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NCAA tournament viewing guide: What to watch and what to skip on Thursday

NCAA tournament viewing guide: What to watch and what to skip on Thursday

For one glorious 36-hour stretch between 12 p.m. EST on Thursday and 12 a.m. EST on Saturday, CBS and Turner Sports will televise 32 opening-round NCAA tournament games. Here's a look at which games on Thursday's slate are must-see and which you can afford to click away from until the final two minutes:

THURSDAY AFTERNOON SESSION

12:15 p.m. -- No. 6 Ohio State vs No. 11 Dayton (CBS) 
12: 30 p.m. -- No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 15 American (Tru TV)
1:30 pm. -- No. 8 Colorado vs. No. 9 Pittsburgh (TBS)
2 p.m. -- No. 5 Cincinnati vs. No. 12 Harvard (TNT)

Must-see: Harvard's bid to pull an opening-round upset two straight seasons ought to be compelling. The Crimson are deeper, more talented and more experienced than a year ago, but Cincinnati's smothering defense and strength and athleticism in the frontcourt is a difficult matchup.

Must-skip: American is a slow-paced, defensive-oriented team that runs the Princeton offense. Even with Wisconsin scoring far more efficiently than usual this season, this one has the potential to be eye-gougingly dull. Plus, there's minimal upset potential with the Badgers playing in Milwaukee.  

Potential upsets: Ninth-seeded Pittsburgh is 6.5-point favorite in Las Vegas, meaning that mini-upset won't be an upset if it comes to fruition against an overseeded Colorado team that is just 9-8 without injured star Spencer Dinwiddie. Beyond that, Harvard has a shot against Cincinnati if it can keep the bigger, stronger Bearcats off the offensive glass and Dayton will be highly motivated against an Ohio State team that refuses to play in-state foes in the regular season and has been prone to scoring droughts. 

Player to watch: Take the time to check out Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick if you haven't seen him yet. The fifth-year senior is the Bearcats' lone perimeter scorer yet he averaged 20.7 points and led his team to a share of the inaugural American Athletic Conference title.   

2:30 p.m. -- No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 14 Western Michigan (CBS) 
3:00 p.m. -- No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 10 BYU (Tru TV)
4 pm. -- No. 1 Florida vs. No. 16 Albany (TBS)
4:30 p.m. -- No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 13 Delaware (TNT)

Must-see: Everyone seems to be riding the Michigan State bandwagon now that the Spartans are finally healthy again, but it's easy to forget their first win streak since mid-January came last weekend in winning the Big Ten tournament. Can Michigan State build on that momentum? Its first test is a Delaware team with a couple of explosive, high-scoring guards. 

Must-skip: In 2006, Albany led UConn by 12 midway through the second half before the Huskies rallied back and pulled away late to avoid a historic 1 vs. 16 upset. The Great Danes won't come nearly as close here. Top-ranked Florida rolls, and you'll lose interest by the second TV timeout.

Potential upsets: Syracuse skidded into the NCAA tournament losing five of its last seven and shooting below 40 percent in each of those five losses. If Trevor Cooney continues to misfire from the perimeter, can the Orange find enough scoring to beat a Western Michigan team that entered the NCAA tournament on a tear and has seen a similar 2-3 zone to Syracuse's twice this year against Eastern Michigan?

Player to watch: If BYU has any chance against a high-scoring Oregon team without injured standout Kyle Collinsworth, the Cougars need point guard Matt Carlino to pick up the slack. Carlino can be effective at the fast tempo this game will likely be played at, but he needs to make smart decisions with the ball in his hands and shoot better than he did in the WCC tournament.  

THURSDAY NIGHT SESSION

6:45 p.m. -- No. 7 UConn vs. No. 10 St. Joseph's (TBS) 
7 p.m. -- No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 Wofford (CBS)
7:15 pm. -- No. 5 St. Louis vs. No. 12 NC State (TNT)
7:25 p.m. -- No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 North Dakota State (Tru-TV)

Must-see: Saint Louis versus NC State carries the added intrigue of either disproving or validating Mike Krzyzewski's jab that the Atlantic 10 is nowhere near worthy of six bids. The Billikens have enjoyed a much better season than the Wolfpack, but Saint Louis lost four of five down the stretch while NC State surged to make the field at all.

Must-skip: Perhaps there's an under-the-radar angle that compelled CBS to make Michigan-Wofford its primetime game, but I'm not privvy to it. The Terriers finished third in the mediocre Southern Conference, lost to every remotely good non-league opponent they faced by double digits and were fortunate enough to never have to face league champ Davidson or runner-up Chattanooga in their conference tournament. There's not much reason to think they put a scare into Michigan. 

Potential upsets: North Dakota State is ultra-efficient offensively thanks to the combination of two big men who can score in the post and an elite guard in high-scoring Taylor Braun. The challenge for the Bison will be maintaining that efficiency against a power-conference foe like Oklahoma with the size and strength to try to guard the post big one-on-one.

Player to watch: NC State forward T.J. Warren won the ACC player of the year award over Jabari Parker, C.J. Fair and Marcus Paige, which should be reason alone to watch him play. Warren averaged 24.9 points per game this season and will try to carry the Wolfpack to the Round of 32.   

9:15 p.m. -- No. 2. Villanova vs. No. 15 Milwaukee (TBS) 
9:30 p.m. -- No. 7 Texas vs. No. 10 Arizona State (CBS)
9:45 pm. -- No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Manhattan (TNT)
9:55 p.m. -- No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 13 New Mexico State (Tru-TV)

Must-see: Mentor meets pupil when Louisville coach Rick Pitino will try to thwart the upset bid of his former ball boy and assistant coach Steve Masiello. Manhattan has a shot-blocking big man in Rhamel Brown and an array of athletic wings who can score and defend, but drawing Louisville was a bad break because the Cards are both scorching hot right now and are better than the Jaspers in the areas both teams excel.

Must-skip: All four games have the potential for good finishes, but San Diego State-New Mexico State may be hard to watch up until that point. The Aztecs suffer through scoring droughts when they become over-reliant on Xavier Thames creating off the pick-and-roll, but they make up for it by playing stifling defense, turning turnovers into fast-break chances and crashing the offensive glass.  

Potential upsets: If Milwaukee can defend Villanova's quickness on the perimeter, the Panthers could be a handful for the Wildcats. And Arizona State has two high-scoring guards and a rim-protecting big man to throw at a youthful Texas team that wins by controlling the paint. New Mexico State's size advantage could be a challenge for San Diego State, but the Aztecs can double the post, force turnovers and turn that mismatch against the Aggies too with their quickness at the other end.

Player to watch: Here's America's latest chance to catch a glimpse of 7-foot-5, 355-pound New Mexico State center Sim Bhullar, the MVP of the WAC tournament both of the past two seasons. Bhullar is no novelty act either. He has soft hands and decent touch around the rim for a player of his immense size.

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