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Seven must-watch NCAA tournament Round of 64 games

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REGION PREVIEWSEast Region | South Region | Midwest Region | West Region

No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Manhattan — Midwest  — Thursday, 9:50 p.m.

The selection committee didn’t show much love for the newly-formed American Athletic Conference, however, it did give this Round of 64 a great storyline as Steve Masiello, who has led Manhattan into the tournament for the first time in a decade, faces his former coach Rick Pitino.

Masiello certainly has familiarity with Louisville, serving as an assistant to Pitino for six seasons and recruiting guys like Russ Smith and Wayne Blackshear.

But he also has a pretty good team as well. The Jaspers have the perimeter talent in George Beamon and Mike Alvarado while reigning MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Rhamel Brown manning the frontline. I’d would have considered going with Manhattan as an upset pick in most games, but Louisville is playing at a high-level at the moment. The Jaspers are still dangerous, though.

No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Dayton — South  — Thursday, 12:15 p.m.

The selection committed made another intriguing matchup, pitting in-state opponents Dayton and Ohio State together in the Round of 64. The Flyers and Buckeyes don’t meet in the regular season, but they will in the South Region. Ohio State has had its well-documented offensive struggles, but Archie Miller’s guys can light it up from beyond the arc. The Flyers are led by Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert and Devin Oliver, both scoring better than a dozen a game.

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No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 13 Delaware — East  — Thursday, 4:40 p.m.

When the Spartans are healthy, they are a national contender, and they sure look that part lately. The four-seed is penciled in by many as the team advancing out of the East Region. But in its first game of the tournament Michigan State will go up against a high-scoring perimeter attack as Devon Saddler (19.7 ppg), Davon Usher (19.4 ppg) and Jarvis Threatt (18.1 ppg) can put up points in a hurry. The Fighting Blue Hens can certainly make this interesting on Thursday evening.

No. 5 VCU vs. No. 12 Stephen F. Austin — South  — Friday, 7:27 p.m.

The Rams had a six-game winning streak ended in the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship game at the hands of Saint Joseph’s. Stephen F. Austin hasn’t lost since Nov. 23, winners of 28 in a row.

Like Havoc, the Lumberjacks can really defend. Both force a highest percentage of turnovers. VCU has had trouble shooting the ball from beyond the arc, especially with Melvin Johnson out on Sunday. This could be the 12 over 5 upset.

MOREAll-Americans | Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | Freshman of the Year

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No. 6 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Providence — East  — Friday, 7:20 p.m.

Marcus Paige vs. Bryce Cotton? Yes, please.

The Tar Heels have lost two straight, including one to Pittsburgh in the ACC quarterfinals. Providence ended up winning the Big East Tournament over Creighton. The Friars are back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2004, and they have an All-American talent in Cotton.

Providence has a lot of momentum heading into the tournament and we’ve seen how up-and-down North Carolina can be this season. This could be an upset in San Antonio.

No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 North Dakota State — West — Thursday, 7:27 p.m.

This could shape up to be an early round matchup that goes down to the final possession. The Bison are no joke. They defeated Notre Dame in South Bend, when the Irish still had Jerian Grant. They have a nice one-two punch with Taylor Braun and Marshall Bjorklund. North Dakota State gets some of the best looks on offense in the country with a 55 percent effective field goal percentage, according to kenpom.com

No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 11 Nebraska — West  — Friday, 12:40 p.m.

Two power conference teams in a Round of 64 matchup will always be one to look out for. The Bears finished the season strong after digging themselves in the Big 12 basement, winning six of their last seven.

Nebraska has been a fun team to watch, back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. How will Cornhuskers handle this stage? They ended the Big 12 Tournament, blowing a double-digit lead to Ohio State, but this is also the same team that defeated Michigan State on the road and Wisconsin nine days ago.

Auburn junior guard Kareem Canty to turn pro

Auburn guard Kareem Canty (1) screams in pain after being fouled during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Auburn, Ala. Auburn won 75-70.  (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson
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Auburn junior point guard Kareem Canty, the team’s leader in both points and assists, has missed the Tigers’ last two games as a result of a suspension handed down by head coach Bruce Pearl for a violation of team rules. Thursday night Canty announced via Twitter that he will be turning pro, ending his Auburn career with less than one full season of play.

In 21 games this season Canty averaged 18.3 points and 5.3 assists per contest, shooting 40.1 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from three. Given Auburn’s lack of perimeter depth Canty had ample opportunities to score from the point guard position, but he struggled in the four games following standout performances in wins over Kentucky and Alabama.

Auburn’s lost six straight since beating the Crimson Tide, most recently falling 71-45 at Tennessee Tuesday night. Without Canty, Bruce Pearl called upon TJ Lang and Bryce Brown as the perimeter starters in that game with Patrick Keim and New Williams playing a combined 33 minutes off the bench. They’ll continue to see those minutes moving forward.

As for next season, Auburn brings in four-star point guard Jared Harper and currently injured point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen will be available as well.

Canty began his college career at Marshall, playing the 2013-14 season for the Thundering Herd before deciding to transfer. Canty committed to Auburn in mid-April of 2014, only to change his mind in favor of USF before making the switch back to Auburn.

Canty’s name wasn’t showing up in early draft projections, and making this decision while in the midst of a suspension likely won’t help matters when it comes to getting selected.

BUBBLE BANTER: All of tonight’s bubbly action in one place

Fran Dunphy
(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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This post will be updated as the games are completed.

You know what’s not going to be fun on Selection Sunday?

Trying to evaluate the profile that Temple (KenPom: 95, RPI: 69) eventually puts together.

The Owls are currently sitting tied for first place in the American at 9-3. They’ve swept UConn after coming from down 12 to beat the Huskies in Philly on Thursday. They’ve swept Cincinnati. They handed SMU their first loss of the season. They beat Tulsa. That’s four top 50 and six top 100 wins, which are good numbers in comparison to other bubble teams.

The problem?

They also lost at Memphis (yuck) and East Carolina (double yuck), have a non-conference strength of schedule that sits right around 200, lost to every good team they played out of conference and have thus far managed just six top 150 wins this season. The other issue? They’ve basically run out of quality opponents in the league. They do play at Tulsa (RPI: 50) and Houston (RPI: 91), which are basically must-wins at this point, and since every other opponent they play in the American has a sub-100 RPI, those are essentially can’t-lose games.

What that leaves us is the Villanova game. That will be played next week, and that’s as close to a must-win as you can get in mid-February.

WINNERS

  • Syracuse (KenPom: 39, RPI: 44): Syracuse landed their sixth top 50 win and eighth top 100 win of the season on Thursday. They also got word that the selection committee will factor in that Jim Boeheim missed time for the Orange. It may be time to take them off of this list, at least for the time being.

LOSERS

  • UConn (KenPom: 19, RPI: 46): On paper, UConn’s loss at Temple on Thursday isn’t all that bad. It’s a road loss to a top 100 opponent. Those happen in league play. Where it hurts is that the Owls have now not only swept UConn, but they did it by erasing a 12-point lead in the final five minutes. The Huskies fall to just 5-7 against the top 100 with just one top 50 win, albeit at Texas. With no bad losses and two shots left against SMU, UConn is still in decent shape.
  • Florida State (KenPom: 37, RPI: 38): The Seminoles missed a shot at landing a nice road win at Syracuse on Thursday. It doesn’t hurt their profile, and with three top 25, another top 50 and a top 100 opponent left on their schedule, there are still chances to play their way onto the bubble. The problem? All those games are losable as well.
  • VCU (KenPom: 32, RPI: 40): The Rams were on the wrong end of a brutal loss to UMass on Thursday night. It’s not the kind of loss that is going to eliminate VCU from the bubble conversation — not by any stretch — but one of the strengths of VCU’s résumé was that they didn’t have any bad losses to speak of. Now they have a loss to a sub-150 team. Their next four games are all potential landmines as well. Will Wade’s club would do well to avoid losing any of those four.

Games left to be played.

Arkansas-Little Rock (KenPom: 41, RPI: 63) at Louisiana Monroe, 8:00 p.m.
Northern Kentucky at Valparaiso (KenPom: 22, RPI: 48), 8:00 p.m.
No. 4 Iowa at Indiana (KenPom: 24, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
No. 11 Oregon at Cal (KenPom: 44, RPI: 32), 9:00 p.m.
Washington State at Colorado (KenPom: 56, RPI: 29), 11:00 p.m.
Gonzaga (KenPom: 33, RPI: 66) at Portland, 11:00 p.m.
Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s (KenPom: 26, RPI: 52), 11:00 p.m.
Oregon State (KenPom: 81, RPI: 31) at Stanford (KenPom: 104, RPI: 71), 11:00 p.m.