack, with Cherry the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and Jamar the conference tournament MVP. Wisconsin relies heavily on the three-point shot but the Grizzlies were the best in the Big Sky when it came to defending the three. Bo Ryan’s system is tough to attack if unfamiliar with it, but Montana does have the ability to pull off the upset.

6. (4) Louisville vs. (13) Davidson: With this West Regional match-up taking place in Portland, from a crowd standpoint things could turn on the Big East tournament champions from the start. But there’s also the question of which Louisville team shows up at the Rose Garden: the one that won four games in New York or the one that struggled with consistency for much of the season. Davidson, who beat Kansas in Kansas City earlier this season, has three players who can compete with anyone in De’Mon Brooks, Jake Cohen and J.P. Kuhlman. If Peyton Siva, who played well last week, struggles with decision-making a Davidson win is more than possible.

5. (8) Memphis vs. (9) Saint Louis: On one side there’s an immensely talented team that’s playing its best basketball of the season at just the right time in Memphis. On the other side is a Saint Louis team that’s played better than expected back in October coached by one of the game’s best in Rick Majerus. That will offer up a contrast that shouldn’t fail to entertain viewers, with Memphis looking to pressure defensively while SLU will do more in the half court. Will Barton’s played at an All-America level this season for the Tigers, and while undersized Brian Conklin has been one of the leaders inside for Saint Louis.

4. (5) New Mexico vs. (12) Long Beach State: Two of the top teams in the western United State face off in Portland, and the tenor of the game will likely be determined by the health of Long Beach State wing Larry Anderson. He sat out the Big West tournament with a sprained knee, and while he’s expected back it remains to be seen if there’s any rust. The Beach will need to find an answer to the question of defending Drew Gordon, but they do have the conference’s all-time leading rebounder in T.J. Robinson. UNM is talented on the perimeter and was one of the best defensive teams in the Mountain West. Casper Ware (LBSU) and Kendall Williams (UNM) are two other players to watch in this one.

3. (7) Notre Dame vs. (10) Xavier: Xavier isn’t a “run and gun” team by any stretch of the imagination but they will be tested from a discipline standpoint as they attempt to deal with Notre Dame’s “burn” offense. Mike Brey’s Irish will look to limit the number of possessions within a game, and young guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant have done a good job of that this season. Of course the Musketeers can counter with Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, but neither may be their most important player in this battle. That would be Kenny Frease, who has to hold his own with Jack Cooley if Xavier is to win.

2. (8) Iowa State vs. (9) Connecticut: The winner gets Kentucky, and while many have assumed that it will be the Huskies who advance, don’t eliminate the possibility of Fred Hoiberg’s team winning. The Cyclones use 6'9" Royce White as their point guard, and his ability to work on the perimeter makes him a tough match-up. Can Roscoe Smith guard him on the perimeter? Yes, but he’ll also need to be strong enough to deal with White inside as well. ISU also has capable perimeter shooters, which could pose a problem for Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Jeremy Lamb. The Huskies haven’t lived up to the preseason expectations while the Cyclones have surpassed theirs, and both are capable of advancing.

1. (5) Wichita State vs. (12) VCU: The team that made the run to the Final Four last season matches up with one of the trendy picks to do so this season. Shaka Smart’s Rams believe in “havoc”, a style of play that brings about a frenzied level of play within each possession. In Wichita State they’ll have to deal with a team that’s got good guards (led by Joe Ragland) and takes care of the basketball. Gregg Marshall also has a seven-footer in Garrett Stutz, who was a First Team All-MVC selection. D.J. Haley and Juvonte Reddic will need to play well inside if the Rams are to win, and the battle to control the tempo will be a game within the game.