As the brackets for the NCAA Division 1 Men’s basketball tournament were slooooooowly unveiled on Sunday afternoons, a couple of first round (yes, I’m still calling the round of 64 the first round) match-ups really stand out as potentially great battles, and possible upsets, at the beginning of March Madness.
(8) Iowa State vs. (9) UConn
The Cyclones have been an intriguing team to follow all year, with a roster that Fred Hoiberg pieced together with transfers from such schools as Michigan State, Marquette, and Minnesota. Iowa State beat Texas, Kansas, and Baylor over the course of the Big XII season and can really shoot the 3, which makes them very dangerous.
The defending national champion Huskies went just 8-10 in a tough Big East this season, and they have won just six of their past 16 games. But two of those wins came in the Big East tournament before falling to Syracuse in the quarterfinals. UConn certainly has the personnel to win, with kids like Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond, and they showed last year that they are capable of anything.
(5) Wichita State vs. (12) VCU
The Shockers bowed out early in the MVC tournament, but they still present a difficult challenge as a “mid-major” school. Wichita State has beaten only a few tournament teams to date, including Colorado and UNLV early in the season, but they have faced just one tournament team since the start of the 2012 calendar year. The Shockers are experienced and balanced and could pose a threat, if they can get past VCU in round one.
The Rams, of course, made a run to the Final Four with head coach Shaka Smart last season, but they have not faced many tournament-caliber teams in the regular season. They did play and lose to Alabama, as well as bubble teams like Drexel and Seton Hall. The 5/12 match-ups are always intriguing, and the names in this game live up to that billing.
(3) Baylor vs. (14) South Dakota State
The Bears may have the fancy uniforms, but they also have the ability to back up the flashy digs. Whether or not all of that ability shows up on any given night is a different story, with mercurial talent like Perry Jones and Quincy Miller.
The Jackrabbits won the Summit League, and they will be making their first trip to the Division I tournament, having played Division II for many years prior to 2009, when the school finally became eligible for DI post-season play. South Dakota State has one of the best pure scorers in the country in guard Nate Wolters, who averages 21.3 points per game.
(5) Vanderbilt vs. (12) Harvard
The Commodores finished off an interesting pre-Big Dance season with an upset of the No. 1 overall seed Kentucky Wildcats in the SEC Championship game. Vandy started the season ranked seventh in the nation but were unranked in the most recent polls. Its 71-64 win over Kentucky this past weekend shows they might be coming around to become a force in the tournament.
Harvard is making its first tournament appearance since 1946. And it’s Harvard, so that’s interesting in and of itself. The Crimson went an impressive 26-4, including an impressive win over Florida State. Tommy Amaker is in his fifth year at Harvard and I don’t think it will be 66 years until the Crimson’s next tournament appearance.
(3) Florida State vs. (14) St. Bonaventure
The Seminoles were perhaps the most impressive team in the past week of conference tournaments, knocking off Duke and North Carolina in a span of 24 hours to win the ACC tournament. Florida State is very deserving of its No. 3 seed, as the Seminoles have been playing great basketball all season, as evidenced by its 24-9 record. FSU is battle-tested outside of the ACC too, having faced UConn, Michigan State, Harvard, and Florida as well.
The Bonnies looked very impressive in its 11-point victory over Xavier in the Atlantic 10 championship game, and they have a potential team-of-destiny feel to them. St. Bonaventure is led by A-10 player of the year Andrew Nicholson and is making its first tournament appearance since 2000.
(4) Louisville vs. (13) Davidson
The Cardinals were considered to be a somewhat surprising champion of the Big East Conference tournament, but maybe shouldn’t be, considering their top-10 ranking in the pre-season. Louisville is much like Vanderbilt in the sense that they have the ability, but they didn’t quite live up to expectations in the regular season. Rick Pitino’s team has shown in the past week that they could make a run here in March.
Davidson doesn’t have Steph Curry, but they do have a Southern Conference championship and a 25-7 record on its resume. Bob McKillop will have the Wildcats ready to go and primed for an upset. Davidson shocked Kansas 80-74 back in December, and Louisville did fall in a 4/13 match-up to Morehead State last season.
What games stand out to you as especially interesting and potential upsets?