Butler, for starters (12:20 a.m. CDT): When the NCAA Tournament tips off in Greensboro, Butler and Louisiana State will begin to answer the season’s age-old question: Would the Bulldogs have been even better in the SEC? Actually, this was a projected fifth-place Butler team entering the season — in the powerful (cough) Horizon League — but they wound up falling into another title.
A Memphis mauling (11:25 a.m.): The action begins in Kansas City, where No. 15 seed Cal-State Northridge, a school that was more appropriately pegged by its previous name, “Valley State,” will take on No. 2 Memphis. While the small-school-makes-good story is appealing, Memphis probably will send CSUN back to reality by halftime.
Lawson watch (Approx. 1:50 p.m.): In Greensboro, the nation’s eyes will be on UNC guard Ty Lawson and his injured toe. It probably won’t impact the Tar Heels against Radford, but if the problem lingers, an upset may occur Saturday.
Bears go deep (Approx. 1:55 p.m.): Back in Kansas City, California will be just the first of many long-range threats at the site (Michigan and Clemson bomb away, as well), showing how three-point displays can change the game. While Maryland has shown flashes of dominance this season, the Bears shot a nationwide-best 43.4 percent from beyond the arc, obviously a trait that can change the game quickly with Maryland ranked 184 in three-point defense. Bombs away.
Zip-Zag showdown (6:25 p.m.): We hit the West Coast in Portland as No.-13 seed Akron faces mighty No.-4 seed Gonzaga. How far has this tournament come in 10 years that Gonzaga was the scrappy underdog during its 1999 run and now is one of the sport’s regular benchmarks?
Upset special (Approx. 8:50 p.m.): Philadelpha is the spot for one of the most predicted upsets of the tournament. No. 5 UCLA had to fly cross-country to face No. 12 Virginia Commonwealth. VCU has a penchant for the upset (see 2007 No. 11 VCU over No. 6 Duke), and its star from that game, guard Eric Maynor. UCLA has won 13 games in the past three tournaments, three times reaching the Final Four. Not escaping the first weekend would be like falling off a cliff.