03.20.14 9:45 AM ET
March Madness: 5 Games to Watch
To the chagrin of these 40 courageous online petitioners and their hoops-hungry brethren, March Madness is not a national holiday. And unless you’re ESPN’s reigning bracket challenge champion, chances are your life doesn’t completely stop when the NCAA Tournament begins.
If you’re not a sports journalist, college slacker, retiree, degenerate gambler, or addict, it’s probably impossible (or even unappealing) to watch 12 consecutive hours of basketball on both Thursday and Friday.
But for those of you interested in catching the best the Big Dance has to offer, here are five upcoming games you shouldn’t miss.
12 Harvard vs. 5 Cincinnati - Thursday 2:10 pm ET
UPSET ALERT! Ever since upending New Mexico as a 14-seed last year, Harvard has been a chic pick to repeat the feat this time around. Plus, statistics overlord Nate Silver’s algorithm gives them a 42 percent chance of beating favored Cincinnati. The Crimson boast an experienced squad with five players averaging double-digit points, and they don’t make mistakes. The Bearcats feature electrifying swingman Sean Kilpatrick, but his teammates seriously struggle to score. Expect this game to go down to the wire.
10 BYU vs. 7 Oregon - Thursday 3:10 pm ET
This entertaining matchup might resemble more of a track meet than a basketball game. The Cougars are the highest-scoring team in the tournament (84.2 points per game), while the Ducks (81.8 ppg) aren’t far behind. They both love to push the tempo, and it often looks like they’ve been studying defense under the tutelage of famed New York Knicks matador Andrea Bargnani.
12 NC State vs. 5 Saint Louis - Thursday 7:20 pm ET
Several days ago, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said plainly that the Atlantic Coast Conference was better than the Atlantic 10 and thus deserved more NCAA Tournament bids, a candid statement that prompted nationwide debate. Both conferences got six teams in, and this is the only game in which they square off. Let’s see if you’re right, Coach K. Also worth noting: the Wolfpack’s scoring machine T.J. Warren was the ACC Player of the Year and is a joy to watch, while the hard-nosed Billikens are the only team that starts five seniors. This’ll be a fantastic contest.
14 LA Lafayette vs. 3 Creighton - Friday 3:10 pm ET
Watch this game for one reason: Doug McDermott. The Bluejays’ star is one of the most dominant players we’ve seen in decades, leading the country with 26.9 points per game while hitting 53 percent of his field goals and 45 percent of his three-point attempts. Not to mention that he does it all while wearing a t-shirt under his jersey and looking like an enormous version of your innocent local paperboy. The Ragin’ Cajuns rank 302nd in the nation in defense; McDermott might drop 50.
9 Oklahoma St. vs. 8 Gonzaga - Friday 4:40 pm ET
Oklahoma State has been the most scrutinized program in college basketball this season. The team hasn’t lived up to lofty expectations, and neither has star guard Marcus Smart, who’s endured as much criticism as any player in recent memory. But the Cowboys are hitting their stride, their leader has been filling up the stat sheet, and they have enough talent to make a surprise tournament run. Meanwhile, Gonzaga has done what it always seems to do: play solid (if unspectacular) basketball all season long. The Zags have a balanced inside-outside attack and won’t be an easy out for anyone.