One of the NCAA Tournament's greatest allures is the fact that the drama can come as soon as the first game Thursday tips off. be it an 8-9 matchup (by seed, the most competitive matchup of the Thursday-Friday games), the annual sure-fire upset 5-12 matchup, or some other combination of 17, this tournament has no shortage of marquee matchups and games set to thrill us to the final horn. After all, who saw Harvard striking up the band twice in last season's tournament? Certainly not New Mexico, which fell to the Crimson in a 14-over-3 stunner. And good news . . . Harvard is back this season — and on this list, too. So click ahead and study up!
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(8) Kentucky vs. (9) Kansas State, Friday 9:40 p.m. ET, CBS
Kentucky is starting to heat up at the right time, and a smile was seen on even Coach John Calipari’s face as his Kentucky Wildcats (24-10) came within one basket of upsetting the Gators in the SEC championship. But everyone has been waiting to see how the Wildcats will do against elite athletes when it matters most. Friday against the K-State Wildcats (20-12) is the perfect chance for that.
(3) Creighton vs. (14) Louisiana-Lafayette, Friday, 3:10 p.m. ET, TRU TV
The man who is talked about as the front-runner for national player of the year put up big numbers in the Big East tournament but still lost to Bryce Cotton and the Providence Friars. Look for Doug McDermott to go off and lead the way for his Creighton Bluejays (26-7) against the upstart Ragin' Cajuns (23-11).
Getty ImagesJim McIsaac
(8) Memphis vs. (9) George Washington, Friday 6:55 p.m. ET, TBS
Memphis can sometimes turn the ball over more than it should, not have the answer from downtown and even play lazy on the defensive end, but when the Tigers (23-9) have it together, they’re fun to watch for sure. George Washington (24-8) is dancin’ for the first time since 2007, and its leader Maurice Creek has a lot to prove, so look for it to be a good one.
(8) Gonzaga vs. (9) Oklahoma State, Friday, 4:40 p.m. ET, TNT
Marcus Smart may have had his missteps, but this dude has turned it around and has played great basketball since returning from his three-game suspension for confronting a fan, and this team has what it takes to make a deep run. Smart and OK State (21-12) will be looking to avenge a 69-68 loss to Gonzaga in a game played in Stillwater, Okla., on New Year's Eve last season. Smart had 23 points but missed two free throws with 8.7 seconds remaining with the Cowboys trailing by two. Gonzaga (28-6) doesn’t seem to have the national respect its should with its top 15 defense, so look for the Zags to go hard as well.
(5) VCU vs. (12) Stephen F. Austin, Friday, 7:27 p.m. ET, TRU TV
VCU (26-8) will have its hands full, without a doubt. Stephen F. Austin (31-2) doesn’t turn the ball over much, and the Lumberjacks' defense is swarming. They haven’t lost a game since Nov. 23 and haven’t shown any signs of slowing down. With both teams having amazing defensive schemes, it will be tough matchup on both ends of the floor and fun to watch. And that's the bottom line, 'cause Stone Cold said so! ... Couldn't resist.
Getty ImagesMitchell Leff
(3) Syracuse vs. (14) Western Michigan, Thursday, 2:45 p.m. ET, CBS
Oh, Orange. Syracuse (27-5) went on a 25-game win streak to start the season and then collapsed. 'Cuse hasn’t scored more than a point per possession in six straight games, even against the not-so-intimidating North Carolina State defense last week. Western Michigan (23-9) can’t be counted out of this one.
Getty ImagesGrant Halverson
(5) Cincinnati vs. (12) Harvard, Thursday, 2:10 p.m. ET, TNT
The Ivy League top dog Crimson (26-4) have five double-digit scorers while Cincinnati (27-6) heavily relies on Sean Kilpatrick for its only consistent offensive threat. But the Bearcats are a defensive and rebounding powerhouse, so look for this to be a scrappy game on both sides.
Getty ImagesJoe Murphy
(7) UConn vs. (10) Saint Joseph's, Thursday, 6:55 p.m. ET, TBS
Saint Joe’s has been playing great basketball as of late while UConn’s Shabazz Napier has been showing signs of great leadership as well as a deadly clutch shot when it counts (remind anybody of a guy named Kemba Walker?). Will the Huskies (26-8) be able to step up and give Napier an extra boost or will forward Halil Kanacevic (dropped 46 points and 43 rebounds in the run to the A-10 title) and the Hawks (24-9) advance?
(6) North Carolina vs. (11) Providence, Friday, 7:20 p.m. ET, TNT
Bryce Cotton is now a known name after leading the Friars (23-11) to the Big East tournament title. He’s playing more minutes than everyone else in the NCAA and averaged 21 points, six assists and four rebounds all season. It’s also known that North Carolina (23-9) hasn’t done much of anything special this season. The Tar Heels have been good at times, bad at others, so look for a possible upset.
(3) Duke vs. (14) Mercer, Friday, 12:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Duke (26-8) always will be entertaining, and with the talent of freshman standout Jabari Parker and Andre Dawkins' sharpshooting, the Blue Devils can make noise. But don’t sleep on the 6-foot-4 combo guard Langston Hall and the Bears (26-8). They will put up a great fight.