No. 1 Washington vs. No. 4 Louisville
7:10 p.m. ET
This is an intriguing matchup, because it's not often that most people believe a 4-seed should be favored over a 1-seed.
If I'm a Louisville fan, I feel good that Rick Pitino usually has something up his sleeve in big games like this. I can remember back to Providence's win over a supposedly superior Georgetown team in 1987 when Pitino's Friars took it right at the Hoyas and buried them with 3s instead of slowing the tempo down.
Expect Louisville to continue to use the 2-3 zone that has been very effective in the stretch run of this season. It not only is active on the perimeter and pressure-oriented, but it has hidden the Cards' lack of depth inside.
Offensively, Francisco Garcia, Larry O'Bannon and Taquan Dean may comprise one of the best perimeter attacks in the NCAA Tournament. Garcia, at 6'7", will handle most of the playmaking role, freeing up Dean and O'Bannon to hunt with their 3-point shots.
In this point guard-less attack, Ellis Myles has been effective at playing "point forward" and "point center" as well.
That's the good news for Louisville. The bad news is no team in this tournament matches up better with the Cardinals than Washington.
Of the teams I have seen in person this year, this is definitely the quickest and most active. Myles' ballhandling ability will be neutralized by the smallish Washington front line, particularly Bobby Jones, who knows Myles from their days on the playgrounds of Compton.
In the backcourt, Nate Robinson has the unique ability to disrupt either O'Bannon's or Dean's playmaking ability.
If there is one Louisville player who can hurt Washington inside, it's the freshman Palacios, who has played his best ball toward the end of the season. Palacios reminds some Pitino followers of a young Jamal Mashburn.
The biggest key for Washington is shutting down Garcia. Tre Simmons is more offensive-minded than he is a defensive stopper, but he will have to be on full alert so Garcia doesn't have an All-American day.
For Washington offensively, one of Louisville's biggest concerns is allowing points in transition. The Cardinals survived UAB's frenetic press in the C-USA semis and must take care of the basketball to keep the Huskies from running to easy scores.
Washington is the second-most explosive team in the country, behind North Carolina. Seven different Huskies can score 20 and eight have led the team in scoring this season.
Robinson rivals Dee Brown and Chris Paul in this tournament in terms of "unguardability." He's the most exciting player I have seen in person this year. Louisville must slow him down. Pitino may try to "soft press" in the frontcourt to slow the Huskies down and then drop back to an active 2-3 zone.
Tre Simmons has the same pure stroke as O'Bannon, but at 6'6", he can shoot over him and Dean. Will Conroy quietly runs this attack while Brandon Roy now comes off the bench and can hurt you both inside and out. Credit Lorenzo Romar with a great job of creating chemistry after moving Roy into the super-sub role following his knee injury.
Jamaal Williams is undersized and can be a weakness at the defensive end but is an explosive low-post scorer because of his 7-foot wingspan. The matchup with Myles will be intriguing because Williams is also an L.A. guy who knows Myles well.
Washington's unselfishness and offensive firepower should be able to attack the 2-3 zone effectively, but the Huskies cannot afford to come up empty from behind the arc.
Ultimately I think the Huskies' superior team quickness will do Louisville in, but not before Pitino has thrown the kitchen sink at them.
No. 3 Arizona vs. No. 2 Oklahoma State
9:55 p.m. ET
Some intriguing storylines in this one, but not necessarily two you may think.
There's been a lot of talk about the two Hall of Fame coaches in this matchup, but honestly, they should basically cancel each other out. If Wildcats fans want a slight reach, they could say that Olson, at 70 years old, has a slight experience advantage over Sutton at 69, but I'll call it a draw.
Also, many people are concerned that the altitude will be a factor. I can say, having coached there, that it takes about two days to get acclimated to the thinner air 5,200 feet above sea level. Both teams arrived early enough to adjust and the TV timeouts are so lengthy in NCAA games that neither team should get winded because of the altitude. As legendary UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian said once when playing at The Pit: "Don't worry about the altitude. The game's being played indoors."
With those out of the way, on to the matchups.
On its offensive end, Arizona needs to attack inside. Remember, Gonzaga's J.P. Batista and Kansas' Wayne Simien have had huge efforts inside this year versus the Cowboys. The Wildcats must take advantage of Channing Frye.
At 248 pounds, he has matured into a low-post presence and has been around so long that he is probably underrated. Frye will be the second college post player (legit post, not including players like Wayne Simien) taken after Andrew Bogut in this year's NBA Draft.
On the perimeter, Salim Stoudamire is more than capable of carrying Arizona when he heats up from beyond the 3-point line. Expect Stoudamire to get the full extent of Oklahoma State's team man-to-man defense.
While star freshman JamesOn Curry (and/or John Lucas) may struggle to contain Stoudamire, Sutton can turn to Daniel Bobik off the bench as a designated stopper. Bobik's 6-foot-6 frame should be able to slow Stoudamire down some. Look for the Cowboys to gang up on him whenever possible.
The one Achilles' heel Arizona has offensively is Mustafa Shakur's inconsistency in running the team. The Wildcats are 28-5 in his two seasons when he has five assists or more, but he also has games like in the second round against UAB, when he had two points and two assists in 25 minutes. Lucas should be able to pester him and Lute Olson may choose, at times, to play Shakur off the ball and allow Stoudamire to play some isolation.
Arizona pretty much knows it will see 40 minutes of man-to-man defense Thursday. That's not necessarily a bad thing if Oklahoma State guards like it did down the stretch of the Big 12 season, where the Cowboys had a six-game stretch where they allowed 54 percent shooting from the field. The Cowboys' defense, which has not been as stingy this year as it has been in the past, needs to have its best effort of the season.
On the flip side, Arizona's guards may have trouble stopping Lucas, Curry & Co. as well.
Oklahoma State probably can't count on Ivan McFarlin delivering 31 points this game, so its guards will have to come up big. Both Lucas and Curry are more than capable.
If anything, Lucas is unselfish to a fault, particularly in the first half of games. If there is a big shot to be made down the stretch of a game, he will make it. Just remember back to his shot against St Joe's in last year's regional finals.
Curry seems to be getting better the bigger the stage he's on. The decision to insert him into the lineup in February jumpstarted Eddie Sutton's offense. I would be surprised if he plays with any freshman jitters.
Another key will be the reemergence of Joey Graham. He really needs to have a big game after suffering through a mini slump. Graham's been consistent all year and his jump shooting will surprise teams that have not seen much of him. He's one of the best perimeter shooting forwards in the country.
Ultimately, I believe this will be a close game with Channing Frye and John Lucas coming up big for their respective teams. I think OSU's six seniors and their Final Four experience from a year ago will be just enough to neutralize the Wildcats.
Fran Fraschilla is an analyst for ESPN.