This Thursday, Mar. 14 marks the start of the most exciting sporting event of the year, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, also known as March Madness. This year in college basketball has been one of the more fascinating seasons in recent memory. It is a notoriously down year without any clearly dominant teams in college basketball. Many of the teams predicted to be the nation’s strongest entering the season, such as Duke, Michigan State, Arizona and Kentucky, have faltered throughout the season and have not lived up to expectations. Meanwhile, unexpected teams such as UVA, Purdue, Cincinatti and Xavier have been among the nation’s most dominant.
The tournament’s opening round is often its most exciting, and here I will highlight some of the most interesting matchups.
(5) Kentucky vs. (12) Davidson –
Thursday, Mar. 14 at 7:15 p.m.
People always love picking the 12-seed over 5-seed. Even if Davidson does not win this game, this has the makings of a particularly exciting matchup. These are two of the nation’s hottest teams and undoubtedly the two best of the five and 12 seeds, respectively.
This is probably Coach Calipari’s least talented Kentucky team in recent memory; however, they are playing their best basketball of the season, coming off a dominant SEC championship run. Meanwhile, Davidson is also playing its best basketball after cruising through the A10 Tournament.
Everything about this matchup points towards one of the most exciting first-round games between a perennial powerhouse and Steph Curry’s alma mater.
Additionally, if Kentucky wins this game, they will likely face 4-seeded Arizona in the second round, which would make for one of the most exciting opening weekend matchup in recent memory. Kentucky and Arizona are typically among college basketball’s elite, so seeing them meet in the Round of 32 would be a rare and gripping opportunity.
(8) Virginia Tech vs. (9) Alabama
Thursday, Mar. 14 at 9:20 p.m.
The eight-nine matchup in the East region shapes up to be a great game. Both Virginia Tech and Alabama are very solid teams and this game is a toss-up. Virginia Tech has shown it can beat anybody by being the only team in the ACC to beat Virginia all year. Additionally, they had wins over KenPom top-20 teams in North Carolina and Clemson. On the other hand, Alabama has also shown it can hang with anybody. They had a dominant win over Tennessee, beat Auburn and Texas A&M twice each and also beat Rhode Island. Alabama also has one of the nation’s top players in Collin Sexton and boasts an elite defense.
The winner of this game will likely play Villanova in the second round. Villanova will be heavily favored, but it is important to remember that the Wildcats have only reached one Sweet 16 since 2009, which happened in 2016 when they were the champions.
(5) Ohio State vs. (12) South Dakota State Thursday, Mar. 14 4:00 p.m.
This game is particularly interesting because it features two of college basketball’s most unknown and underappreciated stars. Ohio State’s junior star Keita Bates-Diop has quietly been one of the nation’s top performers all season, averaging 19 points and nine rebounds per game, and has helped make Ohio State one of the best teams in the Big 10 in what was supposed to be a down year in the first year without Thad Matta at the helm. On the other side of the ball, South Dakota State’s stud power forward Mike Daum has been one of the nation’s top performers for several years now. He was second in the NCAA in scoring a year ago, and is sixth this year, averaging 23.8 points to go along with 10.4 rebounds per game.
Another particularly interesting aspect of this opening round game is that it is being played in Boise, ID, somewhere much closer to South Dakota State’s campus than Ohio State’s in Columbus, OH, which could serve as a unique venue for the lower-seeded Jackrabbits.
This year’s tournament has the potential to be one for the ages. With no clear favorite heading into the tournament, it is completely up for grabs and it should be exciting to see how the Madness unfolds.