Selection Sunday came and went, the field of 68 was determined, and The Moment You’ve Been Waiting for—or, The Moment You Never Knew You’ve Been Waiting For (if you don’t follow basketball news too closely)—is finally around the corner: The first round of the NCAA tournament kicks off tonight and tomorrow with four tie-breaking games. Come Thursday, the 64 teams that will make you laugh, cry, pull your hair out, and maybe even win the big bucks (depending on how intense your office or family pool is) will be bracket-ready.
With more teams, players, and storylines in the mix than is possible to keep track of, here’s a mini guide to what’s happening in basketball now that you can whip out to start some competitive confab. Trust us, with the Lakers losing to the Phoenix Suns 76-99, you’re going to want something else to talk about when you head to the sports bars.
1. The Marshall Henderson Phenomenon
Junior guard Marshall Henderson, who averages 20.1 points and 3.1 rebounds for Ole Miss (26-8), has gained a special brand of notoriety for his in-game histrionics and polarizing competitive tactics. He talks to himself, says he’s “crazy in the head,” and thrives when he’s able to throw some steez and taunt the opposing crowd. Catch the Henderson Experience on Friday, when No. 12 Ole Miss takes on No. 5 Wisconsin.
2. Harvard History
Though the Ivy League honchos didn’t fair too well in last year’s Big Dance (they didn’t win a game), the Crimson have a chance at redemption this year. Regardless of what happens, though, the NCAA tourney trip means a lot. Last year marked the school’s first appearance since 1946—so a win would be a huge deal. And it could come against No. 3 New Mexico, which Harvard faces on Thursday night.
3. Dead-Eye Troy
VCU’s Troy Daniels has one of the hottest sets of hands on the hardwood this year. He’s known for his deadly long-range game and even earned a Twitter shout-out from NBA and 3-point-shooting legend Reggie Miller. No. 5 VCU and Daniels take on No. 12 Akron on Thursday night.
4. SoCal Talent
Another big-time shooter is making headlines—and has the potential to set brackets ablaze with his shooting stroke—but this one’s in Las Vegas. Fun fact: He’s actually SoCal talent. Freshman shooting guard Katin Reinhardt, who plays for UNLV, was a top-50 recruit last year out of Mater Dei. Take a look at his resume.
5. New What?
Scrappy wins. Gritty tactics. New Mexico has an interesting approach to notching victories, and they do so with puzzling stats: 67.2 points per game (172nd) and an average clip of 42.5 percent (218th). The Lobos have been Mountain West regular-season champions for four of the last five seasons, but they’ve not won more than one game in any tourney. They’ll look to change that against Harvard and then possibly Arizona.
6. Bazz the Beast
Standing at six-foot-six, UCLA’s young star Shabazz Muhammad has been presented with the perfect opportunity to help the semi-under-seeded Bruins (No. 6) make some noise and push a Jordan Adams-less campaign deep into Wooden-esque glory. Bazz and Co. take on No. 11 University of Minnesota on Thursday night.
7. North Carolina Me Maybe
No. 8 North Carolina has a date with No. 9 Villanova on Friday in what could set up an interesting dance with destiny. If No. 1 Kansas trumps No. 16 Western Kentucky—and they most likely will—a second-round bout featuring North Carolina and Kansas could be in the works. UNC coach Roy Williams helmed Kansas’ ship from 1988-2003.
8. West Coast, Best Coast (Not Really)
The Pac-12 has five teams in the mix: No. 12 Oregon, No. 6 UCLA, No. 6 Arizona, No. 12 California, and No. 10 Colorado. Watch them represent the West, and pay special attention to the under-seeded singletons that could wreak some havoc on unsuspecting brackets.
My first round picks:
Tuesday, March 19
No. 16 N.C. A&T vs. No. 16 Liberty
No. 11 St. Mary’s (CA) vs. Middle Tenn.
Wednesday, March 20
No. 16 Long Island vs. No. 16 James Madison
No. 13 La Salle vs. No. 13 Boise St.