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2016 NCAA Tournament: Thursday First Round Preview and Predictions

Mike Krzyzewski

Mike Krzyzewski

Technically, the field of 64 hasn’t been set in stone just yet. But after tonight, your bracket will be 100 percent ready to rock and roll and we can officially begin the NCAA Tournament.

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If the last two weeks of conference tournaments have been an accurate precursor, we are in store for an exceptional brand of March Madness in 2016.

The first day of the Tournament has many fascinating storylines this year. The once-dominant mid-majors like Butler, Wichita State and Gonzaga are now trying to prove their worth after years of success. Under-the-radar power conference teams like Miami, USC, Utah and Seton Hall (if you count the Big East) are trying to join the big kids table.

Then there are teams such as Stony Brook, Chattanooga and Yale are hoping they’ve found the right-fitting pair of glass slippers for the Big Dance. And college basketball powers like Kansas, North Carolina, Indiana and Kentucky are all playing towards another piece of hoops hardware to add to their collections.

Here is a quick hitter of every game from day one of the NCAA Tournament.

NCAA Tournament Thursday First Round Games

Note: All times Eastern, some start times are approximate

No. 13 UNC-Wilmington vs. No. 4 Duke

TV: 12:15 p.m., CBS

Site: Providence (West Region)

Preview: This isn’t the same Duke team we saw win a national title last season. Gone are three first-round NBA Draft picks, but the flood of McDonald’s All-Americans continues. The Blue Devils’ play this season has often times been erratic, but despite the struggles this season, Duke is still one of the nation’s most offensively efficient teams in the country led by sophomore Grayson Allen and freshman Brandon Ingram. Defensively, Duke has holes that can be exploited by UNCW’s junior guard Chris Flemmings. The Seahawks’ backcourt- heavy attack could prove problematic for the Blue Devils, so expect a close, high-scoring game.

Prediction: Duke 81-72

Related: UNC Wilmington Seahawks vs. Duke Blue Devils Preview and Prediction

No. 8 Texas Tech vs. No. 9 Butler

TV: 12:40 p.m., truTV

Site: Raleigh (Midwest Region)

Preview: Butler started the season looking like it could be the class of the Big East… until conference play started. The Bulldogs are exceptionally efficient on offense, but have truly struggled defensively since January. Kellan Martin has emerged as one of the most complete players in the Big East, while sharpshooter Kellen Dunham has fallen off a bit. Texas Tech’s tough non-conference schedule helped them make the Dance. With their ticket punched, the Red Raiders are head coach Tubby Smith’s fifth team he’s guided to the NCAA Tournament, which ties him with current Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger for most in college hoops history. This game could be more high-scoring than you think, but Butler gets the edge — thanks in large part to the efforts of senior guard Roosevelt Jones.

Prediction: Butler: 72-68

No. 8 Colorado vs. No. 9 Connecticut

TV: 1:30 p.m., TNT

Site: Des Moines (South Region)

Preview: It took four overtimes, and a 60-plus-foot, game-tying heave from freshman Jalen Adams against Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference Tournament championship game — but the Huskies are here. Unlike their last national titles runs the Huskies lack that one go-to guard that can control the game down the stretch. This UConn team will need to rely on scoring balance against Colorado’s stifling defense. The Buffs were a bubble team and made the tourney thanks to the Selection Committee’s infatuation with the Pac-12. Colorado’s high turnover rate and low effective field goal percentage doesn't bode well against the Huskies’ lock-down defense.

Prediction: Connecticut 64-58

Related: Connecticut Huskies vs. Colorado Buffaloes Preview and Prediction

No. 13 Iona vs. No. 4 Iowa State

TV: 2 p.m., TBS

Site: Denver (Midwest Region)

Preview: Iowa State boasts the No. 3 offense in terms of efficiency numbers in the entire country. Led by national player of the year candidate and senior Georges Niang, the Cyclones are on a mission to make the Final Four after fading in the Big 12 down the stretch. But the matchup with the Gaels could prove problematic, as Iona likes to get up and down the floor just as much as the Cyclones do. The Iona combo of A.J. English and Jordan Washington are causing a lot of pundits to pick the Gaels to upset the Cyclones — but Iowa State’s well-rounded offense against the Gaels’ mediocre defense could send Iona home early.

Prediction: Iowa State 77-70

No. 12 Yale vs. No. 5 Baylor

TV: 2:45 p.m. ET, CBS

Site: Providence (West Region)

Preview: Baylor comes into the Tournament looking to hit its stride at the right time, as the Bears have lost three of their last four games. With the lingering nightmare after last year’s upset loss at the hands of Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter and his absurdly deep 3-pointer, the Bears could be poised for a hallmark 12-5 upset with Yale on Thursday afternoon. The Bulldogs are playing in their first NCAA Tournament since the early ‘60s, and have won seven of their last eight, a span that goes back to when senior captain Jack Montague was expelled from school for alleged sexual assault. If Yale can limit its turnovers and use their top 25-ranked defense to keep the Bears in check, the Bulldogs could be this year’s best bet at a Cinderella.

Prediction: Yale 69-67

Related: Yale Bulldogs vs Baylor Bears Preview and Prediction

No. 16 Hampton vs. No. 1 Virginia

TV: 3:10 p.m., truTV

Site: Raleigh (Midwest Region)

Prediction: The dominance of No. 1 seeds defeating No. 16s will end eventually — but it won’t start with Hampton and Virginia. The Cavaliers are maybe the most complete team in the entire country as they rank in the top 10 nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency. Led by the 1-2 senior punch of Malcolm Brogdon (ACC Player of the Year) and Anthony Gill, the Hoos are thinking Final Four this year — if they can get past Michigan State. The Pirates however, could be a tougher out than many predict. Hampton dominated the MEAC and won both the conference tournament and regular season title in dominating fashion. Sadly, for the Pirates, Virginia is a national title contender.

Prediction: Virginia 80-62

Related: Hampton Pirates vs. Virginia Cavaliers Preview and Prediction

No. 16 Austin Peay vs. No. 1 Kansas

TV: 4 p.m., TNT

Site: Des Moines (South Region)

Preview: Austin Peay is the best story going in college sports right now. The Governors were the eighth seed in the OVC Tournament, barely making the cut of Music City Madness. What happened in Nashville was more miracle than it was madness, as the Govs rattled off four straight upsets en route to punching their ticket to the Big Dance. Austin Peay is the ultimate Cinderella, and a team playing with a purpose far greater than themselves, as head coach Dave Loos’ granddaughter continues to battle cancer. While Kansas is extremely likely to run away with this one, we are all cheering for young Ryan Loos, as her brave fight continues.

Prediction: Kansas 85-60

Related: Austin Peay Governors vs. Kansas Jayhawks Preview and Prediction

No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock vs. No. 5 Purdue

TV: 4 p.m., TBS

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Site: Denver (Midwest Region)

Preview: The Boilermakers have one of the best, and biggest front lines in all of college hoops with Isaac Haas, A.J. Hammons, and freshman Caleb Swanigan. But as good as Purdue is up front, the team’s guard play is suspect — and guard play is what wins in March. And guard play is something that Little Rock has. The Trojans are one of the best teams in the nation at protecting the basketball, something they must do against one of the best defenses in the nation in the Boilers. Purdue has Elite Eight potential, but a tough first round test against the stingy Trojans, could prove to be disastrous.

Prediction: Purdue 62-58

No. 14 Buffalo vs. No. 3 Miami

TV: 6:50 p.m., TNT

Site: Providence (South Region)

Preview: Surely you are aware by now that Miami’s Jim Larranaga is one of the best coaches in the country and his Final Four run as the head coach as George Mason wasn’t a fluke. Miami is led by senior Sheldon McClellan, who is the fuel to the Hurricanes’ fire on both ends of the court and an underrated player in the ACC. Where the ‘Canes and Bulls matchup is with their balance, as both teams have four players that average double figures in points. Buffalo likes to get out and run while Miami is more of a half-court, set offense, an attack that is extremely efficient. The Hurricanes have Final Four potential written all over them, but beating the Bulls on Thursday night could prove to be a tough first round pairing.

Prediction: Miami 81-70

No. 12 UT-Chattanooga vs. No. 5 Indiana

TV: 7:10 p.m., CBS

Site: Des Moines (East Region)

Preview: If you’re looking for a 12-5 upset, this could be your best bet. The Hoosiers probably deserved better than a No. 5 seed after winning the Big Ten regular season title outright, but after a tough loss to Michigan in the conference tournament, Indiana is looking to rid themselves of the demons lingering from past poor March performances. The Mocs have beaten the big boys before this season, topping Georgia, Dayton and Illinois early on in non-conference play. But two things Chattanooga doesn’t have that Indiana does are freak-athlete Troy Williams on the wing, and stud point guard Yogi Ferrell, capable of taking over a game at any moment.

Prediction: Indiana 75-65

Related: Chattanooga Mocs vs. Indiana Hoosiers Preview and Prediction

No. 16 Florida Gulf Coast vs. No. 1 North Carolina

TV: 7:20 p.m., TBS

Site: Raleigh (East Region)

Preview: DUNK CITY IS BACK! Well, sort of. It may not be the 2013 Sweet 16 version of the Eagles, but this team is still tough, as evidenced by their 31-point victory over Fairleigh Dickinson in the First Four on Tuesday night. Too bad for the Eagles, North Carolina is playing its best brand of basketball as the Tar Heels enter the Tournament, otherwise this might have been a rather watchable game for a 1 vs. 16 matchup. The Tar Heels have the depth and athleticism at all positions that have them eyeing another national title run. At the very least the battle between FGCU’s Marc-Eddy Norelia and UNC’s Brice Johnson should be fun to watch.

Prediction: North Carolina 86-68

Related: Florida Gulf Coast Eagles vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Preview and Prediction

No. 14 Fresno State vs. No. 3 Utah

TV: 7:27 p.m. ET, truTV

Site: Denver (Midwest Region)

Preview: The Bulldogs are back in the Big Dance for the first time since the late, great Jerry Tarkanian was at the helm back in 2001. Fresno State upset Mountain West favorite San Diego State in the conference championship game for their first bid in decade and a half. The Bulldogs run on Marvelle Harris, the only player to average double figures on the squad. The Utes are very well-rounded starting with arguably the nation’s best big man in Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl is surrounded by good perimeter shooting and length, as the Utes boast one of the best defenses in the Pac-12. If the Bulldogs have a chance against Utah, Harris will need to show why he was the MW Player of the Year — and then some.

Prediction: Utah 71-67

Related: Fresno State Bulldogs vs. Utah Utes Preview and Prediction

No. 11 Wichita State vs. No. 6 Arizona

TV: 9:20 p.m., TNT

Site: Providence (South Region)

Preview: Wichita State never should have been subjected to playing in the First Four against Vanderbilt, just like the Shockers

shouldn't have had to play Kentucky in the second round of the Tournament back in 2014 after going 35-0. But, the Shockers disposed of the Commodores and now face a balanced Arizona scoring attack featuring Allonzo Trier on the wing and Ryan Anderson in the post. This might not be Sean Miller’s best team since arriving in Tuscon, but it certainly has the depth and a favorable draw to make a deep run in this tourney. But Wichita State still has Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker running the show on the court and Gregg Marshall on the sideline — and that is pretty tough to beat. This game has the chance to be the best of

the day. Don’t miss it.

Prediction: Wichita State 71-69

Related: Wichita State Shockers vs. Arizona Wildcats Preview and Prediction

No. 13 Stony Brook vs. No. 4 Kentucky

TV: 9:40 p.m. ET, CBS

Site: Des Moines (East Region)

Preview: After a couple seasons of heartbreak, Stony Brook is rewarded by facing a Kentucky team that is finally playing up to its potential — which really stinks because we want to watch the Seawolves’ Jameel Warney play as many games in March as possible. Sadly, Warney and the Seawolves likely won't be dancing long as the Wildcats are finally putting it all together down the stretch. John Calipari has the best point guard in the nation in Tyler Ulis and one of the best freshmen in sharpshooter Jamal Murray. Kentucky’s depth and athleticism will be too much for the Seawolves — unless of course Warney drops another 43-point performance like he did against Vermont last weekend.

Prediction: Kentucky 75-65

Related: Stony Brook Seawolves vs. Kentucky Wildcats Preview and Prediction

No. 9 Providence vs. No. 8 USC

TV: 9:50 p.m., TBS

Site: Raleigh (East Region)

Preview: Make sure you watch Providence’s Kris Dunn as much as you can for as long as the Friars are in this Tournament, because come summertime, he will be a NBA lottery pick. Matched with stretch-four and the Big East’s leading scorer, Ben Bentil, the Friars are going to be a tough out this first weekend. Andy Enfield’s Trojan squad may not have the go-to guys of the Friars, but he does have offensive symmetry, with four guys proclaimed as “major contributors” according to KenPom, and five players averaging double figures. USC will have to force turnovers and grab as many defensive rebounds as possible to keep the basketball away from Dunn and Bentil — something this team struggled with all season long. If the Trojans can play a hard-nosed defensive game, this one could be a barnburner.

Prediction: Providence 73-71

No. 11 Gonzaga vs. No. 6 Seton Hall

TV: 9:57 p.m., truTV

Site: Denver (Midwest Region)

Preview: I hope you weren’t planning on getting any sleep, East Coast. Some of the best games of the Tournament could be the Thursday nightcaps, and Gonzaga and Seton Hall could be the best pairing. Seton Hall is dancing for the first time since 2006 after winning its first Big East Tournament title in 23 years, and the Zags had to win the WCC Tournament to earn an 18th consecutive bid. The Bulldogs aren’t nearly as good as they were least season, but still have a decent chance at making the Sweet 16. The Pirates are led by Big East Tournament Most Valuable Player Isiah Whitehead, one of the best yet least talked about players in the country. The thing to watch is Seton Hall’s No. 15-ranked defense versus Gonzaga’s No. 25 offense. This should be another brilliant March Madness matchup.

Prediction: Gonzaga 76-74

Related: Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Seton Hall Pirates Preview and Prediction