These are the Round of 64 games that I’ve circled on my bracket as ones not to miss on Thursday when March Madness, America’s greatest sporting spectacle, tips off in earnest.
No. 5 IOWA STATE vs No. 12 NEVADA
Thursday, March 16th, 9:57PM ET, truTV
If you haven’t seen the Cyclones’ ridiculously talented duo of Monte Morris and Deonte Burton play this year, as the Korean grocer told O-Dog in Menace II Society, “I feel sorry for your mother.“
Morris, a native of Flint, Michigan, averages 16 points, six assists and five rebounds per game and is one of the very best point guards in all of college hoops.He’s a spectacular playmaker and passer who rarely turns the ball over. He also holds school career records in assists and steals.
His 21-point, 10-rebound, nine-assist masterpiece against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament is a mere sample of the type of work that he gives out on a regular basis.
Burton, who hails from Milwaukee, is one of the most powerful and electrifying players in the country. His above-the-rim game is straight bananas.
For someone so thick and strong, his nimble feet and explosiveness are ridiculous. He’s a crafty lefty with a bevy of hesitation dribble moves that can finish strong at the rim through contact. His offensive game is versatile, and when you combine that with him being a runaway freight train on the break, you won’t want to take your eyes off him.
The Cyclones also have scoring threats in Nazareth Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas, who average 16 and 12 points respectively, with Thomas connecting on 44% of his shots from deep. Iowa State rocks out with a four-guard lineup. And with Morris leading the flow with an elite assist-to-turnover ratio, Iowa State is favored by many to be a dark-horse Final Four candidate.
The Wolf Pack have won nine consecutive games and are coming off of their first Mountain West Regular season title ever. They have one of the most balanced offenses in the country, led by Marcus Marshall who averages 19.7 points per game.
They led the conference in scoring this year, putting up 80.0 points per game while connecting on a league-best 38.5 percent from deep. Cameron Oliver, a sophomore forward with NBA potential due to his versatility, and D.J. Fenner, Jordan Caroline and Elijah Foster also average double figures. Oliver goes for 15.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, while Caroline, a stud on the wing, goes for 14.8 points and 9.2.boards.
The Cyclones, who won the Big 12 Tournament, are in their sixth consecutive NCAA tourney.
No. 3 Florida State vs No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast
Thursday, March 16th, 9:20PM ET, TNT
Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles are massive, long and athletic while Florida Gulf Coast would like to replicate the excitement of their previous incarnation as “Dunk City.”
Four years ago, FGC put its personal stamp on the NCAA Tournament with an electrifying run to the Sweet Sixteen, upsetting Georgetown and San Diego State in the process before falling to Florida. The Eagles are fifth in the country in field goal percentage, converting at a 50.2 percent clip.
Florida State is the deepest team in the field, with Hamilton utilizing a ridiculous 12-man rotation. His previous teams were known for their defensive prowess, but this version can get up and down the floor and score with anyone.
6-foot-10 freshman small forward Jonathan Isaac is dripping with limitless potential and will be a Top-5 pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Don’t be fooled by the fact that he only averages about 12 points per game. He doesn’t have to score in order to have a positive impact on the game.
For all you need to know about what he’s capable of, check the 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocked shots he put up in an 83-80 win over a very good Notre Dame squad on January 18th.
But for me, Florida State gets cooking with Bacon, as in Dwayne Bacon, the 6-foot-7 sophomore guard from Lakeland, Florida.
He is an explosive leaper who is very long and faster than a hiccup in the open floor. On the move, he’s practically unstoppable and he’s a ferocious finisher at the rim. Bacon has a creative offensive repertoire and can bang the ball consistently from deep. He can handle the rock like a point guard and is equally adept at both starting and finishing the break.
Defensively, he’s big, quick and athletic enough to guard the 1, 2 and the 3, and will disrupt an opponent’s passing lanes like Trump barges in on people’s preconceived notions of common sense.
Check the 24-point game against Florida, the 29-point gem against UVA and the 23-point jammy he put up against Miami in the Seminoles final regular season game to see how he comes to get down.
Junior guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes chips in with 10.4 points, 3.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game, but he just might be the most important part of FSU’s offensive puzzle. The 6-foot-4 combo guard from Canada can accumulate points in bunches when need be, but his greatest value lies in being the initiator of the Seminoles offense.
He’s very adept at using misdirection and change of pace to access the paint, where he can either convert efficiently at the rim or set up one of his many big teammates for easy buckets. Whether Hamilton needs him as a scorer or a playmaker, Rathan-Mayes can fit the bill.
And goodness-gracious-gawd-a’mighty!!! 7-foot-1 center Michael Ojo is a mountain of a main for Florida State.
FGC senior forward Demetris Morant has his work cut out for him with the Seminoles size, but he is a post presence with 10.7 points and eight rebounds per game. The real question is what sophomore guard Zach Johnson, who averages close to 12 points, and junior guard Christian Terrell, who chips in with ten points per game, can do against Bacon and Rathan-Mayes.
No. 5 Notre Dame vs No. 12 Princeton
Thursday, March 16th, 12:15PM ET, CBS
Can you name the only team to advance to at least the Elite Eight in the previous two NCAA Tournaments? That would be Notre Dame.
And if you’ve been paying attention to what’s been happening in the Ivy League over the last few years with Harvard’s Tommy Amaker and Yale’s James Jones chalking up March Madness victories over favored opponents, or have seen this very talented Princeton squad in action this year, you know that the Fighting Irish are about to have a tough game on their hands.
Ivy League squads have fared well as No. 12 seeds over the past few years, with Yale beating Baylor last year and Harvard snuffing Cincinnati in 2014.
The spontaneously combustible Dick Vitale, who seemingly loves to slobber over players wearing Duke or North Carolina uniforms, picked Colson as his ACC Player of the Year this season. The 6-foot-5 junior from New Bedford, Massachusetts is an undersized bruiser in the post who averages 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
Despite being small for a power forward and lacking elite athleticism, he makes up for those deficiencies by having a non-stop motor and playing with an aggressiveness that wears his opponents down.
He can score on the move, off the bounce and while facing the basket in space with an array of crafty moves and a nice touch around the rim. And his game off the boards is as elite as it gets on the college level.
Colson had 29 points and nine rebounds in Notre Dame’s ACC Tournament championship game loss to Duke, and no one throughout the conference tournament had an answer for him. He dropped 21 points and grabbed 10 boards against UVA in the quarters and gave Florida State 18 points and six rebounds in the semi’s.
The Fighting Irish’s strength is an inside-out offensive game anchored by Colson down low and augmented by a bevy of shooters spaced out on the perimeter that can knock down the three. And don’t sleep on 6-foot-8 senior forward V.J. Beachem, who creates problems with his upper-tier athleticism and abilities as a slasher. Their point guard Matt Farrell is very underrated as well, but he’s legit.
Princeton walks into March Madness on a 19-game winning streak and features a balanced offensive attack with Devin Cannady, Myles Stephens, Stephen Cook and Spencer Weisz all averaging in double figures.
Cook and Cannady each average close to 14 points per game and the Tigers, who rarely turn the ball over, had a perfect 16-0 record in Ivy League play. Weisz, a 6-foot-4 forward, chips in with 10.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists.
Their head coach Mitch Henderson was a member of the ’96 Princeton squad that beat the defending national champion UCLA in the tournament’s opening round, as well as the ’98 squad that took out UNLV.