Your NCAA Tournament viewing guide: Eight must-watch games & where to find them
In past years, TV viewers were spoon fed early-round NCAA Tournament action by CBS, which often switched back and forth between games with a maximum of chaos and a minimum of common sense. No more. This year’s tourney, which culminates with the Final Four in Houston, will be shown on four different networks, which allows every single game to be seen (providing you can find truTV on your dial.)
With that in mind, here is a handy viewing guide for the first two full days of tournament action Thursday and Friday (now annoyingly officially called the second round with the advent of the NCAA's new First Four early games). These are the games you need to pay attention to for each of the eight major viewing periods.
No. 8 BUTLER vs. No. 9 OLD DOMINION (Southeast Regional, Thursday, 11:40 p.m., truTV)
The Bulldogs' magical run to the title game is still fresh in everyone’s minds, and Butler returns several key components from that squad, including high-scoring guard Shelvin Mack and rugged forward Matt Howard. But the Bulldogs face off with a Monarchs team that has the stuff to make a long run themselves.
They are rugged inside and play an impenetrable 2-3 zone. Regardless of who wins here, top-seeded Pitt will have its hands full in the second round.
No. 4 KENTUCKY vs. No. 13 PRINCETON (East Regional, Thursday, 1:45 p.m., CBS)
This has all the makings of a memorable matchup. Kentucky showed off its talent by dominating the SEC tournament, but its best players, Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, and Doron Lamb, are all freshmen.
That inexperience can be problematic, especially when these guys get their first taste of tournament adversity. Such adversity might come in the form of Ivy League champ Princeton, hoping it can ride the echoes of Bill Bradley and Pete Carril to a stunning upset.
No. 3 BYU vs. No. 14 WOFFORD (Southeast Regional, Thursday, 6:15 p.m. CBS)
A lot of people are choosing BYU as a possible upset victim, especially considering how it's struggled without suspended forward Brandon Davies. But Jimmer Fredette is my choice for National Player of the Year, and that kind of transcendent talent can carry a team a long way in the tournament.
That said, the Cougars' first round opponent, Wofford, is no slouch. Last year, the Terriers took Wisconsin to the wire, and they have most of the talent back from that squad to try and close the upset deal this time around.
No. 6 ST. JOHN’S vs. No. 11 GONZAGA (Southeast Regional, Thursday, 8:45 p.m., CBS)
There are several excellent choices at this late hour on Thursday, but this one promises to be a real donnybrook. St. John’s has been a great story this year under Steve Lavin, but the Johnnies have stumbled a bit late and will be without one of their top players, D.J. Kennedy, due to injury.
They’re also a small team, which could be exploited by Gonzaga frontliners Robert Sacre and Elias Harris. The Zags seemed to gel late in the season, so the Red Storm could be in for a long night.
No. 4 TEXAS vs. No. 13 OAKLAND (West Regional, Friday, 11:15 a.m., CBS)
I personally thought that the Longhorns deserved better than a fourth seed from the selection committee. The result of that seeding is an unforgiving first-round matchup with an Oakland team that has one of the tournament’s finest relatively unknown players, 6-foot-11 senior center Keith Benson.
This guy is NBA bound and he could wreak havoc on Texas’ undersized front line. Rick Barnes’ team better come out fired up about their seeding snub, or it could be on its way back to Austin quick.
No. 5 ARIZONA vs. No. 12 MEMPHIS (West Regional, Friday,1:45 p.m., CBS)
The parity is so great in college basketball this year that these teams, which play in a 5-12 game, seem to be practically inseparable. It’s been a rocky road for Memphis, but its extremely young squad righted the ship just in time for a come-from-behind win in the Conference USA championship game.
Tigers’ coach Josh Pastner was a player and assistant at Arizona, where Sean Miller deserves Coach of the Year honors for getting this program back on track so quickly. Expect an up-tempo, entertaining affair here.
No. 6 XAVIER vs. No. 11 MARQUETTE (East Regional, Friday, 6:27 p.m., truTV)
Xavier has fantastic guard play, led by Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Tu Holloway, and teams with great guards usually do well in March. The Musketeers also boast a pair of bruisers inside, Kenny Frease and Jamel McLean, who can hurt Marquette’s soft middle.
But the Warriors are a much deeper team, and they can do damage to Xavier on the wings with top scorers Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom. Plus, they’ve been around the block in the best conference in the nation.
No. 8 UNLV vs. No. 9 ILLINOIS (Southwest Regional, Friday, 8:20 p.m., TBS)
Bruce Weber’s tournament record is solid, but his Illinois team is an uneasy blend of underachieving seniors and inconsistent youngsters. That strain showed during an underwhelming 9-9 Big Ten campaign, but there is a ton of talent on this squad that other coaches would love to have.
UNLV was overlooked much of the year while San Diego State and BYU got the Mountain West attention, but the Runnin' Rebels have a great non-conference resume, their own proven coach in Lon Kruger and a new HBO special bringing back the Tark the Shark glory days.