A Look At Thursday's First Round

There is no day like it. It's the first day of the NCAA Tournament, when 16 games are played in four arenas across the country. Well, there is another day just as good as Thursday. It's Friday, when the second set of first-round games are played. But first things first.

Thursday's first-round games are rapidly approaching.


If you want an appetizer before the entrée is served, here's a peek at each of those matchups:


All times Eastern


At Greensboro

No. 8 George Washington (26-2) vs. UNC-Wilmington (25-7), 7:10 p.m

Things to consider: A loss to Temple in an Atlantic 10 quarterfinal couldn't have impacted the Colonials' tournament seed that much. Obviously, the selection committee didn't have a lot of respect for Coach Karl Hobbs' team – or, at least, the competition it faced, inside and outside of its conference. The Seahawks were the best team in an underrated (Colonial Athletic Association) conference. Their victory over No. 4 seed USC four years ago was a much bigger upset than a win in this game would be.

Frank's Spin: The committee didn't give the Colonials much respect but we will – one game's worth, at least.


No. 1 Duke (30-3) vs. No. 16 Southern (19-12), 9:40 p.m.

Things to consider: J.J. Redick seems to have gotten his jump shot back into shape, based on his performance in the ACC Tournament. But the Blue Devils' ability to get to Indianapolis is still contingent on the efforts the team gets from players not named Redick or Shelden Williams. Southern is turnover prone. And that's not a good thing to be when you hook up with Duke.

Frank's Spin: The Blue Devils will have their first blowout in nearly a month.


At Jacksonville

No. 4 LSU (23-8) vs. No. 13 Iona (23-7), 7:10 p.m.

Things to consider: The Tigers have as good a chance of any in this region of toppling Duke but that will only be done with a healthy Tyrus Thomas, hobbled for a few weeks with an ankle sprain. Iona, led by guard Steve Burtt, will push the tempo and shoot quickly. But that's a style in which LSU will flourish.

Frank's Spin: The Tigers bag their first tournament win in six years.


No. 5 Syracuse (23-11) vs. No. 12 Texas A&M (21-8), 9:40 p.m.

Things to consider: Syracuse alumni across the world owe a collective ``Thank you'' to Gerry McNamara. Without him, they are preparing the Carrier Dome for an NIT game right now. How does a Big 12 school get just as 12 seed with a 10-6 conference finish? When it plays a non-conference schedule as unchallenging as did the Aggies, that's how.

Frank's Spin: Here's the second "12-5 upset" we're going with on Day One. Joseph Jones will do damage on the interior, while Acie Law will do just enough against the perimeter of the Orange zone to move the Aggies to Round 2.




At Salt Lake City

No. 3 Gonzaga (27-3) vs. No. 14 Xavier (21-10), 7:20 p.m.

Things to consider: The Bulldogs struggled against teams over the past few weeks of the West Coast Conference season that weren't as good as the Musketeers. But Coach Mark Few's club has had nine days to get ready for its tourney opener and Adam Morrison isn't going to allow the Bulldogs to stumble in this one. After losing nine of its final 14 regular-season games, Xavier collected four consecutive Atlantic 10 tourney victories to earn the right to try to play defense against Morrison.

Frank's Spin: CBS will get to televise at least one more of Morrison's, eh, Gonzaga's games.


No. 6 Indiana (18-11) vs. No. 11 San Diego State (24-8), 9:50 p.m.

Things to consider: The Hoosiers' NCAA Tournament hopes were nearly as non-existent as Mike Davis' future as the program's coach – and then IU won five Big Ten games in a row. Marco Killingsworth is one of the four or five toughest players to cope with, down low, and the Hoosiers have an underrated corps of perimeter threats, led by Robert Vaden. Forward Marcus Slaughter and guard Brandon Heath are the two main reasons the Aztecs have a reasonable chance of ending Davis' Bloomington stint in this one.

Frank's Spin: Going 9-7 in the Big Ten took a lot more doing than going 13-3 in the Mountain West this season. The Hoosiers move on to face Gonzaga Saturday.


At San Diego

No. 7 Marquette (20-10) vs. No. 10 Alabama (17-12), 2:40 p.m.

Things to consider: This could prove as good a first-day game as will be played. The Crimson Tide will have to keep Steve Novak from getting free for a lot of jumpers (he doesn't miss a lot of them, folks) while the Golden Eagles can't let Jermareo Davidson and Richard Hendrix dominate them in the paint. The battle of point guards, freshman Dominic James and sophomore Ronald Steele, should be a dandy to watch.

Frank's Spin: This is a toughie to call but, when in doubt, go with Novak's jump shot.


No. 2 UCLA (27-6) vs. No. 15 Belmont (20-10), 5:10 p.m

Things to consider: The team from Nashville is making its school's first NCAA tourney appearance and also goes by the Bruins' nickname. And the CBS announcers are going to have a whole lot of air time to try to fill when this thing gets out of hand fairly quickly. There is zero chance Ben Howland lets his Bruins look past Belmont.

Frank's Spin: If UCLA struggles in this one, the overall quality of the Pac 10 will again be called into question.



At Greensboro

No. 7 Wichita State (24-8) vs. No. 10 Seton Hall (18-11), 12:20 p.m.

Things to consider: The Pirates were about as unpredictable as any team in the country, getting whacked by Duke and Connecticut by a combined margin of 95 points but also scoring upsets on the home floors of North Carolina State and Pittsburgh. The Shockers won the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title and lost a game at the buzzer to Illinois on Nov. 25, which had to impress the selection and seeding committee.

Frank's Spin: All of those who think the MVC is over-represented and that Cincinnati got stiffed will pay close attention to this one. The Shockers win one for their conference.


No. 2 Tennessee (21-7) vs. No. 15 Winthrop (23-7), 2:50 p.m.

Things to consider: The Volunteers have a glistening resume (including wins at Texas, Florida and Kentucky) but struggled down the stretch in the Southeastern Conference, losing four of its final six games. Winthrop lost three times to SEC schools (Auburn, Alabama and South Carolina) and to another Tennessee opponent (Memphis) as well.

Frank's Spin: If there's going to be a "15-2 upset", this is where it happens. But it's not going to happen.


At San Diego

No. 4 Illinois (25-6) vs. No. 13 Air Force (24-6), 7:25 p.m.

Things to consider: There are those who believe the Illini deserved something better than a No. 4 seed, and more than that who think the Falcons shouldn't have been awarded one of the final couple of at-large bids. This game presents the perfect opportunity for opinions to be swayed one way or another. If Dee Brown (a .367 shooter this season) isn't knocking down jump shots, the Falcons will have a more than decent opportunity to serve up some figurative crow to those who scoffed at their invitation.

Frank's Spin: The Illini swept a pair of Big Ten games with Northwestern, which, like Air Force, runs a form of the "Princeton offense". That's enough to believe that Coach Bruce Weber's club will prevail in this one.


No. 5 Washington (24-6) vs. No. 12 Utah State (23-8), 9:55 p.m.

Things to consider: The Huskies have one of the five best players in the country in Pac 10 Player of the Year Brandon Roy. He was the primary reason Lorenzo Romar's team finished just a game out of first place in the conference. The Aggies came within just a couple of close-in misses at the end of regulation to beating host Nevada in the Western Athletic Conference tourney final. They are fairly well equipped to keep the Huskies out of the fast-paced transition attack in which they flourish.

Frank's Spin: There is less inclination to pick the Aggies in an upset than there was a couple of days ago but, after publicly committing to Utah State on Selection Sunday, there's no going back now.



At Jacksonville

No. 6 Oklahoma (20-8) vs. No. 11 Wisconsin-Milwaukee (21-8), 12:25 p.m.

Things to consider: The Sooners were 4-3 in their final seven games but each of those victories was by a single point and none came against teams in the NCAA Tournament. They haven't beaten a team in the tourney field since knocking off Texas A&M on Feb. 1. The Panthers have four players who started during the team's Sweet 16 run of last season, the most notable of those being forward Joah Tucker.

Frank's Spin: The Sooners have been cutting it way too close to the edge of late. Go with the team that got to the Sweet 16 last year.


No. 3 Florida (27-6) vs. No. 14 South Alabama (24-6), 2:55 p.m.

Things to consider: The Gators suffered four of their six losses to SEC foes Tennessee and South Carolina. Billy Donovan has the best sophomore class in the country, and each of the four starters in that group average at least 11.5 points per game. Jaguars' coach John Pelphrey played for Donovan when he was an assistant at Kentucky and was on the Gators' staff before being hired by South Alabama. So nothing much, scheme wise, presented by Florida will surprise him.

Frank's Spin: In the (sort of) matchup of mentor and protégé, go with the guy who has the much better team. In this case, that's Donovan.


At Salt Lake City

No. 4 Boston College (26-7) vs. No. 13 Pacific (24-7), 12:40 p.m.

Things to consider: The Tigers are playing very good basketball, led by center Christian Maraker and point guard Johnny Gray. And this is a program that knocked off Providence and Pittsburgh in tournament first-round games the past two seasons. But Boston College is playing as well as any team in the country right now, as evidenced by the Eagles' play in the ACC Tournament last weekend.

Frank's Spin: The pick here is for Boston College to get to the Final Four, so this is where the Tigers' season ends.


No. 5 Nevada (27-5) vs. No. 12 Montana (23-6), 3:10 p.m.

Things to consider: The Wolf Pack have one of the most skilled big men in the country in Nick Fazekas and a lot of other viable weapons surrounding him. In the West, only UCLA has played better of late than has Mark Fox's team. The Grizzlies closed fast and, based on the 12 seed they received (after being a 16 seed as the Big Sky's representative a year ago), did a lot to impress the selection committee.

Frank's Spin: Nevada picks up its fourth tournament victory in three seasons.



Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.collegehoops.scout.com

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