The first day of the NCAA tournament is among the most hectic on the sports calendar. Three early afternoon games are already underway, but the bulk of Thursday's action is still to come. It's a good time to check up on your bracket, with a link to an updated bracket after the early games:
There are still 13 games yet to tip off on the first day's slate. Below are the remaining games for today, as well as score predictions for each:
|(12) Harvard vs. (5) Cincinnati||HAR, 62-59|
|(14) Western Michigan vs. (3) Syracuse||SYR, 72-56|
|(10) BYU vs. (7) Oregon||ORE, 82-76|
|(16) Albany vs. (1) Florida||FLA, 88-49|
|(13) Delaware vs. (4) Michigan State||MSU, 81-64|
|(10) Saint Joseph's vs. (7) UConn||CONN, 67-63|
|(15) Wofford vs. (2) Michigan||MICH, 71-56|
|(12) N.C. State vs. (5) Saint Louis||SLU, 67-64|
|(12) North Dakota State vs. (5) Oklahoma||NDSU, 75-72|
|(15) Milwaukee vs. (2) Villanova||NOVA, 78-60|
|(10) Arizona State vs. (7) Texas||ASU, 72-70|
|(13) Manhattan vs. (4) Louisville||LOU, 80-60|
|(13) New Mexico State vs. (4) San Diego State||SDSU, 67-59|
A few games in particular stand out as especially difficult to diagnose. Let's delve into a deeper explanation for a handful of these contests.
(12) Harvard vs. (5) Cincinnati
The Ivy League champs have been one of the most popular upset picks of the second round. With their balanced scoring (all five starters average double digits) and excellent ball-handling, Harvard stands as one of the lowest-variance teams in the field and a likely challenge to Cincinnati:
Very difficult opening game for Cincinnati. Harvard is patient, poised, + an excellent passing team. Bearcats are in for a fight - as usual.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 17, 2014
If the Crimson are all about balance, then the Bearcats lean heavily on one of the nation's most gifted scorers. Senior guard Sean Kilpatrick paces Cincy with 20.9 points per game, and apart from the post presence of center Justin Jackson, Kilpatrick is nearly the sole source of offense.
While Harvard does not have any single player who can shut down Kilpatrick, the Crimson rank 10th in the country in scoring defense, conceding just 60.5 points per game because of their disciplined approach. Harvard has limited teams to just 32 percent shooting from behind the arc, where Kilpatrick has hoisted a whopping 7.9 attempts per game.
It's not hard to imagine the Crimson baiting Cincinnati into being over-reliant on Kilpatrick. The battle will come down to Harvard's ball-handling against Cincy's frenetic defense, which is 12th in the nation in turnover percentage. Ultimately, look for the Crimson to emerge with a tight victory.
(10) Saint Joseph's vs. (7) Connecticut
The Atlantic-10 champs are back in the dance for the first time since 2008. St. Joseph's has ridden three senior stars in Langston Galloway, Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic, all of whom average over 30 minutes per contest and provide the Hawks with a nice inside-outside balance.
Conversely, UConn has returned to the tournament on the strength of one of the nation's best backcourts. Senior Shabazz Napier and junior Ryan Boatright lead a UConn squad that often seeks to spread out the floor and let one of its star guards work in isolation. Napier in particular carries an outward swagger to his team, one that has already shone through this week:
Asked about DeAndre Bembry, UConn star Shabazz Napier said, "What number is that? Is he the guy with the 'fro?"— Mike Jensen (@jensenoffcampus) March 19, 2014
However, UConn's greatest strength is on the defensive side, where it's ranked 11th in regular-season defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com. St. Joe's plays at a controlled tempo, with heavy doses of screens conducive to creating open looks and spreading the scoring burden.
Still, the Hawks need the three to beat teams, as Galloway and Chris Wilson have trouble beating their men off the dribble. If Napier and Boatright can dictate this game's tempo, then UConn's superior talent should overwhelm St. Joe's balance.
(12) N.C. State vs. (5) Saint Louis
Saint Louis was one of the best stories in the country for the majority of the regular season, but four losses in five games have soured many people on the A-10 regular-season champs. Though the Billikens are among the most experienced teams with five senior starters, they lack the depth and outside shooting consistency that powered last year's round-of-32 squad.
Meanwhile, N.C. State was arguably the most controversial selection for the 68-team field. However, after witnessing T.J. Warren's 25-point showing against Xavier in the First Four, many were reminded why the Wolfpack remain a dangerous team:
TJ Warren has now scored 20 or more in 30 games this season...The kid makes buckets. #FirstFour— Matt Winer (@matt_winer) March 19, 2014
The ACC Player of the Year is a relentless offensive force with a variety of moves that keep the opposition constantly off-balance. Unlike many scoring machines, however, Warren does not necessarily play "hero ball," as the sophomore forward is an intensely competitive leader who can keep his teammates involved.
Despite that, however, Saint Louis remains one of the best man-to-man defenses in the country. The Billikens have fallen victim to teams with excellent secondary scorers who have burned them with excellent shooting. The Wolfpack are not exactly befitting of that description, so a reeling Saint Louis squad should find a way to make its third consecutive third-round appearance.