A capsule look what to expect and who to watch during Thursday’s first round games of the NCAA Tournament.
(4) Duke (23-10) vs. (13) UNC Wilmington (25-7)
When, where: 9:15 a.m., Providence, Rhode Island
Line, total: Duke -10½, 156½
Player to watch: Grayson Allen. As a freshman, he helped lift the Blue Devils to the NCAA championship. As a sophomore, he has become one of the most despised players in the nation because of immature antics, such as twice tripping opponents. But the 6-foot-5-inch guard can score (21.6 points per game). Allen drives to the rim and draws fouls (224 free-throw attempts in 33 games) and shoots well from 3-point range (41.7 percent).
Storyline: Mike Krzyzewski has coached Duke to 21 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. He has a team led by a prolific scorer, Allen, and a top NBA prospect, 6-9 freshman Brandon Ingram. But the Blue Devils lack depth and could be vulnerable to a major upset. The Seahawks, who won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, are 16-2 in their past 18 games
Pick: Duke 82, UNC Wilmington 74
(8) Texas Tech (19-12) vs. (9) Butler (21-10)
When, where: 9:40 a.m., Raleigh, North Carolina
Line, total: Butler -4, 147½
Player to watch: Kellen Dunham. Before he bolted for the NBA to coach the Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens recruited Dunham to play for the Bulldogs. Dunham averaged 29.5 points as a high school senior and was the state scoring leader in Indiana. The 6-6 senior guard is Butler’s top scorer (16.3 points per game) and is hitting 42.8 percent of his 3s. If he gets hot, the Bulldogs will be tough to stop.
Storyline: Ninth-seeded Butler is the favorite and the popular side with the betting public, but the Red Raiders faced tougher competition in the Big 12 Conference. In February, Texas Tech recorded consecutive victories over Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma. Still, there are few believers. Did coach Tubby Smith do it with smoke and mirrors or are the Red Raiders for real?
Pick: Butler 71, Texas Tech 68
(8) Colorado (22-11) vs. (9) Connecticut (24-10)
When, where: 10:30 a.m., Des Moines, Iowa
Line, total: Connecticut -3½, 133
Player to watch: Josh Scott. The 6-10 senior forward leads the Buffaloes in scoring (16.1 points per game) and rebounding (8.7). He has the strength to dominate in the paint. Scott scored 26 points in Colorado’s upset of Arizona on Feb. 24. He also had 17 points and 11 rebounds in a January victory over Oregon, the No. 1 seed in the West Region. In what shapes up as a low-scoring game, the Buffaloes will need Scott to score inside against UConn’s tough half-court defense.
Storyline: Will the Huskies’ postseason magic continue? Kevin Ollie has Picked up where retired coach Jim Calhoun left off. Ollie is 8-2 in the American Athletic Conference tournament and 6-0 in the NCAA Tournament, winning the title in 2014. UConn won the AAC tournament thanks to Jalen Adams’ 60-foot buzzer-beater in a four-overtime victory over Cincinnati in the quarterfinal round.
Pick: Connecticut 67, Colorado 65
(4) Iowa State (21-11) vs. (13) Iona (22-10)
When, where: 11 a.m., Denver
Line, total: Iowa State -7½, 167
Player to watch: A.J. English. The Average Joe college basketball fan never has heard of him. Is that about to change? The Gaels are a double-digit seed capable of pulling a surprise. English, a senior point guard, averages 22.4 points and 6.2 assists. He was voted Most Valuable Player of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, leading Iona to an upset of Monmouth in the title game.
Storyline: This is a matchup of running, jump-shooting teams. The Gaels score 79.6 points per game, and the Cyclones average 81.8. But will the altitude of Denver tire these teams in the second half? Iowa State is deeper and more physical, led by 6-8 senior Georges Niang. Is Iona too far out of its league? In the Ken Pomeroy ratings (Kenpom.com), the Cyclones are 17th, and the Gaels are 77th. But this is March, and maybe this is the day’s big surprise.
Pick: Iona 85, Iowa State 81
(5) Baylor (22-11) vs. (12) Yale (22-6)
When, where: 11:45 a.m., Providence, Rhode Island.
Line, total: Baylor -5½, 136½
Player to watch: Makai Mason. He does not pass the initial eye test. The 6-1 sophomore point guard looks like he should be delivering the morning paper instead of dishing assists and leading a Division-I team in scoring. He once volunteered at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic, and also volunteered at the Little Guild of Saint Francis For the Welfare of the Animals. Can he handle the more athletic Bears? Mason is tougher than he looks.
Storyline: The Bulldogs are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1962. Baylor hung tough with No. 1 Kansas in the Big 12 tournament title game. This is a David-versus-Goliath game, but the oddsmakers are giving 12th-seeded Yale a real shot. It would be nice to see an upset, and this West Region matchup is on the East Coast, but Taurean Prince and the Bears will probably prove to be too strong.
Pick: Baylor 71, Yale 64
(1) Virginia (26-7) vs. (16) Hampton (21-10)
When, where: 12:10 p.m., Raleigh, North Carolina
Line, total: Virginia -24, 132½
Player to watch: Malcolm Brogdon. One of the top players in the Atlantic Coast Conference and in the nation, the 6-5 senior guard averages 18.7 points and shoots 41 percent from 3-point range. He scored 26 points in a victory over North Carolina on Feb. 27. Hampton has a couple of talented guards, but they have not faced a player like Brogdon.
Storyline: Speaking of those talented Pirates guards, seniors Reginald Johnson Jr. (18.3 points per game) and Quinton Chievous (17.0) can fill it up. However, each player shoots around 30 percent from 3-point range. The Cavaliers rank No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense (59.7 points per game) by sticking close to shooters. Because of its slow style of play, Virginia can allow lesser opponents to stay in games. But don’t bank on a stunner. According to ESPN’s BPI, the Cavaliers have a 99.2 percent chance to win.
Pick: Virginia 74, Hampton 54
(1) Kansas (30-4) vs. (16) Austin Peay (18-17)
When, where: 1 p.m., Des Moines, Iowa
Line, total: Kansas -26, 152
Player to watch: Perry Ellis. Despite what it seems, and how his receding hairline makes it appear, Ellis was not on the Jayhawks’ last national title team in 2008. But the 6-8 forward is a senior, and he has been a steady contributor for coach Bill Self for a long time. Ellis averages a team-high 16.7 points and shoots 52.3 percent from the field. He’s not exactly Danny Manning, but he could lead Kansas all the way.
Storyline: The Jayhawks, the biggest favorites in the first round, are riding a 14-game win streak that is soon to hit 15. The Governors, making their first NCAA appearance since 2008, went on a long-shot run to win the Ohio Valley Conference tournament after finishing 7-9 in the regular season. Austin Peay has a quality center — 6-8 senior Chris Horton is averaging 18.9 points and 12.0 rebounds — and a wily coach in 69-year-old Dave Loos.
Pick: Kansas 86, Austin Peay 65
(5) Purdue (26-8) vs. (12) Arkansas-Little Rock (29-4)
When, where: 1:30 p.m., Denver
Line, total: Purdue -9, 129½
Player to watch: A.J. Hammons. When he plays with aggression and high energy, Hammons is the best big man in the nation. But the 7-foot senior does not always appear motivated. He has improved his jump shot and is a defensive force around the rim. Hammons is shooting 59.5 percent from the field and averaging 14.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. He’s backed up by 7-2 Isaac Haas. The Boilermakers’ size and rebounding will present major challenges for the Trojans.
Storyline: Everyone is looking for that popular 5-12 upset, and maybe this is it. Little Rock ranks No. 3 in scoring defense (59.9 points per game) and will try to slow the pace and turn this into an ugly game. The Trojans won 49-43 at San Diego State in November. Purdue, which is No. 11 in the Pomeroy ratings, split a pair of tight games against Michigan State and was tested by much tougher competition in the Big Ten.
Pick: Purdue 65, Arkansas-Little Rock 59
(3) Miami (25-7) vs. (14) Buffalo (20-14)
When, where: 3:50 p.m., Providence, R.I.
Line, total: Miami -13½, 148½
Player to watch: Angel Rodriguez. A veteran backcourt is a key to advancing, and the Hurricanes get strong guard play from seniors Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan. Rodriguez, who runs the point, is not a great shooter, but he’s a tough player who thrives in pressure situations. He helped Miami pile up big wins this season against several NCAA Tournament teams, including Duke, Virginia, Butler and Utah.
Storyline: Will an elite team from the ACC run with the Bulls, the Mid-American Conference tournament champs? Buffalo, which is scoring 77.6 points per game, likes to play fast for first-year coach Nate Oats, who replaced Bobby Hurley. But the Hurricanes are better defensively, have better guards and are guided by a better coach, Jim Larranaga, who has experience with deep runs in March. An upset is highly unlikely, but the point spread will make this interesting.
Pick: Miami 77, Buffalo 66
(5) Indiana (25-7) vs. (12) Chattanooga (29-5)
When, where: 4:10 p.m., Des Moines, Iowa
Line, total: Indiana -12, 145
Player to watch: Yogi Ferrell. A case can be made for Ferrell, a senior point guard, as the second-best player in the Big Ten this season behind Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine. He averaged 17.0 points and 5.5 assists while running the offense (82.3 points per game) at high speed. Ferrell shoots the 3 at 41.7 percent and defends on the other end. He Picked up the slack when guards James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson went down with injuries.
Storyline: Indiana coach Tom Crean was on the hot seat in late November after losing to UNLV and Wake Forest in the Maui Invitational. Crean is safe now. But the Hoosiers, who won the regular-season conference title by two games, got stuck with a 5 seed and a potential second-round matchup with Kentucky. The Mocs will need to defend the perimeter, but the Hoosiers’ shooters will be hard contain.
Pick: Indiana 78, Chattanooga 68
(1) North Carolina (28-6) vs. (16) Florida Gulf Coast (21-13)
When, where: 4:20 p.m., Raleigh, North Carolina
Line, total: North Carolina -22, 148½
Player to watch: Brice Johnson. The Blue Ribbon Yearbook, the preseason bible for college basketball readers, did not list Johnson as one of the nation’s top 20 players. The senior forward is in everyone’s top five now. He leads the Tar Heels in scoring (16.6 points per game) and rebounding (10.6). Johnson is a big reason Carolina won the ACC tournament for the first time since 2008. This was supposed to be senior guard Marcus Paige’s team, but Johnson is the top dog.
Storyline: Look who’s back. Florida Gulf Coast made an improbable Sweet 16 run three years ago with a different coach and different cast of players. This is not the same high-flying “Dunk City” crew. The Eagles physically dominated Fairleigh Dickinson 96-65 in a First Four game Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio. Demetris Morant, a junior forward who transferred from UNLV, scored 10 points. Gulf Coast is capable of sticking with the Tar Heels.
Pick: North Carolina 90, Florida Gulf Coast 75
(3) Utah (26-8) vs. (14) Fresno State (25-9)
When, where: 4:25 p.m., Denver
Line, total: Utah -8½, 139
Player to watch: Marvelle Harris. Forget for a moment the 7-footer on the other side. The Bulldogs are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001, when Jerry Tarkanian was their coach. It was made a reality by Harris, a senior guard who’s scoring 20.6 points per game. He led Fresno to the Mountain West tournament title by beating San Diego State, Colorado State and UNLV. Harris is the type of dynamic player who can steal the spotlight this time of year.
Storyline: Will the Bulldogs have enough muscle in the middle to chop down Utah big man Jakob Poeltl? A true back-to-the-basket center, Poeltl is shooting 65.6 percent from the field and carrying a one-dimensional offense that is rather punchless in the backcourt. It’s tempting to call for an upset, but Fresno won a weak league, and the Utes proved more in the much tougher Pac-12.
Pick: Utah 67, Fresno State 60
(6) Arizona (25-8) vs. (11) Wichita State (25-8)
When, where: 6:20 p.m., Providence, Rhode Island
Line, total: Arizona -1, 136½
PLAYER: Fred VanVleet. The Shockers are really a two-headed monster. VanVleet and Ron Baker, key players on the 2013 Final Four team, each scored 14 points Tuesday in a 70-50 victory over Vanderbilt in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio. VanVleet is one of the nation’s top point guards. When he was injured early in the season, Wichita suffered a few ugly losses. With him healthy, the Shockers rolled to the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title with a 16-2 record.
Storyline: Two intense, defensive-minded coaches collide. Gregg Marshall has something Arizona’s Sean Miller is desperately seeking – a Final Four appearance. The Wildcats’ big advantage is their size on the front line. The Shockers are No. 1 in the nation in Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive ratings. This might be the most intriguing of the 32 first-round games, and the winner could make a deep run in the tournament.
Pick: Wichita State 72, Arizona 71
(4) Kentucky (26-8) vs. (13) Stony Brook (26-6)
When, where: 6:40 p.m., Des Moines, Iowa
Line, total: Kentucky -14, 143
Player to watch: Jamal Murray. Star freshmen come and go in coach John Calipari’s semi-pro Kentucky program. Calipari recruited him out of Canada. Murray, averaging 20.1 points and shooting 42 percent from 3-point range, is the Wildcats’ latest one-and-done NBA prospect. In a February victory over Florida, he made 8 of 10 3s and scored 35 points. Murray and 5-9 point guard Tyler Ulis form an explosive backcourt combo.
Storyline: The Seawolves won the America East Conference to reach their first NCAA Tournament. It’s a good story, and America will be rooting for them to take down the evil Wildcats. Jameel Warney is another Player to watch. The 6-8, 255-pound senior forward scored 43 points in the conference tournament title game. An upset Pick? Kentucky never gets upset in the first round anymore.
Pick: Kentucky 79, Stony Brook 69
(8) Southern California (21-12) vs. (9) Providence (23-10)
When, where: 6:50 p.m., Raleigh, North Carolina
Line, total: Providence -2, 150
Player to watch: Ben Bentil. The 6-9 sophomore forward led the Big East in scoring (21.2 points per game) and averaged 7.8 rebounds for the Friars. He might be the nation’s most improved player. Look for him to post a double-double against a USC team that’s not as strong in the low post. Bentil’s teammate, junior guard Kris Dunn, is more hyped by the media, but Bentil is the real deal.
Storyline: Another 9 seed is favored against an 8. The Trojans ride a wave of talented guards to score 80.8 points per game, but they treat defense as a hobby. After his breakout run at Florida Gulf Coast, Andy Enfield finally got USC rolling in his third season as coach. He beat UCLA three times this season. But the Bruins were soft. Providence is just a tougher team with two future NBA players.
Pick: Providence 80, USC 75
(6) Seton Hall (25-8) vs. (11) Gonzaga (26-7)
When, where: 6:55 p.m., Denver
Line, total: Gonzaga -1, 145½
Player to watch: Isaiah Whitehead. The Pirates won the Big East tournament behind Whitehead, a 6-4 sophomore guard. He averaged 23 points in back-to-back victories over Villanova and Xavier. His mother, Ericka Rambert, drove a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus in Brooklyn for more than a decade until needing back surgery about a year ago. Whitehead will probably declare for the NBA Draft so his mom can forget about going back to work behind the wheel of a city bus.
Storyline: The Zags are slight favorites despite being a double-digit seed. Gonzaga coach Mark Few does have two good men in 6-10 senior Kyle Wiltjer (20.7 points per game) and 6-11 sophomore Domantas Sabonis (17.4 points, 11.6 rebounds), both of whom we saw lead the Zags to the West Coast Conference tournament title in Las Vegas. Seton Hall definitely has better guards, and the Big East is definitely tougher than the WCC. This is the last game of the day, and it could be the best game of the day.
Pick: Seton Hall 76, Gonzaga 74