This year's NCAA Tournament field may not have a team like last year's Louisville, which ranked in the top five for efficiency on both offense and defense -- but that doesn't mean the competition is not going to be intense. Thursday's Day One of full action features a boatload of juicy matchups and marquee players:
Pupil vs. Mentor
Manhattan Jaspers head coach Steve Masiello played for Rick Pitino at Kentucky and spent time as his assistant at Louisville. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Masiello said that Pitino is "a big part of my life." The 4-seeded Louisville Cardinals are as hot as anyone right now and a trendy title pick in their quest to repeat. Masiello's team runs a system nearly identical to Pitino's run-and-jump diamond press, meaning that there may not be a more up-and-down, fast-paced contest on Thursday.
Creighton's Doug McDermott, whose nickname is "Dougie McBuckets," is the nation's leading scorer with 27 points per game. Not far behind is North Carolina State sophomore T.J. Warren, a former McDonald's All-American who averages nearly 25 points. Warren and company will face off against 5th-seed St. Louis, one of college basketball's most formidable defensive teams.
Harvard may not be a traditional basketball powerhouse, but head coach Tommy Amaker has something special brewing. As a 14-seed in 2013, the Crimson knocked off 3-seed and Final Four dark horse New Mexico. Now, as a 12, they get a rugged and defensive-minded Cincinnati team with a potential first-round NBA draft pick in senior guard Sean Kilpatrick. Harvard has plenty of talent on its side, boasting conference player of the year Wesley Saunders, in what could very well shape up to be the first 12-5 upset of the tournament.
Great Guard Play
Fans may be more familiar with Syracuse's Tyler Ennis, Russ Smith of Louisville, and UConn's Shabazz Napier, but this year's field is thick with great guards. Lesser-known players to keep an eye on include: Ohio State's Aaron Craft, who might be the best on-ball defender in America; Kilpatrick, a highly versatile shot-maker; and three of the nation's most lethal scorers, Arizona State's Jahii Carson, BYU junior Tyler Haws and North Dakota State's Taylor Braun.
Sparty's Time Of Year
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told HuffPost Live that he's proud his program peaks in March. After a lackluster and injury-plagued regular season, the 4-seeded Spartans are coming off an impressive Ben Ten tournament championship. Finally healthy, the team's quest for a seventh Final Four -- and second title -- under Izzo begins Thursday against an upstart Delaware team.
Correction: A previous edition of this article stated that T.J. Warren averages over 25 points. He actually averages 24.8 points. Also, Thursday is technically Day Three of the tournament, but the first full day of games.
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