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Five first round matchups to watch

By Chad Cameron / For The Pitt News

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In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, there’s enough March Madness to induce vertigo.

To help sort through the 32 games on Thursday and Friday, we’ve selected some games that should more than warrant your viewership – aside from Pitt’s date with No. 7 Wisconsin:

No. 8 Colorado (22-11) vs. No. 9 Connecticut (24-10)

UConn earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament after winning the American Athletic Conference title this past weekend with wins over Cincinnati, Temple and Memphis. The Huskies are looking for their fifth national title this year. Their most recent national championships came in 2011 and 2014. Colorado comes into the NCAA Tournament field for the fourth time in the past six years, starting the season on an 11-0 run before faltering during the second half of the season. Still, Colorado is fourth in the nation in rebounding at 42.4 rebounds per game and owns impressive wins over Oregon and Arizona.

Watch for UConn to make another push toward a national title, but don’t expect the Buffalo to roll over for the Huskies in the first round.

Players to Watch: UConn – Freshman Jalen Adams          Colorado – Senior Josh Scott

No. 8 St. Joseph’s (27-7) vs. No. 9 Cincinnati (22-10)

Like UConn, St. Joe’s earned its way into the NCAA Tournament by opening eyes in its conference tournament. Not only did St. Joe’s emerge victorious in the Atlantic 10 Conference, but it also come into the NCAA Tournament boasting the A-10 player of the year in senior Isaiah Miles. Cincinnati comes into the NCAA Tournament field courtesy of a regular season win over Purdue and a good showing against UConn in its recent conference tournament. The Bearcats also return a strong front line, including Troy Caupain and Octavius Ellis, that pushed a great Kentucky team to the edge in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year.

Look for Cincinnati to make a stronger push this year and possibly make a push past the second round if it’s able to handle St. Joe’s in the first round.

Players to Watch: St. Joseph’s – Junior DeAndre Bembry            Cincinnati – Junior Troy Caupain

No. 8 University of Southern California (21-12) vs. No. 9 Providence (23-10)

USC might be the most determined team, entering its first tournament since 2011. The Trojans come into the NCAA Tournament eagerly for the first time in five years after strong regular season wins against Oregon State, Yale and Wichita State. Although it’s the No. 9 seed in the matchup, Providence has a 62 percent chance of victory, according to FiveThirtyEight analytics expert Nate Silver. Look for the Friars’ play in the Big East to be a factor against a smaller Trojans team. Providence earned its berth in the NCAA Tournament after regular season victories against Arizona, Villanova and three wins against Butler.

The Friars’ leading scorer, Ben Bentil, as well as two-time Big East player of the Year and potential NBA draft pick Kris Dunn, will lead the team against the Trojans.

Players to Watch:  USC – Freshman Bennie Boatwright              Providence – Sophomore Ben Bentil

No. 6 Seton Hall (25-8) vs. No. 11 Gonzaga (26-7)

The No. 6 Pirates are participating in their first NCAA Tournament since 2006 and are looking for their first NCAA Tournament win since 2004. Seton Hall won the Big East conference tournament to earn its seat at the table. Likewise, the No. 11 Bulldogs earned their spot by winning the West Coast Conference tournament this past weekend to set their first round matchup in the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga has had a less-than-stellar season so far, and its berth in the tournament wasn’t a given until winning the WCC title. The Pirates, on the contrary, have had an electric season behind the impressive production of sophomore standout Isaiah Whitehead.

Whitehead, who has averaged 18.4 points per game, will be key for the Pirates to provide the offensive punch needed to out-duel the Bulldogs.

Players to Watch: Seton Hall – Sophomore Isaiah Whitehead        Gonzaga – Senior Kyle Wiltjer

No. 1 Virginia (26-7) vs. No. 16 Hampton (21-10)

The final and most interesting matchup to watch in the first round also comes out of the Midwest and assumes a lot of hype for what could be a legitimately strong No. 16 team challenging a No. 1 Virginia team. This is the third season in a row that Virginia has been a No. 1 seed, but the team hasn’t made the Elite Eight since 1995. The No. 1 Cavaliers will look to senior Malcolm Brogdon to be the turning point for them this tournament. Brogdon led his team in scoring and was named the ACC Player of the Year. The No. 16 Hampton Pirates, not to be overlooked, will attempt to contain Brogdon while activating a lightning-quick offense. Hampton’s first six men are all seniors or graduate students with eligibility. The Pirates will need their veteran leadership to pull out an unlikely win. The Pirates dominated the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference this year, earning a guaranteed NCAA Tournament spot by wrapping up the season with a MEAC championship title.

A far less impressive Hampton team that went 16-17 over the course of the 2014-15 season earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament from the field last year and even put up a good showing against a formidable former No. 1 seed in Kentucky.

Players to Watch: Virginia – Senior Malcolm Brogdon                Hampton – Senior Reggie Johnson Jr.

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Five first round matchups to watch