This is a holiday for college basketball fans. The round of 64 begins today (Thursday) and the 2013 NCAA tournament offers up outstanding matchups.
With plenty of early action to keep us occupied, though, that also allows us to get prepped for Thursday evening. In short, the readiness that comes from all the excitement surrounding March Madness.
And here, we check out the best games to keep a closer eye on when the later actions tips off.
Belmont vs. Arizona
The Belmont Bruins have the criteria set to make a Cinderella run. Combining great experience with an excellent offense and the thirst for a tournament victory, the Bruins are quite dangerous.
Don't anticipate the Arizona Wildcats to just tumble over, though. Arizona can get physical inside and brings almost as impressive of an offense. Defensively the two are rather equal with Belmont ranked No. 96 in opposing shooting percentage (41.3) and Arizona at No. 106 (41.5)
One advantage, however, is Belmont's ability to rely on multiple scorers. Four average 10-plus points per game and the Bruins connect from the field at 49.4 percent. The Wildcats are stronger in the paint, but their defense will get challenged quite often from this tough mid-major.
Akron vs. VCU
Despite Akron's impressive run through the MAC this season, it still pales in comparison to that of VCU. The Rams compete in the Atlantic 10, one of college basketball's deepest conferences that saw seven schools hit 20-plus victories.
On the flip side, this is also madness and it's impossible to discount the potential of a team such as the Zips. Offensively, anticipate Akron to match VCU as it averages 72.7 per game and is just a solid when it comes to rebounds, assists and field goal percentage.
Because of this side being rather equal, defense and strength of schedule will play a greater factor. VCU faced schools such as Butler, Saint Louis within the conference as well as Duke and Memphis in nonconference games.
In addition, the Rams still managed to rank No. 1 in generating turnovers (19.9) which is a supreme advantage for transition opportunities.
Harvard vs. New Mexico
On paper it's reasonable to believe that New Mexico is going to straight up dominate Harvard. The Lobos court a better defense, faced a tougher schedule and are more physical inside.
Well, the Crimson aren't as far behind as they appear. The game within this contest will be the Lobos' ability to consistently challenge shots. Harvard ranks No. 12 in field-goal percentage (48.2) and New Mexico is No. 18 in opposing shooting percentage (38.8).
So, when Harvard goes on a run, the longer New Mexico lets that last will keep the Crimson offense around and rolling. The Lobos don't have the offense to keep pace with the Crimson, but are capable of winning the possession battle to shorten the game.
And given the New Mexico defense and ability to win the paint, controlling the clock and reducing Harvard's opportunities is to the Lobos' advantage.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of TeamRankings.com
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