Its officially that time of year again.
The NCAA Tournament is one of sporting’s biggest spectacles, and for good reason. A 68-team bracket is pieced together one match-up at a time on "Selection Sunday," with some teams getting the nod to take part in college basketball’s marquee event, while others resumes just aren’t up to par.
This year’s tournament features four first-round match-ups that will take place at KeyBank Center today.
First up, No. 5 seed Notre Dame (23-9) takes on No. 12 seed Princeton (23-6) at 12:15 p.m. to kick things off.
The Fighting Irish play in the dreaded 5-12 game, in which 46 upsets have occurred in tournament history, including two last year (Arkansas-Little Rock over Purdue and Yale over Baylor).
The Tigers of Princeton aren’t to be taken lightly, going undefeated (14-0) in Ivy League regular-season play as well as punching their ticket by winning the inaugural Ivy League tournament over Yale. The team’s leading scorer, guard Devin Cannady, is second in the nation in free-throw percentage at 93.4 percent. The team ranks 10th in the NCAA in scoring defense, holding opponents to just 61.5 points per game.
Notre Dame, which is coming off a loss in the ACC Tournament final to Duke, will have to continue its strong ball security to advance, as the team is tied for first in the NCAA for least turnovers per game at 9.4. Notre Dame is the nation’s best free-throw shooting team at 79.9 percent as well.
Next up at 2:45 p.m., No. 4 seed West Virginia (26-8) goes up against No. 13 seed Bucknell (26-8).
"Press" Virginia (nicknamed for its entire-game full-court press) comes into the tournament forcing 20.4 turnovers a game, more than any team in the country and three more than The Citadel, which is second in that statistic. After being upset in the first round last year as a No. 3 seed against Stephen F. Austin, the Mountaineers are hoping to make their 2017 tournament much more memorable. They’re coming off a Big 12 tournament finals loss to Iowa State.
Bucknell, which handily won the Patriot League regular season and tournament title, is seeking to do what Stephen F. Austin did last year and shock West Virginia. Breaking the Mountaineer press on a consistent basis is easier said than done. The Bison rank 198th in turnovers per game at 13.3, and will have to be much better today.
Third on the slate of games is No. 1 seed Villanova (31-3) taking on the winner of a play in game between No. 16 seeds Mount St. Mary’s (19-15 and Northeast Conference champs) and New Orleans (20-11 and Southland Conference champs).
A 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed in NCAA Tournament history, so the odds are definitely in the Wildcats’ favor.
Villanova begins its 2016 NCAA Tournament title defense at 7:10 p.m. tonight off the back of winning the Big East Tournament against Creighton on March 11. The Wildcats are the third most efficient offense in the nation at 122.4, and rank seventh in team field-goal percentage at 49.7 percent. The team is led by senior and Big East player of the year Josh Hart, who averages 18.9 points per game.
Seeing Nova lose in this kind of scenario would be unheard of, but then again, they call it March Madness for a reason.
The day ends with what, on paper, seems to be the most competitive game of the four, as No. 8 seed Wisconsin (25-9) matches up against No. 9 seed Virginia Tech (22-10) at 9:40 p.m.
Wisconsin, like Notre Dame and West Virginia, fell in the finals of their conference tournament, as Michigan defeated the Badgers to win the Big 10.
Despite this Wisconsin team not having the firepower that the 2015 NCAA Tournament runner-up squad had, the Badgers are a solid and experienced bunch. They rank ninth in the country in scoring defense, holding teams to 61.4 points per game. They also return eight players from their 2015 lineup, including leading scorer Bronson Koening.
Virginia Tech, which makes its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007, leads the nation with an 83.3 defensive efficiency. The team is led by Zach LeDay, who leads the team with 16.3 points per game as well as 7.4 rebounds per game.
If history does indeed repeat itself, West Virginia should be thrilled and Villanova should be troubled.
The last time the Mountaineers played their first round games in Buffalo in 2010, they reached the final four as a No. 2 seed before falling to tournament champion Duke.
As for the Wildcats, their last trip to Buffalo showed them packing their bags in the second round, as they were upset by No. 7 seed and eventual tournament champ UConn in 2014.
Adam Gorski is a junior at Cardinal O’Hara High School.