There are few better days on the calendar than the first couple of rounds of the NCAA tournament. This year will be especially exciting with some interesting matchups right away.
After the opening round of the four play-in games, the real tournament gets underway with the round of 64. These two days will feature some great battles between favorites and sleepers, with both sides capable of making a run in the Big Dance.
While most of these early contests tend to be close in score, these should be thrilling from beginning to end and will likely be decided on the final few possessions.
No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 9 Villanova
At first glance, North Carolina is extremely under-seeded in this tournament. The Tar Heels have played extremely well since moving to a smaller lineup, and they have won eight of the past 10 games.
With the way that Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston can shoot the ball, this squad has the ability to beat any team in the country, which is not good news for a Kansas team that looms in the next round.
However, Villanova will not be an easy out. The Wildcats were a bubble team for much of the season, but the committee obviously loved a resume that included wins over Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette and Syracuse.
Considering this team's ability to get up for a big game, Kansas seems to be in trouble regardless of who wins the eight-nine battle.
The difference will end up being the pace. North Carolina loves to get up and down the floor as quickly as possible. If Villanova is not ready for this attack like in the last loss to Louisville, the Tar Heels will run away with this one.
It will take great frontcourt play for the Wildcats to pull out a win.
Prediction: North Carolina 78, Villanova 74
No. 5 Oklahoma State vs. No. 12 Oregon
Oregon is quickly becoming a favorite for those looking for a big-time upset in the second round. The Ducks won the Pac-12 tournament title and are 4-2 with Dominic Artis back on the floor.
However, it is important not to dismiss what Oklahoma State has done this season. The squad finished with 12 wins in the final 15 games and ended the regular season one game away from a share of the Big 12 title.
Marcus Smart is one of the most talented point guards in the country and he gets a lot of help from Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash.
With both teams peaking at the right time of the year, this should be an excellent matchup.
The game will come down to how well each team shoots the ball. Neither team is very good at hitting deep shots, although the Cowboys do take a lot of them. If Oregon defends the perimeter well, the team can pull the upset.
In the end, however, Oklahoma State should have the athleticism to get enough points and rebounds to get the win and advance.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 68, Oregon 66
No. 7 Illinois vs. No. 10 Colorado
After spending the past couple of months playing exclusively Big Ten opponents, Illinois is probably ready to face a team outside of the toughest conference in America.
Leading scorer Brandon Paul should be especially happy to get some open looks away from the tough defenses of Wisconsin and Ohio State.
Unfortunately, Colorado will almost be as tough to score on as any team the Illini have faced this year. Spencer Dinwiddie can guard any top player by himself and the team as a whole ranks No. 28 in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.
Illinois has struggled to score in recent weeks, and things could get even worse if Paul is slowed down. With Andre Roberson racking up rebounds, points will be at a premium.
The good news for the Big Ten team is that Colorado struggles to score as well. The Buffaloes have a great deal of balance with five players averaging nine points or more per game, but the bench has provided very little help.
In a defensive struggle, the side that can create tough points will get the win. Dinwiddie can get himself to the free-throw line as well as anyone in the country, and that could be enough for this team to pull out a win.
Prediction: Colorado 53, Illinois 51
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