Super seven early-round games
Every year, the NCAA tournament has a number of intriguing early-round games that really appeal to me. This year is no exception as I picked out a handful of interesting games when the bracket was released.
Let's look at the super seven games to watch in the early rounds:
UCLA vs. Michigan State
Talk about two winning coaches in Tom Izzo and Ben Howland. These are two great programs. The Bruins bounced back from a losing season last year, a credit to the coaching of Howland and the play of Reeves Nelson, Malcolm Lee, Tyler Honeycutt, and Josh Smith. Kalin Lucas has come on strong in the second half of the season, recovering from last year's Achilles injury. This should be a special matchup!
Butler vs. Old Dominion
The Monarchs have been hot, winning nine straight games. Blaine Taylor does a great job and Old Dominion has a star up front in Frank Hassell. Can Brad Stevens' club regain some of the magic of last year when Butler made it to the title game in Indianapolis? I know returners Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack would like to make some noise in the opener.
UNLV vs. Illinois
This is an opportunity for Bruce Weber's squad to make up for a disappointing season. I feel the Illini, Baylor and Michigan State have been three teams that have not lived up to expectations. Demetri McCamey and the Illini have talent but the opening round won't be easy as UNLV is coached by Lon Kruger, the former Illinois coach. The Rebels gave San Diego State, who received a No. 2 seed, a real battle in the Mountain West tournament.
Wisconsin vs. Belmont
The Badgers have the fewest turnovers this season and Bo Ryan gets the most out of his players. Rick Byrd's Bruins are among the top teams in steals and Belmont has a 12-game win streak coming in. Belmont played Tennessee and Vanderbilt close this season and is a well-balanced team. Jordan Taylor and company did not get an easy draw.
Xavier vs. MarquetteBuzz Williams' team plays hard and physical basketball. As one of the 11 Big East teams in the tournament, Marquette got an invite despite 14 losses. Xavier has an outstanding guard in Tu Holloway; the Musketeers were stunned early in the A-10 tournament. This should be an exciting battle.
Michigan vs. Tennessee
Bruce Pearl's Vols are athletic and can run up and down the floor. John Beilein has done a great job with a lot of young talent, including sophomore Darius Morris and diaper dandy Tim Hardaway Jr. Remember, the Wolverines have played Kansas, Syracuse and Ohio State close, so they are battle-tested.
George Mason vs. Villanova
Jim Larranaga's Patriots are a sleeper team on the radar of many. But my friends, don't write off Villanova quite yet. The Wildcats were 16-1 at one point before sliding badly, losing 10 of their last 15. Jay Wright is one of those coaches who gets his players to perform in that one-game scenario where the pressure is on.
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