The ball will be tipped at 12:15 in Birmingham, Alabama, (where it will technically be 11:15 a.m. CDT, one of four First Round games starting before noon local time over the next two days) as the First Four is in our rear-view mirror.
Fairleigh Dickinson, Arizona State, Pit, and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi amble over from the kiddie table (see Tuesday’s preview) after each secured a spot in the Round of 64.
For the record, some mid-week commutes are easier than others: while FDU ambles up the road from Dayton to Columbus, Arizona State makes the trek west to Denver. Let’s just hope everybody’s luggage (unlike Grand Canyon’s) makes it safe and sound.
Thursday afternoon will give area fans quite a bit to unpack, especially for those who have scheduled “client visits” as well as those “feeling under the weather”.
Game Schedules and Where to Watch (All Eastern Time)
12:15 p.m. on CBS — South Bracket: No. 8 Maryland (21-12) vs. No. 9 West Virginia (19-14) in Birmingham, Alabama
- Fun fact — Despite regularly playing on the football field (53 meetings including 45 between 1980-2007 and 2010-15), this is the seventh showdown between these two bordering state schools since 1987.
- Terrapins Cause for Confidence — West Virginia has issues defending (most points per game allowed in the Big 12).
- Cause for Concern — Jahmir Young is trying to shake off a 6 for 28 shooting performance in the Big Ten Tournament.
12:40 p.m. on truTV — South Bracket: No. 4 Virginia (25-7) vs. No. 13 Furman (27-7) in Orlando, Florida
- Fun Fact — the Cavaliers last played an NCAA Tournament game in Orlando in 2017 when they lost to Florida by 26. Upon further review, the Gators may have had a home-state advantage. Upon further review, Furman is not located in Florida but in South Carolina.
- Cavaliers Cause for Confidence — the Paladins are 1-7 in six tournament appearances (they lost a regional third-place game) and this is their first appearance since 1980.
- Cause for Concern — Furman can score, averaging 82.7 points per game (8th best in Division I) while delivering quantity (27.5 threes attempted per game rank 11th) and quality (59.1% on two-point shots is best in the nation).
2 p.m. on TBS — West Bracket: No. 16 Howard (22-12) vs. No. 1 Kansas (27-7) in Des Moines, Iowa
- Fun Fact — Bison guard Jelani Williams has faced the Jayhawks in the NCAA Tournament,
- Bison Cause for Confidence — Elijah Hawkins has been a dynamic guard on both ends of the floor, and head coach Kenny Blakeney’s wholesale substitution pattern will keep HU from getting gassed early.
- Cause for Concern — The Jayhawks are defending National Champions, Big 12 (the best conference this year) regular season champions and have won 16 straight first round games.
Meanwhile, we wrap up our look at the 2023 NCAA Tournament field by checking out the East Region.
Purdue is the No. 1 seed and features Player of the Year candidate Zach Edey (22 points and 13 rebounds per game), but the Boilermakers boast an inexperienced backcourt. While they’ve become a regional regular (six trips to the Sweet Sixteen since 2009), the program hasn’t been to the Final Four since 1980.
On the other side of that bracket is Big East champs Marquette, who may be living on borrowed time with five of their last nine games coming by one possession (and that doesn’t include a six-point win over lowly DePaul).
The most intriguing first round matchup might just be underachieving Kentucky against slumping Providence, with the winner likely facing overachieving Kansas State for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen.
Michigan State (19-12) is a No. 7 seed, just like last year. As well as three other times in Tom Izzo’s tenure that generated a trip to the regional final as well as the Final Four. They also get USC at 12:15 ET tipoff meaning it’s 9:15 a.m. in the Trojans body-clocks. One also sees the Spartans taking pleasure in winning a pair of games on Ohio State’s floor this weekend.
Tennessee (23-10) was a top ten team for much of a season that included an upset of then-No. 1 Alabama, but the Volunteers have been a shell of their former selves since losing guard Zakai Zeigler (11 points and 5 assists a game) to a torn ACL. Coach Rick Barnes sees a defensive dynamo (third-fewest points allowed per game in Division I, second in defensive field goal percentage, and first in defending the three) go to waste.
Duke (25-8) took a while to find itself this season but has won nine straight and went through the ACC Tournament like a blowtorch through butter. They bring equal parts potential (7-foot freshman Kyle Filipowski nets 15 points and 9 rebounds per game) and experience (junior guard Jeremy Roach adds 13 points with 3 assists), while first-year head coach John Scheyer has pushed all the necessary buttons down the stretch. The Blue Devils make it back to the Final Four.