The 2014 NCAA Tournament is officially underway, but the madness won't begin until the second round tips off on Thursday afternoon.
All Your Bracket Essentials:
With 32 win-or-go-home matchups set to unfold over 36 hours, there'll be plenty of fantastic finishes, upsets and excitement for college basketball fans to take in.
Below I'll set the table for the second round with a prediction for every game in every region.
*Spread info according to Covers.com.
Heavyweights Prevail in the East
|East Region 2nd-Round Picks|
|Fri, March 21 at 9:25 p.m.||(1) Virginia Over (16) Coastal Carolina|
|Fri, March 21 at 6:55 p.m.||(8) Memphis Over (9) George Washington|
|Thu, March 20 at 2:10 p.m.||(5) Cincinnati Over (12) Harvard|
|Thu, March 20 at 4:40 p.m.||(4) Michigan State Over (13) Delaware|
|Fri, March 21 at 7:20 p.m.||(6) North Carolina Over (11) Providence|
|Fri, March 21 at 9:50 p.m.||(3) Iowa State Over (14) NC Central|
|Thu, March 20 at 6:55 p.m.||(7) Connecticut Over (10) Saint Joseph's|
|Thu, March 20 at 9:25 p.m.||(2) Villanova Over (15) Milwaukee|
While the potential for a pair of upsets in the East Region second round certainly exists with No. 11 Providence and No. 12 Harvard both posing a threat, look for chalk to hold up across the board.
No. 1 Virginia, No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Iowa State and title favorite No. 4 Michigan State are all favored by at least 8.5 points, and only the Cyclones' spread is in single digits.
As already mentioned, if you're looking for upsets in this region, No. 5 Cincinnati and No. 6 North Carolina have the potential to be early victims. Win or lose, the Bearcats will have their hands full with Harvard, who have won eight straight games coming in and who played Colorado and Connecticut tough on the road out of conference, losing both games by a combined 13 points.
Meanwhile, North Carolina concluded the regular season on a two-game losing streak and will be going up against a scorching-hot Friars squad who boast one of the nation's top players in Bryce Cotton. The senior guard is averaging 21.4 points and 5.8 assists per game this season.
But while the potential for Cinderella exists in both matchups, watch for both the Tar Heels and the Bearcats to advance to the third round this weekend.
In the final two second-round games, No. 7 Connecticut and No. 8 Memphis will be slight favorites over No. 10 Saint Joseph's and No. 9 George Washington, respectively.
Stephen F. Austin Surprises the South
|South Region 2nd-Round Picks|
|Thu, March 20 at 4:10 p.m.||(1) Florida Over (16) Albany|
|Thu, March 20 at 1:40 p.m.||(9) Pittsburgh Over (8) Colorado|
|Fri, March 21 at 7:27 p.m.||(12) Stephen F. Austin Over (5) VCU|
|Fri, March 21 at 9:57 p.m.||(4) UCLA Over (13) Tulsa|
|Thu, March 20 at 12:15 p.m.||(6) Ohio State Over (11) Dayton|
|Thu, March 20 at 2:45 p.m.||(3) Syracuse Over (14) Western Michigan|
|Fri, March 21 at 1:40 p.m.||(7) New Mexico Over (10) Stanford|
|Fri, March 21 at 4:10 p.m.||(2) Kansas Over (15) Eastern Kentucky|
In arguably the most popular upset pick out there, look for streaking No. 12 Stephen F. Austin to shock No. 5 VCU in the South Region second round on Friday.
After all, the Lumberjacks have won 28 game in a row, move the ball extraordinarily well and do an excellent job of forcing turnovers. PennLive.com's Dustin Hockensmith explains why the 12th-seeded Southland Conference champions are so dangerous:
Stephen F. Austin can take care of the basketball, which can work against VCU’s pressure defense. … the Lumberjacks are also the better rebounding and shooting team while creating havoc of their own on the defensive end. … the pressure could be a game-changer against a team that shoots just 41.9 percent. … SFA has momentum on its side with 28 straight wins and plays a troublesome style that can prevail in a one-and-done matchup.
Outside of Stephen F. Austin, No. 9 Pittsburgh is the only other lower-seeded team with a great shot to reach the third round. The Panthers are 5.5-point favorites over Colorado.
No. 6 Ohio State and No. 7 New Mexico will each face tough tests in No. 11 Dayton and No. 10 Stanford, respectively, but are favorites to win and are without the question the better teams.
Meanwhile, No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Kansas (even without Joel Embiid), No. 3 Syracuse and No. 4 UCLA will all make it past the second round.
New Mexico State Crashes West Third Round
|West Region 2nd-Round Picks|
|Fri, March 21 at 2:10 p.m.||(1) Arizona Over (16) Weber State|
|Fri, March 21 at 4:40 p.m.||(9) Oklahoma State Over (8) Gonzaga|
|Thu, March 20 at 7:27 p.m.||(5) Oklahoma Over (12) North Dakota State|
|Thu, March 20 at 9:57 p.m.||(13) New Mexico State Over (4) San Diego State|
|Fri, March 21 at 12:40 p.m.||(6) Baylor Over (11) Nebraska|
|Fri, March 21 at 3:10 p.m.||(3) Creighton Over (14) Louisiana-Lafayette|
|Thu, March 20 at 3:10 p.m.||(7) Oregon Over (10) BYU|
|Thu, March 20 at 12:40 p.m.||(2) Wisconsin Over (15) American|
A No. 13 seed has knocked off a No. 4 seed and reached the Round of 32 in each of the past six years. In 2013, it was La Salle topping Kansas State en route to the Sweet 16. In 2014, look for No. 13 New Mexico State to play the role of Cinderella.
Led by Daniel Mullings and anchored by 7'5", 355-pound center Sim Bhullar, the Aggies are only 6.5-point underdogs against No. 4 San Diego State, who went out early last year following a Round of 32 loss to Florida Gulf Coast. Keep in mind that New Mexico State is incredibly efficient offensively, ranking ninth in the country in team field-goal percentage.
Elsewhere in the West, No. 1 Arizona, No. 2 Wisconsin and No. 3 Creighton are all seemingly locks for the third round while No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 6 Baylor will each be on upset alert against No. 12 North Dakota State and No. 11 Nebraska. Still, look for the Big 12's Sooners and Bears to advance as they are both playing at a high level coming into the first weekend.
In the No. 7 vs. No. 10 matchup, watch for Oregon to prevail over BYU. The Ducks won eight in a row prior to their loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament and have the firepower to overcome the high-scoring Cougars.
Iowa, NC State Move on in Midwest
|Midwest Region 2nd-Round Picks|
|Fri, March 21 at 7:10 p.m.||(1) Wichita State Over (16) Cal Poly/Texas Southern|
|Fri, March 21 at 9:40 p.m.||(8) Kentucky Over (9) Kansas State|
|Thu, March 20 at 7:20 p.m.||(12) NC State Over (5) Saint Louis|
|Thu, March 20 at 9:50 p.m.||(4) Louisville Over (13) Manhattan|
|Fri, March 21 at 2:45 p.m.||(11) Iowa Over (6) Massachusetts|
|Fri, March 21 at 12:15 p.m.||(3) Duke Over (14) Mercer|
|Thu, March 20 at 9:40 p.m.||(7) Texas Over (10) Arizona State|
|Thu, March 20 at 7:10 p.m.||(2) Michigan Over (15) Wofford|
The Midwest Region is absolutely loaded, which should make for some wild second-round action on Thursday and Friday.
At the top of the bracket, look for No. 1 Wichita State and No. 8 Kentucky to move on, setting up a tantalizing third-round clash between the undefeated Shockers and John Calipari's preseason No. 1 Wildcats.
The first upset in the Midwest projects to be No. 12 NC State over No. 5 Saint Louis on Thursday. Led by sophomore forward T.J. Warren, the Wolfpack have won five of their last six games, including Tuesday's first-round showdown with Xavier. Head coach Mark Gottfried explains why the Wolfpack are dangerous this time of year, per USA Today's Eric Prisbell: "We have basically been in tournament mode for two or three weeks."
On the other hand, the Billikens lost four of their final five games to wrap up the regular season and have looked vulnerable on both ends of the floor down the stretch.
An NC State upset win would likely set up a third-round meeting with No. 4 Louisville, who many experts like to reach the Final Four from this region.
Friday's Midwest upset is likely to be No. 11 Iowa over No. 6 Massachusetts. The Hawkeyes will have to get past Tennessee in the opening round on Wednesday, but will have a strong shot to reach Round 3 if they can get a win under their belt in Dayton, Ohio.
Wrapping up the region, No. 3 Duke, No. 7 Texas and No. 2 Michigan will each find a way into the third round. No. 15 Wofford and No. 14 Mercer will be no match for the Wolverines and Blue Devils and the Longhorns will have all the answers for an Arizona State team that's dropped three in a row coming into the Big Dance.
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