With 32 second-round NCAA tournament matchups on tap for Thursday and Friday, millions of brackets are on the brink of being busted.
But you've got to start somewhere when attempting to project the perfect bracket. And, unfortunately, that starting point is the madness-filled first weekend of the Big Dance.
Below, we'll get you set with all your bracket essentials as well as championship odds and a breakdown of some of toughest picks you'll have to make this March.
*Spread info according to Covers.com.
All Your Bracket Essentials
|2014 NCAA Tournament Odds|
|4||San Diego St.||65-1|
|12||North Carolina St.||900-1|
|12||North Dakota St.||1000-1|
|12||Stephen F. Austin||N/A|
|13||New Mexico St.||N/A|
|N/A||Field (Any Other Team)||100-1|
No. 5 Cincinnati (-2.5) Over No. 12 Harvard, East Region
After knocking off New Mexico as a No. 14 seed a year ago, Ivy League champions Harvard enter this year's tournament as a popular upset pick over No. 5 Cincinnati.
The Crimson have won eight in a row coming in and feature five players, led by junior guard Wesley Saunders, who are averaging at least 10 points per game this season.
But PennLive.com's Dustin Hockensmith makes a case for why an upset can't happen:
The Bearcats are battle-tested with a 6-6 record against BPI top 50 teams and a defense that routinely held opponents under 60 points. … Harvard is just 2-2 against BPI top 100 teams and played in one of the nation’s weakest conferences. … Kilpatrick is the most explosive player on either side and an NBA draft prospect, while Jackson is a defensive ace who could cause matchup problems for the Crimson. … Harvard plays a similar tempo to the Bearcats, who look to slow the game down and keep it in the 50s.
Despite the upset potential, the favored Bearcats should emerge from this second-round clash. Led by senior guard Sean Kilpatrick, Mick Cronin's physical squad should limit Harvard on offense and make enough plays to pull away late.
No. 7 Texas (-1.5) Over No. 10 Arizona State, Midwest Region
In one of the toughest No. 7 vs. No. 10 matchups to predict this spring, Texas will take on Arizona State in Milwaukee.
While the Longhorns struggled down the stretch after knocking off Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor and Kansas in consecutive games midway through the year, they aren't fading nearly as much as the Sun Devils, who concluded the regular season on a three-game losing skid and lost five of their last seven games.
Following a shocking 17-point loss to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament semifinals, Texas coach Rick Barnes stressed the importance of everyone playing their role come tournament time, per The Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton.
"We just need everybody doing what they do well," he said. "And if we do that, I'm telling you, we can beat anybody we play. But if we don't, it can be like that."
Texas' lack of tournament success in recent years is cause for concern, but the Longhorns' rebounding prowess will be the decider. Texas ranks fourth in the nation in rebounding and averages 6.2 more per game than Arizona State.
Therefore, watch for the Longhorns to beat the Sun Devils up on the glass en route to victory.
No. 9 Oklahoma State (-2) Over No. 8 Gonzaga, West Region
It's no secret that the No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchups can be tricky to predict. In 2014, there are several hard-to-pick showdowns, especially in the West Region, where No. 8 Gonzaga will face off against No. 9 Oklahoma State, per KING TV sports reporter Chris Egan:
Vegas has the Cowboys as two-point favorites, but there's no doubt that the Bulldogs have been the more consistent team, even if they're less talented overall.
The hot-shooting West Coast Conference champions have won five straight coming in and rank fifth in the nation in team field-goal percentage, hitting shots at a clip of roughly 50 percent.
Still, it's almost impossible to pick against NBA-ready talent Marcus Smart and the Pokes, who can beat anyone in the country in a shootout when they bring their A-game. It'll all come down to which Oklahoma State team shows up Friday, but there's a good chance it'll be the team that closed the regular season winning five of seven games.
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