Six First-Round NCAA Games You Can't Miss

Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun had some unexpected free time last week after his Huskies were knocked out of the Big East tournament early with that epic six-overtime loss to Syracuse in New York. Surprisingly, he says he didn’t watch much college hoops.

But before going to New York, Calhoun did tune in to watch the Southern Conference championship game on March 9.

“I did see Chattanooga and the College of Charleston,” Calhoun said Sunday. “[Charleston coach] Bobby Cremins is a very dear friend and I knew he had upset Davidson. So I looked in to see Bobby’s chances of getting back into the Big Dance.”

Calhoun was well versed in many things related to the Mocs when it was announced that the NCAA selection committee had paired the No. 1 Huskies with No. 16 Chattanooga in the first round of the West Region, a game that will be played Thursday in Philadelphia.

Calhoun knows UConn’s defense must find sharp shooter Stephen McDowell in the Mocs’ backcourt. Calhoun knows the Mocs got off to a rough start this season when senior forward Kevin Goffney couldn’t play because of injury.

“They’re a very athletic team,” Calhoun said.

The Huskies obviously will get a more detailed scouting report later in the week. But it always helps to know your opponent a little bit when those surprises appear on the bracket board.

The bracket can be overwhelming at first glance. Some of the names are familiar, but many aren’t. Connecting some automatic bid teams to their proper conference can be challenging. But we’re here to help.

Here, in our opinion, are the top first-round games coming up this week. You might want to check them out:

No. 8 LSU vs. No. 9 Butler (Friday)
These might be some of the greatest 8 vs. 9 games ever and this one is at the top of the list.

Brad Stevens has done a remarkable job with a young Butler team. The only real bump in the road came in the Horizon tournament title game against Cleveland State. Butler is 26-5, led by Matt Howard and fully capable of eliminating LSU.

Coach Trent Johnson is another first-year coach who done a remarkable job. LSU won the SEC regular season outright but lost some momentum at the end of the year.

No. 7 Boston College vs. No. 10 USC (Friday)
We were really hoping the committee would match USC with a Big East team after Trojans coach Tim Floyd’s remark about the Big East getting so many bids that “there’s not that many spots left.”

Oh well, B.C. is a former Big East team. Once the Trojans got healthy, they really got their act together. Remember, B.C. beat North Carolina and Duke (almost got the Devils twice) during the ACC season.

No. 8 BYU vs. No. 9 Texas A&M (Thursday)
The Mountain West was lobbying hard for more than two spots but that’s all the conference got. BYU (25-7) ended up the only at-large selection as San Diego State (23-9) was left out. The Cougars might be playing with a little chip on their shoulder.

Mark Turgeon’s A&M team could be a sleeper. The Aggies (23-9) will be looking to redeem themselves after blowing that lead to Texas Tech in the Big 12 tournament. Josh Carter is worth watching in this one.

No. 7 California vs No. 10 Maryland (Thursday)
The coaching matchup here is priceless.

Mike Montgomery, the former Stanford fixture, has overachieved in his first season at Cal. It was supposed to take three or four years to get the Bears back in the NCAA but Montgomery pushed all the right buttons.

On the other bench is Gary Williams, the hardest working coach on the bench, was under heavy criticism all season and his job appeared to be in jeopardy. Williams didn’t care. He just rolled it out and the Terps turned things around with that dramatic overtime win over North Carolina on Feb. 21.

No. 8 Oklahoma State vs. No. 9 Tennessee (Friday)
Oklahoma State looked finished after losing four of five and collapsing against Texas 99-74 on Feb. 10. But that was the turning point for coach Travis Ford and the Cowboys beat Iowa State to become the hottest team in the Big 12. James Anderson has been a key to the perimeter attack and Byron Eaton is one of the toughest individual matchups around.

Tennessee has to be one of the most disappointing teams in the nation. Look for the Vols to make a quick exit this year.

No. 7 Clemson vs. No. 10 Michigan (Thursday)
Is there a team that dropped more than Clemson? It wasn’t that long ago the Tigers looked like a strong No. 2 or No. 3. They call this a new season and no one needs to start over more than Clemson.

John Beilein has everyone excited in Michigan, even if the Wolverines were one of the last to make the field of 65. The Wolverines are back to .500 in the Big Ten and headed for bigger things nationally. This might be a good place to start. Michigan looks to Manny Harris to get things started.

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