Get your brackets finished because the big bonanza of the N.C.A.A. men’s tournament has officially arrived.
After the first four teams were eliminated in the play-in games on Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, narrowing the field of 68 to 64, the tournament will shift into high gear starting Thursday.
Beginning with No. 11 Michigan meeting No. 6 Colorado State at 12:15 p.m. Eastern in Indianapolis, eight games will take place across four locations — Indianapolis, Buffalo, Portland, Ore., and Fort Worth, Tex. — before dinnertime in the United States. Another eight contests in those four cities will be played throughout the evening window. The games will air across four television networks: CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV.
With so many games happening at once, it can be hard to keep track of them all. Here’s where to direct your attention on Thursday.
Upset special? No. 13 South Dakota State (30-4) vs. No. 4 Providence (25-5)
The Providence Friars opened as a 2-point favorite, suggesting that oddsmakers understand that this game should be much closer than one would expect based on the huge gap in seeding.
The South Dakota State Jackrabbits have won 21 straight games since mid-December and feature some astonishing offensive numbers. They average 86.7 points per game, second in Division 1, and shoot 53 percent from the field and 45 percent from 3-point range, the best in Division I since Indiana University’s 1993-94 season. Led by the senior forward Douglas Wilson (16.5 points per game) and the sophomore point guard Baylor Scheierman (16.2 points per game, 4.6 assists per game), they have seven players who are averaging at least 7.9 points per game.
The Friars won the Big East regular-season championship and feature a hard-nosed veteran group led by Nate Watson, Al Durham, Jared Bynum and Justin Minaya. But they allowed an average of 67 points per game, so something will have to give. Don’t be surprised if the Jackrabbits pull off the upset.
Upset special 2? No. 11 Michigan (17-14) vs. No. 6 Colorado State (25-5)
Michigan was dealt a blow this week when it was determined that starting point guard DeVante’ Jones was ruled out of this game because of a concussion suffered recently during practice. Jones, a senior, averages 10.7 points, 4.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds. It is the latest blow to a Michigan team that was ranked as high as No. 4 in the nation early this season.
The Wolverines have not yet lived up to the hype and their coach, Juwan Howard, was suspended for five games before the Big Ten conference tournament for slapping an opposing coach after a game.
Still, Michigan finished 11-9 in the rugged Big Ten Conference — which placed nine teams in the 68-team field — while navigating one of the toughest schedules in Division 1.
The Wolverines, led by the sophomore 7-footer Hunter Dickinson (18.3 points per game, 8.3 rebounds per game), have a legitimate shot to win this game. Michigan has reached the round of 16 in its last four N.C.A.A. tournament appearances.
Colorado State, which is making its first tournament appearance since 2013, commits just 10.1 turnovers per game and features David Roddy, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound forward who averaged 19.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists en route to being named the Mountain West Conference player of the year.
Gonzaga, the top overall seed, starts its run.
Gonzaga (26-3), the No. 1 overall seed, tips off at 4:15 p.m. Eastern against No. 16 Georgia State in Portland. Led by second-team Associated Press all-Americans Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren (who could be the No. 1 pick in the N.B.A. draft), the Bulldogs average a Division I-best 87.9 points per game.
They are the favorites to cut down the nets in New Orleans on April 4 after their undefeated season came to an end a year ago against Baylor in the N.C.A.A. championship game. Gonzaga has played in two of the last four championship games.
“It’s so exciting. It’s such a big moment for all of us,” said the Gonzaga sophomore forward Julian Strawther.
If the higher seeds win in their region, Gonzaga’s path to the Final Four would include meeting No. 8 Boise State and No. 4 Arkansas before a potential regional final against No. 2 Duke and Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Of Gonzaga’s three losses this season, one came to Duke on Nov. 26 in Las Vegas, 84-81.
The coach at St. Peter’s has already made an impression.
Shaheen Holloway may not last long in the tournament, but he is a rising star in the coaching ranks. He will lead No. 15 St. Peter’s of Jersey City, N.J., against mighty No. 2 Kentucky at 7:10 p.m. Eastern in Indianapolis.
Holloway is a former prep school star who beat out Kobe Bryant for most valuable player honors at the 1996 McDonald’s All-American game before starring at Seton Hall. He became the associate head coach there and eventually moved on to St. Peter’s. Iona’s Rick Pitino called Holloway a “young superstar” in the coaching ranks, while Seton Hall’s Kevin Willard said Holloway won’t be at St. Peter’s long before a higher-profile school snatches him up.
“His offense has his feel from when he was a player,” Willard said this week, adding: “I feel bad for St. Peter’s because I think they’re going to lose a really good coach.”
Here’s a watching strategy for the games on Thursday.
Some of the most highly anticipated games of the first day tip off right after noon Eastern — Michigan-Colorado State and Providence-South Dakota State — so it might make sense to take an extended lunch break (or clear a few hours if possible).
Circle back in the evening to watch teams like Connecticut, Kentucky and U.C.L.A., which has all of its key players back from a run to last year’s Final Four from the First Four.
At 9:20 p.m., catch a glimpse of No. 13 Vermont against No. 4 Arkansas. Vermont (28-5, 17-1 America East Conference) won all three games in its league tournament by at least 30 points.