NCAA Tournament 2013: Biggest Storylines to Watch for on Thursday

Patrick ClarkeCorrespondent IMarch 20, 2013

March 10, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Trey Burke (3) reacts during the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Crisler Center. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

While Tuesday and Wednesday's First Four matchups technically signal the start of the NCAA Tournament, the madness doesn't truly begin until Thursday afternoon, when the round of 64 tips off.

Thursday's slate will feature 16 games spanning roughly 12 hours. Top seeds Louisville and Gonzaga will begin their tournament runs on Thursday, but seeing as a No. 1 has never lost to a No. 16 seed, there are much more intriguing storylines to break down in the lead-up to tip off on Thursday afternoon.

Let's take a look at the biggest storylines to watch for on Thursday.


Mountain West, Atlantic 10 Look to Prove Their Worth

Some were shocked on Selection Sunday to learn that the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 Conferences each earned five bids to the NCAA Tournament, combining for 10 teams in the 68-team field.

On Thursday, three Mountain West teams and three A-10 teams will begin their tournament runs in the round of 64. No. 6 Butler, No. 5 VCU and No. 4 Saint Louis will all take on lower-seeded teams, while No. 3 New Mexico, No. 5 UNLV and No. 8 Colorado State will do the same.

Sure, each team can prove its worth and that it belongs with a win. But they also risk embarrassment with an upset loss. It'll be very interesting to see which of these teams can come through and make the round of 32.

It goes without saying that Thursday will be a huge day for both conferences, as they can either prove they belong in the conversation with the Big Ten, Big East and ACC, or give credence to the suggestion that they don't compare to college basketball's power conferences. 


Epic Point Guard Matchup in Auburn Hills

While most college basketball fans are familiar with Michigan star Trey Burke, many are unaware of South Dakota State's Nate Wolters.

Wolters is the nation's fourth-leading scorer, averaging 22.7 points per game, and one of the country's top playmakers, posting 5.8 assists per game as a senior this season. Burke's numbers are equally as impressive though, especially considering he's only a sophomore.

Burke, who is a National Player of the Year candidate in 2013, is averaging 19.2 points and 6.7 assists per outing this season for John Beilein's Wolverines. 

Look for Burke and Wolters to go head to head for the better part of 40 minutes on Thursday night in Auburn Hills. This is a terrific individual backcourt showdown to watch out for, and a No. 4 vs. No. 13 matchup in the South Region with tremendous upset potential.

Remember, the fourth-seeded Wolverines lost at this stage last year to 13th-seeded Ohio.


Harvard, Montana Go for Late-Night Upset Bids 

In the last two games to tip off on Thursday, 14th-seeded Harvard and 13th-seeded Montana will look to bust brackets around the country by knocking off New Mexico and Syracuse respectively.

Both Harvard and Montana are among the top shooting teams in America this year, and the Ivy League champions are one of the best three-point shooting teams in college basketball in terms of percentage (40.1).

Harvard is set to make its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance in 2013 after losing to Vanderbilt in the round of 64 a year ago. Meanwhile, Montana is making its second appearance in a row as well and its third since 2010. That said, both of these double-digit underdogs boast valuable tournament experience, even if it's just in the round of 64.

Wayne Tinkle's Grizzlies of Montana will be 13-point underdogs going up against the Orange in San Jose, while the Crimson will be getting 11.5 points against Mountain West champion New Mexico in Salt Lake City.


Be sure to stay updated throughout March Madness using Bleacher Report's live 2013 NCAA Tournament bracket. And remember to download and print out your own bracket.

Follow all the exciting NCAA Tournament action with March Madness Live.

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

Follow _Pat_Clarke on Twitter