Thursday’s action offered two very different displays from No. 1 seeds in their respective regions. The national title contenders playing on Friday will try to follow Louisville’s lead while avoiding the mistakes Gonzaga made in its opening game.
The Cardinals cruised to a 31-point victory over North Carolina A&T, as everyone expected. But the Bulldogs struggled significantly against Southern and came away with just a six-point victory.
Gonzaga’s thoroughly unimpressive win leaves it with little momentum going forward, not an ideal way to start its tournament run.
Here are the teams that will be looking to start their national title quest off on the right foot.
Note: all teams deemed national title contenders have at least a five percent chance of winning the 2013 NCAA Tournament, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.
No. 2 Duke
Opponent: No. 15 Albany
When: 12:15 p.m. ET
Those who think that Duke will not be taking this game seriously have very short memories. Just a year ago, the Blue Devils were stunned when No. 15 Lehigh knocked them out in the Round of 64.
With three senior leaders, Mike Krzyzewski’s team has a much better chance to avoid another massive disappointment. However, the expectations are also higher this year.
Losing to any Midwest region opponent but Louisville will ultimately make this tournament run a disappointment. The Blue Devils need to set the tone and erase the memory of last year’s defeat with a dominant performance in this game.
No. 1 Indiana
Opponent: No. 16 James Madison
When: 4:10 p.m. ET
Next to Louisville, no team in the tournament appears better suited for a national title run than Indiana. The Hoosiers have been impressive enough to earn President Obama’s support.
Tom Crean has two legitimate Player of the Year candidates in Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. These two form a dominant inside-outside duo.
Indiana’s explosive offense will be the key to its tournament, and the team must look sharp in this game. The Hoosiers must space the floor well, move the ball and hit open jump shots to pile up the points and blow out James Madison.
No. 2 Ohio State
Opponent: No. 15 Iona
When: 7:15 p.m. ET
If Ohio State were in another region, Nate Silver’s calculations may not have been so kind to the Buckeyes. But Gonzaga is the only team seeded higher in the West, and its struggles at the start of the competition have already been noted.
Thad Matta’s team is ferocious on defense but lacks a legitimate offensive threat outside of Deshaun Thomas.
For the Buckeyes to have a shot at a national championship, the role players must prove against Iona that they are ready to contribute to the scoring effort.
No. 3 Florida
Opponent: No. 14 Northwestern State
When: 7:27 p.m. ET
The Gators are the stat geeks’ darlings in this tournament because most of their losses this season have come in extremely close games. The team’s average margin of defeat is fewer than five points.
Ken Pomeroy has Florida ranked No. 5 in the nation in offensive efficiency and No. 2 in defensive efficiency. No other team in the nation is as impressive on both ends of the floor, and Pomeroy has the Gators as his highest-rated team.
Billy Donovan’s team needs to go out and prove that these numbers have predictive power by kicking off its tournament with a comfortable victory over Northwestern State.
No. 1 Kansas
Opponent: No. 16 Western Kentucky
When: 9:50 p.m. ET
Kansas has no worries on the defensive end of the floor, but the team is going to have to prove it has the offensive firepower to win a national championship.
Ben McLemore must get comfortable with the March Madness atmosphere, as too many talented freshmen have failed to live up to expectations in the NCAA Tournament.
Point-guard play has also been a concern at times during this season, and Elijah Johnson needs to prove right from the start of the tournament that this will not be an issue. These two players need to lead a big victory over Western Kentucky.
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