Like the years of our youth, the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament can't last forever.
For the past three days, college basketball fans have been in their own personal nirvana. What could be better than hours upon hours of games, one right after the other?
After Sunday, though, everything will change. The NCAA tournament becomes more mature. No longer will it waste its time with the Cal Polys and Americans of the world. Things can be fun, but they won't reach the excitement and unpredictability of that first weekend.
So here's to one last rager.
|2014 NCAA Tournament Schedule|
|Third Round-March 23|
|12 p.m.||No. 2 Kansas||No. 10 Stanford||CBS||Kansas|
|2:45 p.m.||No. 1 Wichita State||No. 8 Kentucky||CBS||Wichita State|
|5:15 p.m.||No. 3 Iowa State||No. 6 North Carolina||CBS||UNC|
|6:10 p.m.||No. 11 Tennessee||No. 14 Mercer||TNT||Tennessee|
|7:10 p.m.||No. 4 UCLA||No. 12 Stephen F. Austin||TBS||UCLA|
|7:45 p.m.||No. 3 Creighton||No. 6 Baylor||TruTV||Baylor|
|8:40 p.m.||No. 1 Virginia||No. 8 Memphis||TNT||Virginia|
|9:40 p.m.||No. 1 Arizona||No. 8 Gonzaga||TBS||Arizona|
|Sweet 16-March 27|
|Sweet 16-March 28|
|Elite Eight-March 29|
|Elite Eight-March 30|
|Final Four-April 5|
|6 p.m.||TBD||TBD||TBS, TNT, TruTV||--|
|8:30 p.m.||TBD||TBD||TBS, TNT, TruTV||--|
|National Championship-April 7|
|Sports Media Watch|
Round of 32 Games to Watch
No. 1 Wichita State vs. No. 8 Kentucky
CBSSports.com's Gary Parrish is unlikely the only person who sees this third-round game between No. 1 Wichita State and No. 8 Kentucky as one of the biggest ever at this early stage in the NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats represent the old guard. They're one of the most successful programs in college basketball history, and with the freshman class that came in, there were whispers that a perfect season could follow in 2014.
Of course, that wasn't to be.
On the other side are the Shockers, playing for mid-majors everywhere. Parrish wrote that this matchup is more than simply an important postseason game; it's a referendum on whether Wichita State can consider itself an elite team, the result of which will have an impact for years to come:
For the first time in a long time, Wichita State can record a victory that cannot be dismissed. If the Shockers do it, they'll end the season of the preseason No. 1 and advance to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year. If they don't, their 35-0 record will be dismissed by some as little more than what happens when a pretty good team plays in a pretty bad league, and it won't matter that such would be a ridiculous conclusion to draw from the outcome of a single 40-minute game. People draw ridiculous conclusions from single 40-minute games all the time, and, because of that, Marshall knows the stakes are crazy high.
If basketball was decided on talent alone, Kentucky wins this easily. However, the Wildcats haven't come together as a team this year. They've had far too many disjointed performances this season to think that something will all of a sudden click in the NCAA tournament.
Andrew Harrison is also a doubt with an injured elbow. Head coach John Calipari said no decision has been made as to whether the freshman point guard will play, but he's keeping his options open, per Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal:
The Shockers are the better overall team, and they should prevail on Sunday.
No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 6 North Carolina
This game became much less interesting with the injury to Georges Niang. Iowa State's third-leading scorer will miss the rest of the tournament after he fractured his foot, per SportsCenter:
Melvin Ejim and head coach Fred Hoiberg spoke about what Niang's injury means for the rest of the team, per Cyclone Basketball:
Replacing Niang's 16.7 points a game won't be easy. Playing against another up-tempo team in North Carolina only exacerbates the problem. Iowa State had such an advantage with the trio of Niang, Ejim and DeAndre Kane. Opposing defenses simply couldn't corral all three, leaving at least one guy able to have a big game.
Now it's just Ejim and Kane. Both are talented, but the Tar Heels can now focus solely on stopping those two.
And if this game turns into a shootout, the Cyclones will be in trouble.
No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 6 Baylor
Doug McDermott is one of the best players in the country, but you have to wonder how much further he can carry Creighton.
The Bluejays are a good team, as evidenced by the fact that they were ranked 16th in the country coming into the tournament, and Ken Pomeroy puts them at No. 11.
Look no further than the Big East final to see what is the worst-case scenario. McDermott scored 27 against Providence, and everybody else scored 31 in a 65-58 loss. The talent in college basketball has risen to such a degree that relying so heavily on one player isn't good enough to make a deep run in the tournament.
Baylor has been a different team in the second half of the season, and the Bears are one of the most efficient teams in the country at the offensive end.
Creighton's defense will come undone, and not even McDermott will be able to carry the Bluejays through.
All stats are courtesy of Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
Follow @JosephZucker on Twitter.