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Texas Christian's Micah Peavy (0) shoots against Houston's Cedric Lath (2) and Damian Dunn (11) in the first half during the quarterfinals of the Big Tournament at T-Mobile Center on Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Kansas City, Missouri. (Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images/TNS)
Texas Christian's Micah Peavy (0) shoots against Houston's Cedric Lath (2) and Damian Dunn (11) in the first half during the quarterfinals of the Big Tournament at T-Mobile Center on Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Kansas City, Missouri. (Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images/TNS)

March Madness Preview: Looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament games in Indianapolis

I’ll be in the building this weekend covering all the action, so here's a preview of all the games happening inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse for the first and second rounds!

The Madness is here, and I’ll be a part of it! I’ll be covering the first and second rounds from Indianapolis, where several intriguing matchups will be taking place. You can follow along at @IndianaMcMahon on X.

There are several incredible players playing in these matchups, from National Player of the Year winner Zach Edey to perennial All-American Tyler Kolek to possibly unknown stars in Great Osobor and Emanuel Miller.

In addition, several storylines dominate the games in Indy. Will Purdue and Marquette avenge their early losses from last tournament? Who will win the highly contested 8/9 and 7/10 matchups? And could there be a possible Cinderella in play from these teams? 

All these questions and more will be answered when the action tips off from Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Friday so, without further ado, here's a preview of what's to come in the Round of 64. 

South Region

No. 15 Western Kentucky vs. No. 2 Marquette; 2 p.m. ET on TBS

Meet the teams

The first matchup tips off at 2 p.m. between the Conference USA champs Western Kentucky and a Big East at-large Marquette in what most think should be an easy win for MU. 

That may not be the case though, as Western plays a different style of basketball than most. The Hilltopers play with the fastest tempo of any team in the country, which could cause some problems if they end up setting the pace. WKU scores a solid 80.6 PPG and has a balanced offense with three players averaging double figures in scoring. Don McHenry leads the way with 15 points per contest, while Brandon Newman and Rodney Howard both average in a game. Former Indiana Hoosier Khristian Lander is also in the mix, averaging nine points a game, while Dontaie Allen is their most efficient shooter, hitting 40% of his 3s. This was shown in the C-USA tournament as WKU used shooting, as well as a rapid pace, to win its conference and clinch a bid to the big dance. Overall, this is a very solid group, as most teams have to be in the NCAA Tournament, but WKU seems especially solid. They’re a well coached bunch by Steve Lutz and could potentially pull off the upset if their cards fall the right way. 

Tyler Kolek of Marquette celebrates after making a 3-pointer against Villanova during the 2nd half on Jan. 30, 2024 at the Finneran Pavilion at Villanova University. (Charles Fox/Tribune Content Agency)

The team the Hilltoppers are trying to knock off is no easy opponent, as Marquette has been great all season in several ways. Tyler Kolek has been their best player this year, as well as one of the best in the country, but has dealt with injuries recently that caused him to miss the Big East Tournament. They lost that tournament in the championship to UConn and some would argue that it was because of Kolek’s absence. He averaged 15 points, eight assists, five rebounds and the combination of all three is simply killer. He's not alone on his team, though, as his big three complements Oso Ighodaro and Kam Jones are pretty good too. Ighodaro scored 14 a game and is their leading rebounder with seven per game. Jones is the leading scorer with 17 and shoots an incredibly impressive 48% from 3. In addition to this big three, David Joplin and Stevie Mitchell also make large contributions to the squad, and it would be silly to talk about Marquette’s successes without mentioning lead man Shaka Smart. He’s earned the respect around the nation for being one of the best coaches and for good reason. 

The bottom line

Both these teams are clearly talented, with Marquette obviously being the favorite, but it should be a good game, at least early on. The Golden Eagles are expected to pull away late and win fairly easily, but don’t be surprised if WKU keeps it close. A team with that high of a pace is always a tough out and if they can shoot it well, the Tops could be a major problem for Marquette. MU lost early last year, so it’ll do everything in its power to avoid the upset here, but it's March, so anything is possible. 

No. 10 Colorado vs. No. 7 Florida; 4:30 p.m. TBS

Meet the teams

Right after WKU/MU, a very highly anticipated matchup will take place in the Buffaloes vs. the Gators. Both of these teams are supposed sleepers in the south region, both poised to make a deep run in the tournament. Both of these teams possess great scoring threats and are both groups that a high seed, like Marquette, wouldn’t want to face in a tournament game. 

KJ Simpson (2) and Eddie Lampkin Jr. (44) of the Colorado Buffaloes celebrate after the second half of CU’s 58-52 win over the Washington State Cougars at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on Friday, March 15, 2024. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Colorado, a 10 seed at-large from the Pac-12, beat Boise State on Wednesday for a spot in this one against UF. The Buffs won that game with great defense, getting the victory 60-53. Tristan da Silva was sensational, scoring 20 points to lead all scorers. He averaged 16 points per game on the season and was a very solid second option for CU all year. As for their first option, that would be K.J. Simpson, an All-Pac 12 first team player and one who averaged just under 20 points a game during the regular season. These two usually light up the stat sheet, but J’Vonne Hadley and Cody Williams have also been great scoring options throughout the season — both of whom averaged over 11 points a game. The Buffs are a very balanced team, but can also play a physical game when need be. Center Eddie Lampkin Jr. is a great piece to have in that type of game, and he has been productive all season with rebounding and physicality in the paint. These Buffs also shoot 40% from 3 as a team, meaning they can play a physical game, but can also shoot it too. Tad Boyle, in his 14th year as Colorado coach, has a great team on his hands, one that's already proven it can win a tournament game and is looking for more. 

The Buffaloes get Florida, a seven seed at-large from the SEC, and a team that made a run to the SEC finals before losing to Auburn. This was an impressive run and showed just how talented this group is. The Gators are led by Walter Clayton Jr., an absolute sharpshooter who averaged 17 points a game and made the second-most 3s of all SEC players. Zyon Pullin is also a great scorer, averaging 15 points a game and shooting just under 45% from 3. Tyrese Samuel, the Gators’ main forward, is also a very productive player who averaged 14 a game during the season. His frontcourt partner, Micah Handlogten, will be out with a broken leg suffered in the loss against Auburn. This is a huge blow for UF, especially on the rebounding side and makes them even more one-dimensional then they were before. Florida may have to rely on the 3 more now that their starting center is out, but for a team that is as great at the 3-ball as the Gators are, it may play to their strengths. Nonetheless, Todd Golden and company have a great group and one that some believe could make noise in the tournament, and for good reason.

The bottom line

Both these teams are looking to start deep tournament runs right here — although some might say that Colorado’s started in Dayton — and are looking for a great win here to build on in later rounds. Obviously, only one team can win here and the style of play might decide who wins it. If the game ends up being more physical, Colorado may have the advantage, while if the game gets quicker and more shot oriented, Florida may be better suited. Whatever the case, it should be a very solid game between two hungry teams. 

Midwest Region

No. 16 Grambling vs. No. 1 Purdue, 7:25 p.m. ET on TBS

Meet the teams

Purdue gets another crack at a 16 seed when they face Grambling, the champions of the SWAC and winners of a First Four game against Montana State. The Boilermakers, Big Ten regular season champs and an at-large, are one of the tournament favorites, but just like last year, anything can happen. While most people don’t believe a 16 seed upset could happen two seasons in a row, the game still has to be played and both teams should be prepared to play.

Grambling may be a long shot to win, but that doesn’t mean the Tigers aren’t a talented team. They are a defensive-minded group, but with being from a low-major conference, they do not have the metrics other tournament teams have. Despite this, they have both a balanced offense and defense, with four different players scoring over 10 points a game and no player averaging over 13. Kintavious Dozier is the Tigers’ leading scorer, while Tra’Michael Morton, Antwan Burnett and Jourdan Smith are right behind him. These four love to share the scoring and balance the offensive attack, which allowed them to dominate the SWAC and get the big win over Montana State to advance to this game. That one was an 88-81 final, so the Tigers can compete in a high-scoring game if need be. They usually find themselves in low-scoring games, so if this one ends up being a defensive battle, they are possibly better suited for a contest like that. Donte’ Jackson and staff are already playing with house money, as they’ve already won a tournament game, and should play calm and free against the Boilermakers. While the upset is still very unlikely, that should not understate the talent and accomplishments of this team.

Purdue star Zach Edey (15) drew a foul against Wisconsin's Steven Crowl during last Saturday's overtime loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament semifinals at Target Center. (Angelina Katsanis, Star Tribune)

Purdue might be Final Four or bust and the run starts now. The Boilermakers are one of the top picks to win the whole thing, and for good reason. Purdue is extremely talented, with great players top to bottom and score in a plethora of ways. Zach Edey, the probable two-time National Player of the Year, is their main scoring option and has been sensational this season. He averaged 24 points and 12 rebounds on the season and was a rock in the Boiler offense all season. Alongside Edey, Braden Smith has been almost a perfect complement, averaging seven assists a game, many of those passes going to Edey. He also averaged 12 and a half points a game, second on the team. Following both of them, Lance Jones averaged just over 12 points a game and made the most threes of any player on Purdue all season. Another highly effective 3-point shooter is Fletcher Loyer who also averaged in double figures and shot 44% from deep during the season. Mason Gillis has also caught fire from 3 on several occasions and alongside other role players such as Trey Kaufman-Renn, Caleb Furst and Ethan Morton, Purdue has incredible depth. This depth, coupled with the stardom of Edey, made for a great combination and the success was seen all season. Matt Painter is attempting to make his first Final Four for the Boilermakers and he might have his best shot right here, but it’ll all be about getting the monkey off their back and winning their first round game, finally getting over that 16-seed hump.

The bottom line

With that being said, Purdue may have last year in the back of their minds, but with the talent it has, PU is expected to roll. This is March, though, so the seemingly impossible is always possible, meaning Grambling does have a fighting chance. The game should be entertaining, especially because many viewers are eager to see how many jitters Purdue may have because of last year’s memory, but any game with a team of their caliber will be entertaining to watch. Purdue may be expected to win, but Grambing is hungry and ready to fight for an improbable upset. 

No. 9 TCU vs. No. 8 Utah State; 9:55 p.m. ET on TBS

Meet the teams

One of the most highly debated matchups in the entire tournament features TCU, a Big 12 at-large, going up against Utah State, a Mountain West at-large. This one should be very tightly contested, with two differing styles of basketball clashing to create a matchup of speed, athleticism, and of course immense talent from two great programs.

TCU, the nine seed, loves to play fast, athletic basketball, and run up-and-down the floor to beat you. This was successful in the Big 12, as they got big wins against Houston and Baylor during the season. While they were not one of the top teams in the league, the strength of the Big 12 meant that even being mildly successful can still speak to the talent on the roster. That talent came in the form of several great players, one being Emanuel Miller, who averaged 16 points and six rebounds during the season. He was supported by a large group of other Frogs, including Jameer Nelson Jr. and Micah Peavy, both of whom averaged 11 points a game. JaKobe Coles also averaged 10 points a game, but some underrated names to look out for include Trevian Tennyson and Earnest Udeh Jr., as both of these guys have sporadically put up great performances, but many have not have had the season averages that their other teammates have. Nonetheless, Jamie Dixon and TCU have a very deep and dangerous roster, one capable of not only winning this game against Utah State but multiple games in what could be a surprise deep run. 

San Diego, CA - February 03: Utah State forward Great Osobor (1) and San Diego State guard Darrion Trammell (12) both reach for the rebound during their game at Viejas Arena on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024 in San Diego, CA. (Meg McLaughlin / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The team in charge of potentially stopping a possible TCU run, and one just as capable of a deep stay in the tournament is Utah State, the Mountain West regular season champs and eight seed. This team loves to play physical basketball, with Great Osobor being the most physical of the bunch. He’s been sensational the entire season, earning him Mountain West Player of the Year and leading USU to one of its best seasons of all time. He averaged 18 points a game as well as nine rebounds, and is a double-double threat day in and day out. Ian Martinez is also a big name to watch out for, as he averaged 13 points a game, second on the team. The Aggies’ main ball handler, Darius Brown II is also seriously good, averaging 12 points and six and a half assists per game. These assists are a huge part of USU's game, as it is top 25 in the whole country in team assists per game. Mason Falslev is also a major part of the Aggies’ offense and an incredibly important role player for Danny Sprinkle and his staff. Sprinkle earned himself MW Coach of the Year as well as National Coach of the Year consideration. He has his team in prime position to beat its opponent not only in round one but make a solid run in the madness.

The bottom line

All in all, these are two highly talented, exciting teams and it will be a fantastic game for fans to keep their eyes on. That being said, one team has to win and fans are almost evenly split on who that might be. Some think that a Big 12 squad will be too much for a mid-major, but others argue that USU won a top-four league, the Mountain West, outright and deserves more respect than it is getting. Nonetheless, this will be a great one and Indianapolis is lucky to have these two teams from west of the Mississippi come play. 

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