First-round games I'm looking forward to watching:
Oklahoma State vs. Tennessee: These teams are like twins separated at birth (berth?). One of the great things about college basketball is the contrasting styles teams play but the contrasts are growing fewer and fewer as coaches tend toward half-court basketball. It's a control thing. That's not the case with Tennessee's Bruce Pearl and Okie State's Travis Ford. Both coach full-court, fast-break basketball so this game has a chance to be a wild affair. Let's hope they both break 100. I think the result is in doubt too, I expect a close game.
UCLA vs. Virginia Commonwealth: VCU's outstanding point guard Eric Maynor is a candidate to torment some team in this tournament but here's his problem Thursday, he'll be guarded by one of the best defenders in the nation, UCLA's Darren Collison. That matchup could decide this game, which I also expect to be close. Maynor has risen to the challenge in the past. I wonder if UCLA will listen to coach Ben Howland, who's going to tell them how tough an opponent VCU can be. It will also be interesting to see how UCLA handles VCU's high-flying center Larry Centers. On the flip side, UCLA has tons more talent and could just over-run the Rams. VCU's goal will be to not let that happen.
Texas vs. Minnesota: Two teams that have been inconsistent this season so you don't know if the good teams or the bad teams will show up. They're both rugged defensive teams so I'm expecting some desperate hand-to-hand combat and multiple players on the floor for loose balls.
LSU vs. Butler: Since I just saw the tremendous production of "The Sound of Music" at Fontbonne Academy Saturday I'm wondering why Oscar Hammerstein didn't including this in the lyrics of "My Favorite Things": A good mid-major vs. a BCS team. Sing it, it works. I love these matchups and would like nothing better than to have Butler torture LSU (nothing personal against the Tigers it could be any BCS team) and knock them out. Take that, Jay Bilas and Digger Phelps.
Arizona State vs. Temple: Temple's Fran Dunphy is a great coach and Owls' guard Dionte Christmas is a great player. Neither got to prove that in last year's tournament. I'm expecting something different this time. Arizona State won't go easily so I'm expecting a highly competitive, close game.
Ohio State vs. Siena: See LSU vs. Butler. Hey, a Siena-Louisville second-round matchup has a chance to be highly entertaining too. If Siena can speed this game up, they've got a serious chance for an upset.
Utah vs. Arizona: Utah's seed, a No. 5, seems a tad high. Arizona shouldn't be in the tournament (Saint Mary's should be). Lots of ESPN experts jumped on Arizona to win this game. Too many. The Utes have something to prove.
Boston College vs. Southern Cal: A game that could go either way. I'm looking forward to how BC's young players handle the pressure. I'm wondering if LIl Romeo is going to rap the national anthem. Lil Romeo, real name Percy Hill, is a USC sub.
BYU vs. Texas A&M: An 8-9 matchup that should be a close game. BYU is an entertaining team and will have to avoid being beat up inside by A&M.
Washington vs. Mississippi State: Mississippi State looked great in winning the SEC Tournament. In fact, looked better than a 13 seed, which they are. Washington has had a surprising great season but a lot of the shine would disappear with a first-round loss.
Marquette vs. Utah State: I've pronounced Utah State as a fraud so I'm thinking Marquette will win easily but I'm still curious to see if the Aggies can play with the Fightin' McGuires.
- Michael Vega
- Mark Blaudschun
- Nancy Marrapese-Burrell