Mercer (26-8) vs. Duke (26-8) | Time, TV: 12:15 p.m. ET, CBS
- Why Mercer will win: The Bears fit the mold of a mid-major team capable of pulling off a big early round upset. They're a veteran-laden team — they start five seniors — led by a dynamic scorer, Langston Hall, who has scored 20 or more points 11 times this season. Coach Bob Hoffman and his players are not starstruck by Duke, and they won't be overwhelmed by the idea of playing in the NCAA tournament. They're confident (Hoffman said Duke was "not a traditional power conference team … they don't have multiple guys running in that are 6'11" or 6'10" in the center"), experienced against high-major teams and fully capable of pulling off a shocker.
- Why Duke will win:Talent. The Blue Devils have one of the best one-two punches in all of the country with Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, who together average more than 35 points a game. Parker has been the nation's most impressive, versatile and skilled freshman all season long — as evidenced by the awards he's getting on a daily basis — and will step up on the big stage, just like he always does. Duke's guards will shoot better than they have been lately, and the Blue Devils defense will make enough stops to halt Mercer's enthusiastic upset bid.
- History lesson:Parker has scored a double-double 14 times this season, which ranks as the most in Duke history by a freshman. Parker is also the school's first freshman first-team All-American.
- Did you know?Mercer coach and Oklahoma native Hoffman was an assistant at Oklahoma under Kelvin Sampson. When Sampson left for Indiana in 2006, Hoffman became the interim coach and tried to get the head job for good. Instead, Oklahoma hired Jeff Capel, and Capel did not retain Hoffman. Capel is currently a Duke assistant.
2014 TOURNAMENT: Bracket Hub
SCHEDULE: Friday's full list of games
Nebraska (19-12) vs. Baylor (24-11) | Time, TV:12:40 p.m. ET, truTV
- Why Nebraska will win:
Few outside Lincoln, Neb., expected the Cornhuskers to be here when the season started. This is their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998. The sophomore class, including first-team all-Big Ten selection Terran Petteway, Shavon Shields and Walter Pitchford, accounts for more than 60% of the offense and 55% of the rebounding. The Cornhuskers rely on their defense, which ranks 29th nationally in efficiency. They struggle with offensive rebounds and especially with defending inside the three-point arc.
- Why Baylor will win:
Scott Drew has had more talented teams at Baylor. But this team has great camaraderie, great length and several scoring options. The Bears, who started 2-8 in Big 12 play, have been a better team now that point guard Kenny Chery is healthy. Nine of Baylor's 11 losses came against NCAA tournament teams. Baylor has been out-rebounded only eight times in 35 games. The Bears are 24-5 when holding opponents under 50% shooting and 0-6 when allowing 50% or better.
- History lesson:
Baylor lost to the eventual national champion in four of its seven NCAA championships (1946, 1948, 2010, 2012).
- Did you know?
Baylor has won 94% of its games when leading at the half since 2011-12. The Bears are 59-4 when leading through the first 20 minutes in that stretch, including 16-2 this season.
Stanford (21-12) vs. New Mexico (27-6) | Time, TV: 1:40 p.m. ET, TBS
- Why Stanford will win:
This Cardinal team is well-tested. It has played 16 of its 33 games against NCAA tournament teams. It is 7-9 in those 16 games and 3-2 vs. top 25 teams. It will counter New Mexico's inside muscle with good shooting. Stanford has four starters averaging double figures in scoring, led by junior guard Chasson Randle with 18.7 points a game. He's shooting 48.5% from the floor, and the Stanford team is shooting 46.4 percent.
- Why New Mexico will win:
The Lobos have too much inside power for Stanford. The big men inside for the Mountain West tournament champions are senior Cameron Bairstow (6-9, 250) and junior Alex Kirk (7-0, 245). They have combined for 16.1 rebounds a game. Stanford has had fewer than 30 rebounds in three of its last four games, including 22 in a loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 semifinals. The Lobos were 13-2 at home this season in The Pit, but they also are 6-1 at neutral sites. Stanford was 3-3 at neutral sites.
History lesson:New Mexico has a score to settle with universities with lofty academic reputations. Last year as a No. 3 seed the Lobos were upset by Harvard. Now they face Stanford, which the New Mexico website notes is sometimes called the "Harvard of the West."
- Did you know? Bairstow is a native of Brisbane, Australia. He honed his skills at the Australian Institute of Sport, which also produced NBA player Andrew Bogut of the Golden State Warriors. Bairstow helped Australia to a silver medal at the 2013 World University Games.
VIDEO: East Region roundup
VIDEO: South Region roundup
- Why Weber State will win:
Because the 16 seeds always win, right? But seriously folks, it's going to happen one of these days, and Arizona is certainly a team that has known early-round heartbreak before. (They lost to East Tennessee State and Santa Clara in back-to-back first rounds in 1992 and '93. But back to the 21st century ... Weber State is a deep team with a big-time scorer in 6-4 swingman Davion Berry, a senior who tosses in 19.1 points a game.
- Why Arizona will win:
The Wildcats have a wealth of talent and are tough defensively, having taken on the personality of their coach, Sean Miller, a bulldog of a former point guard from Pitt. Though they slipped in the Pac-12 tournament title game to UCLA, the Cats should go deep in the tourney, thanks to Pac-12 player of the year, guard Nick Johnson, and league freshman of the year, forward Aaron Gordon. Miller is a proven winner in the tourney's early rounds, with an 11-6 record.
- History lesson: Weber State, where ya been? The Wildcats haven't been to the Big Dance since 2007. But then, some Wildcats (yeah, you, Northwestern) have never been. Never.
- Did you know? A
rizona is a No. 1 seed for the sixth time in school history, the first time since 2003.
- Why UMass will win:Minutemen star Chaz Williams has been among the best point guards in the country this season, averaging 15.6 points and 7.0 assists. Williams is a game-changer, and if he takes over, he can carry UMass on his back to victory. The Minutemen's chances improve, too, if Tennessee's backcourt struggles. Outside of Jordan McRae (who averages 18.6 points per game), the unit has been inconsistent.
- Why Tennessee will win:The Volunteers have won six of their last seven games, and they enter this matchup coming off an overtime win against Iowa in the First Four. Considering UMass is 8-7 after a 16-1 start to the season, it's safe to say these teams are entering Friday's game with different momentum. The Vols are among the top 25 in the nation in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and it should show. This confident Tennessee team might be able to have its way with UMass inside and pull off the upset.
- History lesson: UMass and Tennessee have met three times, most recently in November 2012 in Puerto Rico. The Vols have won all three meetings.
- Did you know?UMass sixth-year coach Derek Kellogg played for the Minutemen and coach John Calipari from 1992-95.
- Why Louisiana-Lafayette will win:
Bob Marlin's team likes to play at a fast pace, and it shoots the three-point shot well. Creighton will score a lot of points, but the Rajin' Cajuns can, too. Creighton's defense is porous. Louisiana Lafayette averages 81.4 points a game. Elfrid Payton averages 19.1 points, six assists and 5.9 rebounds. He started every game last summer for USA Basketball's U19 gold medalist team at the FIBA World Championships.
- Why Creighton will win:
Aside from the fact that Creighton possesses the undisputed player of the year in Doug McDermott, the Bluejays also have the nation's most efficient offense. They rank first nationally in three-point shooting percentage (42.2%). Leave Ethan Wragge open at your own risk. He ranks third nationally in three-point field goal percentage and has made only two two-point baskets all season. Creighton relies on the two-point field goals for only 43% of its points, which ranks 340th nationally.
- History lesson: With a victory, Creighton can win a postseason game for a seventh consecutive season, and an NCAA tournament game for the third year in a row.
- Did you know?
A few more McDermott superlatives: The senior is the first player to earn conference player of the year in two leagues, the Missouri Valley and the Big East. He ranks fifth in NCAA history with 3,105 points. The nation's leading scorer has three game-winning field goals this season.
VIDEO: West Region roundup
VIDEO: West Region roundup
- Why Eastern Kentucky will win:
The Ohio Valley Conference tournament champs are on a roll with seven consecutive wins. They beat top-seeded Belmont in the conference final. They'll attack from long range. They rank third in NCAA Division I with 303 three-pointers. Junior guard Glenn Cosey has contributed 110 of those three-pointers and averages 18.8 points a game. He also leads his team with 139 assists.
- Why Kansas will win: Joel Embiid, the Jayhawks' 7-foot freshman center, has missed the last four games with a stress fracture in his lower back. He's out for the first game, and second, if Kansas wins, and uncertain for the second week. Even without him, Kansas has too much for Eastern Kentucky. Freshman guard Andrew Wiggins is averaging 17.4 points a game (31.0 in his last three games). The Jayhawks also have out-rebounded 28 of 33 foes and rank sixth nationally with a shooting average of 49.5%.
- History lesson: This is Kansas' 25th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament, longest active streak in the nation. The last time the Jayhawks were a No. 2 seed, they advanced to the Final Four in 2012.
- Did you know?
Kansas and Eastern Kentucky have met once previously. On Dec. 5, 1970, Eastern Kentucky led 40-32 at the half at Kansas. The Jayhawks dominated the second half to win 79-65.
- Why Oklahoma State will win:
Because the Cowboys have recovered from a midseason slump and have one of the best players in the country to lead them. Sophomore guard Marcus Smart does a little bit of everything (17.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.7 apg, 2.7 spg), and he'll probably be doing it in the NBA next year. Oklahoma State started the season 16-3 before losing seven in a row. They're back on track now, and all those tough games in the Big 12 will serve them well in this matchup.
- Why Gonzaga will win:
The Zags are a lot taller than the Cowboys, and sometimes in basketball that can help. This is not an overpowering Gonzaga team, but it is a rather towering one. Sam Dower, a 6-9 forward, averages 15.0 points and 7.1 rebounds, and Przemek Karnowski, a 7-1 center, averages 10.2 points and 6.9 rebounds. One of the guys who helps get them the ball is John Stockton's son, David, who averages 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds and wears baggier shorts than his dad did.
- History lesson: It was just a year ago that Gonzaga was a No. 1 seed and lost its second game 76-70 to No. 9 seed Wichita State. This year, it's Wichita that is the No. 1 seed
- Did you know?Oklahoma State and Gonzaga have played five games, and one team has won all five. Which one? Gonzaga.
- Why Memphis will win:Guards make Memphis one of the best and deepest perimeter group in the nation, though it hasn't always made the Tigers look like one of the best teams. Joe Jackson and co. will try to change that by running the floor and using their athleticism to keep the Colonials on their heels. It won't help GW, either, that improved sophomore guard Kethan Savage is likely still out with injury for Friday's game. If Memphis can push the ball and control the tempo of this game, the Tigers will have a good chance to win it.
- Why George Washington will win:Despite not having Savage (or having him in a very limited capacity), the Colonials can pull this off if they get good production out of Maurice Creek, an Indiana transfer who leads GW in scoring with 14.3 points per game. Four other Colonials average more than eight points per game, making their offensive attack balanced and difficult to shut down. If Memphis' guard play is inconsistent and GW forward Isaiah Armwood has a big day on the glass, the Colonials will have a shot.
- History lesson:GW's last NCAA tournament win came in the state of North Carolina. The eighth-seeded Colonials beat No. 9 UNC-Wilmington 88-85 in overtime in Greensboro in 2006.
- Did you know?Memphis reserve forward David Pellom, who averages 4.3 points and 2.9 rebounds per game, transferred to Memphis after graduating from George Washington last spring.
- Why Wichita State will win: Too much of everything for a 19-loss Cal Poly team that will be playing its fifth game in eight days. The Shockers reached the Final Four last season. They're perfect this season. For those who doubt their schedule strength, the real tests will come soon enough. But this isn't one of them. Too bad for Cal Poly that for all of Wichita State's success, players such as forward Cleanthony Early and guard Fred VanFleet come into this opener with chips on their shoulders over those who question whether the Shockers are a legitimate No. 1 seed.
- Why Cal Poly will win:Never say never. A No. 16 seed never has beaten a No. 1, but it has to happen sometime. The Mustangs, who started 0-3, were the seventh seed in the Big West conference tournament, and they won that. They had lost nine of 11 before they made their three-game run through the Big West tournament. Senior forward Chris Eversley had 19 points in their first-round win vs. Texas Southern. Playing a top-level team won't be new for the Mustangs. They've faced the likes of Arizona, Oregon, Pitt and Stanford.
- History lesson:In 1955, Bradley University also entered the NCAA tournament with 19 losses (7-19 overall). It won two games and lost in the last eight of the then 24-team tournament.
- Did you know?Cal Poly, located in San Luis Obispo, is the alma mater of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach John Madden and Baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.
- Why Providence will win: The Friars are hot, having earned the Big East's automatic bid after beating Creighton in the championship. Guard Bryce Cotton, who leads the nation in minutes played, is a superb talent who can take over games even against elite competition. The Friars rank second nationally in free-throw percentage (78.1%). If it's a close game, Providence has experience, having played 10 games this season decided by four points or fewer. Don't expect too much of a contribution from the bench for Providence, whose starters account for 93% of its offense.
- Why North Carolina will win: After a 1-4 start in ACC play, the Tar Heels closed the regular season by winning 12 of their last 13 ACC games. They averaged 56.3 points in their first three ACC games and averaged 78 points in their last 13 ACC games. The Tar Heels rebound 37.8% of their missed shots, but they have been outscored 41-16 in the last two games in second-chance points. Nearly 62% of its total points come from inside the three-point line, the fourth-highest percentage nationally. Shooting from three-point range and the free-throw line is always a question for this team.
- History Lesson:North Carolina has lost two consecutive games entering this game. The only other two-game losing streaks going into the NCAA tournament in UNC history came in 2004, 2000 and 1986.
- Did you know? North Carolina has lost two consecutive games entering this game. The only other two-game losing streaks going into the NCAA tournament in UNC history came in 2004, 2000 and 1986.
- Why VCU will win:The Rams still shake things up and play smart basketball under coach Shaka Smart, and they scramble the game like few others. They lead the country in steals for the third consecutive year. Their big gun is 6-6 guard Treveon Graham, a tough, versatile performer who averages 15.6 points and 7.1 rebounds. Inside, the Rams rely on forward Juvonte Reddic, who scores 12.5 and grabs 8.5 rebounds per game. VCU under Smart is 7-3 in NCAA tournament games, including its unforgettable trip to the Final Four in 2011.
- Why Stephen F. Austin will win:Because everyone says they will? Seriously, Stephen F. Austin has to be one of the most-picked underdogs in recent memory. As soon as the brackets came out, there was a chorus of "I like Stephen F. Austin" from people who couldn't name a Stephen F. Austin starter (F Jacob Parker is the leading scorer at 14.5), the nickname (Lumberjacks) or the city in Texas in which they play (Nacogdoches, not Austin). Here's a reason they actually will win, though. They usually do. They've won their last 28 games.
- History lesson:VCU is in its fourth consecutive NCAA tourney, just the second time a school from Virginia accomplished that. UVA did it 1981-84.
- Did you know? There is no "I" in Stephen F. The Lumberjacks are eighth in the nation in assists per game. OK, there's an "I" in Austin, but not in Nacogdoches.
Why Virginia will win:
The Cavaliers have paired an already stingy defense with a much-improved offense, making them one of the most surprising stories in all of college basketball this season. There's no reason to think they'll lose to an inferior team, particularly not this early in the NCAA tournament. Expect a big game from redshirt sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon, the Cavs' leading scorer.
- Why Coastal Carolina will win:A No. 16 seed has to beat a No. 1 seed sometime, right? … Right? Well, a No. 1 seed that just squeaked into that fourth top seed spot seems like a prime candidate to make the wrong kind of history. Virginia's grind-it-out style of play often keeps it from stretching leads and blowing teams out. If the Cavs let Coastal Carolina and coach Cliff Ellis hang around too long, they could be in trouble.
- History lesson:The Big South has won one round-of-64 NCAA tournament game. Winthrop beat Notre Dame 74-64 in 2007. The Winthrop coach at the time? Current Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall.
- Did you know?Virginia is known for its slow tempo, but just how slow? It has played just one game with more than 70 possessions in it this season, a 75-69 overtime loss at Maryland. The Cavs have had 60 or fewer possessions in 10 of their last 13 games.
- Why Kentucky will win: Never mind the Wildcats have won eight NCAA titles, most recently in 2012. The freshmen had no roles in that. But after being ranked No. 1 in preseason polls and then having their ups and downs, they are showing signs of maturing. Exhibit A: a 61-60 loss to No. 1 Florida in the SEC title game. Led in scoring and rebounding by 6-9 forward Julius Randle, they've got too much offense (75.9 points per game) and too much rebounding (41.1 per game) for Kansas State.
- Why Kansas State will win:Strength in numbers. Kansas State has averaged 18.7 points a game from its bench. Defense. They led the Big 12 in scoring defense (65.7 points a game). And though they are led in scoring by freshman guard Marcus Foster (15.4 ppg), they've got experienced hands. Senior guard Will Spradling will be making his 105th career start.
- History lesson: This will be Kentucky's record 53rd appearance in the NCAA tournament. They are 42-10 in tournament openers.
- Did you know? This will be the first NCAA tournament meeting between Kentucky and Kansas State since the 1951 championship, won 68-58 by Kentucky. That was Kansas State's only appearance in the NCAA final.
- Why Iowa State will win: The Cyclones can run an offensive clinic. They lead the nation in assists. Coach Fred Hoiberg exploits mismatches as well as any coach in the nation. Guard DeAndre Kane is a physical veteran who can surgically carve up defenses. This team also exhibits extreme poise, evidenced with how it responded after missing its first 13 shots in the victory vs. Baylor in the Big 12 championship. Melvin Ejim, the Big 12 player of the year, is the only player in a power conference averaging at least 18 points and eight rebounds while also shooting at least 50% from the field and 34% behind the three-point arc.
- Why North Carolina Central will win: Iowa State has some deficiencies. It doesn't always play the most stifling defense. And while it relies on a lot of three-pointers per game (8.3), it shoots only 35.1% from three-point range. If the Cyclones are cold from the outside, North Carolina Central could hang around a bit. The Eagles are a very good defensive team. They hold opponents to 30.3% shooting from three-point range and just 42.2% inside the arc, which ranks 10th nationally. They are the fourth-most experienced team in the nation and have not lost since Jan. 11.
- History lesson: This is the Eagles' first appearance in the Division I NCAA tournament. The Eagles won the 1989 NCAA Division II national championship.
- Did you know? Iowa State is one of just four schools nationally with three players averaging at least 16 points per game. (VMI, Delaware, Grand Canyon). The Cyclones have had five different players score 20 or more points in a game this season.
- Why UCLA will win: The Bruins are hot, having upset Arizona last weekend in the Pac-12 tournament final. Oversized (6-9) point guard Kyle Anderson is a nightmare matchup, kind of a poor man's Magic Johnson. He and sharpshooting off guard Jordan Adams (17.2 ppg) give UCLA two excellent go-to scorers, and role-playing brothers David and Travis Wear are smart and experienced, and a little tougher than you might think. First-year coach Steve Alford has the Bruins, who always seemed tight under Ben Howland, playing loose.
- Why Tulsa will win: The Golden Hurricane have been blowing by teams lately. Tulsa's overall record isn't gaudy, but this is a team that has won 17 of 20 and is looking for its 12th consecutive win when it tips off against UCLA. That kind of confidence might make up for the fact that Tulsa is playing its first NCAA tournament game since 2003 and its coach, former college and NBA star Danny Manning, has never been a head coach in an NCAA tournament game. A three-guard attack features C-USA tourney MVP James Woodard.
- History lesson: Once upon a time, UCLA was a No.4 seed playing a No.13 seed and ... lost to Princeton. But that was a long time ago — 1996.
- Did you know?Alford led Indiana to the national title in 1987. A year later, Manning led Kansas to the title.