Once upon a time, before we had to remember how to find TruTv or learn of the existence of Lizard Lick Towing, every NCAA tournament game was on CBS. The scheduling types did their best to show games that would interest the audience, usually using geography as their guiding criteria. This meant that Big Ten games were usually on WCCO in Minneapolis, but it also meant that it was impossible to watch the latest Cinderella hoping for an upset while a highly seeded Big Ten team was curb-stomping some hyphenated state school that no one had every heard of. It could be maddening, but it could also be magical. Because when the powers that be decided a game was out of hand, there was “whip around” coverage, a frantic effort to show as much of the last few seconds of as many games as possible. There was no way to predict what game would be shown, but there was sure to be drama and excitement. It was many shining moments back to back to back. In the Lizard Lick Towing era, it is all too easy to flip on your own to the right game at the right time, but all too difficult to know what game to watch before the waning moments of the latest upset.
That problem is solved. Let this be your guide to each time slot of the NCAA tournament, starting with Thursday’s round of 64 games.
Late Morning: (11) Ohio State vs. (6)Dayton, 11:15 am CDT, CBS
Two Big Ten teams tip-off the part of the NCAA tournament that people actually care about (sorry first four!). Wisconsin takes on American University, and will unarguably be anti-American. Meanwhile, Ohio State faces intra-state rival. While we’d all like to see Wisconsin lose, and all Americans would be happy if they did, the likelihood of a blow-out is high. The battle for Ohio, oddly taking place in Buffalo, New York should be wildly entertaining. Ohio State doesn’t like Dayton. Dayton doesn’t like Ohio State. Throw in Dayton’s Gopher-like ability to lose basketball games in the most heart-breaking ways, and there is potential that this could be the game of tournament. Jordan Sibert is the player to watch. The Flyers leading scorer played two seasons at Ohio State, but left because he could never crack Thad Matta’s rotation. He’ll have plenty to play for against his former team.
Early Afternoon: (10) BYU vs. (7) Oregon, 1:10 pm CDT, TruTV
Three games will start between 1:10 pm and 2:10 pm, and this time may require some frantic channel flipping. Harvard could pull off the classic 12 vs. 5 upset that isn’t really an upset against Cincinnati, and those are always fun. Western Michigan will be the latest team to put an early round scare into Syracuse. Upsets are fun, they happen every year. Unfortunately, a rarer occurrence is two of the best and fastest offensive teams, who also happen to have awful defenses playing each-other in the NCAA tournament. Thursday is our lucky day. BYU, the nation’s quickest shooting and 26th most efficient offense will play Oregon, who features the nation’s 12th most efficient, and 29th fastest offense. Their defenses rank 92nd and 98th nationally. There will be points on top of points. BYU has broken the 100 point barrier six times this season. Oregon has done it four times. These two teams met in November, and BYU won that game 100-96 in overtime. Both teams might break 100 this time.
The Oprah Break: Michigan State vs. Delaware, 3:40 pm CDT. TNT
Some called it the bridge game. I called it the Oprah break. There was always one or two games out on the west coast that weren’t televised. Instead, we got Oprah followed by an hour of news. The games usually weren’t worth watching, and a quick break in 12 straight hours of basketball was probably beneficial. Oprah is gone, but the mediocre west coast basketball continues. Florida will beat Albany by 50. Michigan State might actually be tested by Delaware, for a half at least. Their offense commits turnovers less often than all but three teams. Unfortunately, their defense is porous, and the finally healthy Spartans should take care of business.
Dinner time: (12) North Carolina State vs. (5) St. Louis, 6:20 pm CDT, TNT
Once the evening sessions begin, there will be four games at a time. Two 12-5 games will tip-off within seven minutes each other, each with a smaller school taking on a major-conference team. Oklahoma will face a test against North Dakota State. This is a trendy upset pick, but the Bison can’t guard anyone and the Sooners can score, probably enough to overcomes NDSU’s excellent interior offense. Instead of being trendy, watch underdog NC State take on St. Louis. NC State is really good at offense and really bad at defense. St. Louis is the opposite. TJ Warren, a 6’8” forward for the Wolfpack is one of the most dynamic scorers in the country, and has scored in the 30s seven times this season and in the 40s twice. Jordairr Jett of St. Louis, originally from St. Paul, looks nothing like a basketball player, but is the Billikens best player.
Late Night: (13) New Mexico State vs. (4) San Diego State
These games never start on time, and they never end during the day that they started. Milwaukee will lose to Villanova. Texas and Arizona State should be a close game, but when mediocre power conference teams play in the NCAA tournament, it can feel a bit like the NIT. Manhatten’s coach Steve Masiello was an assistant under Louisville coach Rick Pitino, but Louisville is too good to make a coaching story-line worth your time. Instead, turn your attention to the final game of the day, in which New Mexico State’s 7’5” (at least) 360 pound (wildly underestimated) center Sim Bhullar will take on San Diego State’s undersized and under-achieving front-line. The Aztecs, take most of their shots in the paint, and are terribly inefficient, even when a mountain of man isn’t in the way. Bhullar will be a nightmare, and could lead his team to an upset. Even if he doesn’t, you won’t believe how big he is.