The first four days of the NCAA tournament are among the best of the sporting year. No human being can watch all that basketball at once, though, so it's a good idea to go in having planned which games you'll play the most attention to.
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With so much parity in college basketball this year, the 2014 NCAA tournament should be even more fun than usual. There are so few really good teams that the field is completely open. Almost nothing is off limits. Maybe this is the year a No. 16 finally beats a No. 1.
Probably not, but it's still going to be a great tournament, and this Thursday and Friday will be two of its best days.
In what is a packed two-day stretch of games, these four demand special attention.
No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Dayton
It's not often that two schools in the same state meet this early in the tournament. Despite being two relatively successful schools in the state of Ohio, Dayton and Ohio State have seldom met on the court.
Inevitably, Flyers fans allege that the Buckeyes have ducked them, while Buckeyes fans, such as the Associated Press' Tom Withers, merely brush aside the notion:
Love the "Ohio State is afraid to play Dayton" nonsense. Let's go.— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) March 16, 2014
NCAA tournament games don't need an extra layer of intrigue to be watchable. However, it does add to the fun.
OSU's definitely vulnerable in the second round. Although the play well defensively, they lack shooters. Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross are solid scorers, but they aren't consistent from long range.
That could come back to haunt the Buckeyes, and then maybe they'd have a real reason to fear the Flyers.
No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 9 Kansas State
One of the teams that seems most hard done by the selection committee is the Kentucky Wildcats. The Wildcats easily could've fit in as a No. 5 seed, but they're all the way down at No. 8. Alok Pattani of ESPN Stats and Information wrote that UK could have even been a No. 3 or No. 4 seed.
He tweeted out a graph showing Kentucky's differences in advancements if it would've received a seeding more in line with what it did this season:
From my article, comparison of Kentucky's advancement chances given current position vs if they got 3-seed in West: pic.twitter.com/TmYNK36q5R— Alok Pattani (@AlokPattaniESPN) March 18, 2014
First of all, you got to figure out why in the world did this happen? And now that it’s happened, I’m not worried about it. But someone’s got to find out when you have a strength of schedule of 2 – and that’s all they keep talking about – what did you use to make that team an 8? What did you use? And they can use anything. ‘Well, it was a cloudy day that day, and we decided they were an 8.’ And that’s what it is and you go, and as a coach, that’s fine. Put me where you want. Let’s go.
The best way for Calipari and the Wildcats to prove the selection committee wrong is to go out and throttle Kansas State. Leave no room for doubt as to the quality of your team.
Kentucky has so much talent that if everything starts clicking, it could be a Final Four team.
No. 7 Connecticut vs. No. 10 St. Joseph's
Three words: Phil Martelli's grandson.
Seriously, Philip Martelli is the cutest. It doesn't matter whom St. Joseph's is playing in the second round, the Hawks would be one of the must-watch teams simply by virtue of him prowling the stands emulating his grandfather.
It helps that their opponent is Connecticut, one of the teams shafted by the selection committee. How the Huskies earned only a No. 7 seed is anybody's guess, and they should use that perception as motivation.
UConn is a dangerous team, one capable of making a run to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight.
But more St. Joe's means more Philip Martelli, so the Hawks will have the support of an entire country behind them.
Rumor has it, Phil Jackson is eying up the younger Martelli to take over the New York Knicks head coach position next season. This will be a great audition for him.
No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 14 Western Michigan
I've gone on record calling Syracuse a Final Four team. I'll either look like a genius, or it'll blow up in my face in a big, big way.
The Orange could go down as early as the second round. They enter the tournament having lost three out of their last four and five of their last seven games.
Western Michigan, on the other hand, has won 12 out of its last 13 games. The Broncos don't excel in one area of the game, but their overall balance can make them tough to beat. They also have the kind of star in David Brown who can put the team on his back.
Head coach Steve Hawkins knows the Herculean task ahead for his team but will look to chip away at the favored Orange, per George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press:
Like in boxing, if you give your opponent enough body blows, when the hands come down, that’s when you try to deliver the knockout. In basketball terms, you kind of grind away, diving for loose balls. You get physical and rebound, you run your offense hard and play tough on defense. Those are the equivalent of body blows and that’s what maybe allows a 10-2 run to occur. And that 10-2 run or 12-4 run can be the difference in the game.
As much as it would destroy my bracket, seeing teams like Western Michigan win is what makes March Madness so fun.