Thursday’s NCAA games you should play hooky for

Shabazz Napier of the Connecticut Huskies

If you call yourself a true college basketball fan, you have played hooky on the first day of the NCAA Tournament —several times. Even lesser devotees have once or twice summoned up a fake cough, made the call to the boss and plopped down for 12 hours of Jim Nantz and the fellas.

No meeting, lecture, conference call or final exam can compare with the wall-to-wall unpredictability of the opening round of the tourney. To help prepare you for the big day off (it’s today, just in case you haven’t made that call yet), here are the games worth sacrificing your job/tuition:

East: No. 12 Harvard vs. No. 5 Vanderbilt


Breakdown:
Nerds! Nerds! Nerds! And pretty good basketball players. The Crimson proved their mettle early on by claiming the Battle 4 Atlantis title in impressive fashion and then going on the road to knock off a tough Vermont squad. They proved that was no charade by finishing the 2011 portion of their schedule at 12-1 and gaining a national ranking. They followed that up by racing to the Ivy crown. Now they have to prove that a 66-year NCAA Tournament layoff means nothing by handling a Commodores squad that has all the credentials to go far.

On TV: TNT, 4:40 p.m.

South: No. 12 VCU vs. No. 5 Wichita State

Breakdown:
VCU produced one of the event’s great runs last season, winning a play-in game at Dayton before rolling all the way to the Final Four. Regardless of how long the Rams last this time around, head coach Shaka Smart is a treat to watch work the sidelines. VCU got a boost last season when it knocked off Wichita State in a Bracketbuster game.

The Shockers are the 15th-highest scoring team in the land and should be better prepared this time.

On TV: CBS, 7:15 p.m.

South: No. 9 UConn vs. No. 8 Iowa State

Breakdown: The defending champion Huskies have a much steeper hill to climb than last year as a three-seed. And they don’t have Kemba Walker, the man who did it all for Jim Calhoun last March. UConn will contend with a Cyclones unit led by another man who does it all in Royce White. White leads ISU in scoring, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. No. 9 seeds have won 54 percent of these encounters over the years.

On TV: TBS, 9:20 p.m.

SOUTH: No. 14 South Dakota vs. No. 3 Baylor

Breakdown:
If you like scoring, this is the game for you. The Jackrabbits fittingly fill it up, ranking 18th in the nation in scoring. The Bears, who own 10 wins against tournament teams, are 36th in that category. SDSU junior guard Nate Wolters is the key to an upset; he averages 21.3 points, 6.0 assists and 5.2 rebounds.

On TV:  truTV, 7:27 p.m.

East: No. 13 Montana vs. No. 4 Wisconsin

Breakdown: Nobody stifles opposing offenses and slows down the game quite like the Badgers, but that means they often play close games. Expect the Grizzlies to hang around and make this one of those contests where every possession in the second half feels like life or death. With Fab Melo out, Wisconsin could quickly become an East favorite.
 
On TV: TNT, 2:10 p.m.


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