Although there have been some NCAA tournament games already, the Big Dance will really get its start today.
With the ever-closing talent gap between the teams in the middle and those at the top, the quality of the games in the early rounds will continue to rise. Most of the time, fans watch the few couple of rounds simply to see which top seeds are going to get knocked off.
That isn't necessarily the case this year. With so few teams distancing themselves from the rest of the pack, there aren't that many schools that look like nailed-on favorites. Every team is vulnerable, thus making for extremely compelling viewing.
In a Thursday full of great games, these three should command your attention.
No. 5 Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. No. 12 Oregon Ducks, 4:40 p.m. ET
Many will rightfully feel that the Oregon Ducks were hosed by the selection committee. They managed to win the Pac-12 tournament title and finished with an RPI of 46. That was only good enough to warrant a 12th seed in the eyes of the selection committee. It gets the Ducks a date with the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
While Oregon has a right to feel aggrieved, its misfortune is to the benefit of college basketball fans, as they're treated to a great matchup very early in the tournament. Oklahoma State had a very good season but wasn't very good against teams in the top 50 of the RPI, only managing a 6-6 record.
Both teams surrendered fewer than 64 points a game and neither was really prolific at the offensive end of the court. This one might not be pretty to watch, but it should be extremely close.
No. 6 Arizona Wildcats vs. No. 11 Belmont Bruins, 7:20 p.m. ET
The Belmont Bruins are going to be an extremely tricky opponent for the Arizona Wildcats. Much like the Ducks, the argument could be made that the Wildcats were extremely hard done by the selection committee.
While Arizona got out to a fast start with a 16-1 record, the Wildcats only went 9-6 to close out the year. Their punishment for that lukewarm finish was a date with Belmont.
The Bruins were explosive during the regular season and conference tournament. Belmont as a team shot 49.4 percent from the field, which is fourth in the country, and averaged 77.2 points a night. Ian Clark is the kind of player who can take a game over. He shot an unfathomable 46.3 percent from three-point range. If he gets hot, Arizona could be in major trouble.
No. 5 Virginia Commonwealth Rams vs. No. 12 Akron Zips, 9:45 p.m. ET
It's a sign of progress that the Virginia Commonwealth Rams were given a No. 5 seed. That would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago.
The Rams are one of the most fun teams to watch in the tournament. They're averaging 78.0 points a game which is good enough for 11th in the country. With Shaka Smart at the helm, you're guaranteed to have entertaining, fast-paced basketball.
Although the Akron Zips will be without Alex Abreu, they still has Zeke Marshall, the active leader in blocked shots. His defense alone can change a game. On the other side of the court, should he get going, his post game can help Akron offensively when it tries to slow the tempo of the game.
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