- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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Ten first impressions
1. Butler and Old Dominion are the perfect teams to pair together in the Southeast. This is a classic 8-9 matchup. There could and should be blood in this game, as both of these teams like to defend and grind out a game. The winner may not have much left in the tank to face No. 1 seed Pitt.
2. If Kansas State were playing better, this would be an interesting draw for the Wildcats. But it's hard to have faith in them right now. They could just as easily fall flat in the first round to Utah State or advance to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight.
3. Speaking of Utah State, I think this is finally the year the Aggies win a game or two. They drew a team in Kansas State that is in flux, they have veteran players, and they have been playing on edge for weeks to assure themselves of a bid. The Aggies also have the advantage of playing close to home in Tucson, Ariz.
4. The committee doesn't consider matchups, but it pit two teams in UNC-Asheville and Arkansas-Little Rock that shocked the favored teams in their respective conference tournaments. They'll play in Dayton, but neither will have a chance against Pitt.
5. Coach Jamie Dixon should finally make it to a Final Four with Pitt. The difference-maker for the Panthers will be rebounding, and they'll need to play to their strength if they're to reach Houston.
6. Wisconsin couldn't have had a worse draw. The Badgers face a trendy upset pick in the first round in 13-seed Belmont. The Bruins enter the tournament on a 12-game winning streak; the Badgers arrive in Tucson after a dreadful performance against Penn State. Wisconsin is ripe for an upset.
7. Gonzaga is trending upward right now while St. John's 15 minutes of fame may be over, especially after D.J. Kennedy's season-ending ACL injury. Kennedy's absence means the Zags can exploit their interior advantage. The game is also in Denver, and Zag Nation travels as well as any fan base in the West.
8. BYU didn't look good against San Diego State in the MWC final, but the Aztecs were primed to take down the Cougars with or without suspended forward Brandon Davies after losing both regular-season contests. Jimmer Fredette can carry the Cougars deep in this tournament. The key will be for forward Noah Hartsock to play bigger and for the Cougars to defend better in the half court. Scoring won't be an issue.
9. Florida should walk to the Sweet 16 out of Tampa. The Gators didn't play well in the second half in the SEC title game against Kentucky, but they enter the tournament having finally won something in the SEC regular-season title. The Gators have a tendency to ignore their bigs, but they need to ensure that Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus get their touches.
10. It's hard to believe that Michigan State and UCLA is a second-round (first game) in the NCAA tournament. But both of these teams have been inconsistent at times this season and deserve their 7-10 matchup. Coaches Tom Izzo and Ben Howland have a combined nine Final Four appearances between them.
Five players to watch
1. Jimmer Fredette, BYU: Fredette has been trading headlines with Kemba Walker throughout the season. Like Walker, Fredette loves the spotlight. If BYU advances to the second weekend, it will be because of Fredette.
2. Tai Wesley, Utah State: If the Aggies are going to finally produce on the big stage, Wesley has to be a star. He has been relatively unknown nationally. This is his chance to change that.
3. Brad Wanamaker, Pitt: During the final weeks of the season, Dixon was pushing Wanamaker as a possible Big East Player of the Year candidate. Wanamaker is a big-shot maker and will need to continue in that vein if the Panthers are to reach the Final Four.
4. Josh Smith, UCLA: The Bruins have something Michigan State has lacked this season: a big man who can be a force inside. Spartans forward Draymond Green has been more of a finesse player than a power one. If Smith holds down the middle, the Bruins can advance.
5. Chandler Parsons, Florida: The SEC Player of the Year needs to lead the Gators. If Florida is going to get to Houston, Parsons has to seize the moment starting in the first weekend and stand out even more.
Three second-round games to watch
1. Butler-Old Dominion in the 8-9 game pits two teams with experience winning in the NCAA tournament against each other. ODU knocked off Notre Dame last season while Butler reached the title game. Each has some new pieces, but either team has a real shot at giving Pitt trouble in the third round.
2. UCLA-Michigan State is too sexy of a matchup not to highlight. Both teams have had their struggles, but it will be difficult to match that kind of brand recognition so early in the NCAA tournament.
3. Kansas State-Utah State is the ultimate 5-12 upset pick. Utah State has an opportunity to finally make a name for itself and maybe get coach Stew Morrill some national love by winning a game against an elite team.
Possible future matchups
1. We might see a rematch of the 2006 national title game if Florida faces UCLA in the third round. However, if it's Michigan State-Florida, then it's a rematch of the 2000 national title game. Either way, it's a brand-name game in Tampa.
2. Continuing this line of thinking, if BYU advances to play Florida in the Sweet 16 in New Orleans, then it's a rematch of one of the best first-round games from last year's tournament when the Cougars beat the Gators in overtime.
3. Pitt-Old Dominion would be a defensive struggle with bodies flying all over the floor. There might be blood in the ODU-Butler matchup, but this one would be even more of a defensive grind.
The Cinderella in this region should be either No. 12 Utah State or No. 13 Belmont. Both are upset picks and could meet in a 12-13 third-round matchup with the winner advancing to the Sweet 16. If you have to pick one, go with Utah State. The Aggies have as much experience, if not more, than any other team in the field both in number of games played together and in the age of the players. Morrill has been waiting to have his team advance deep into the bracket and he has a good shot with this Aggies squad.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.