our guide to Thursday’s best games:
(5) Notre Dame vs. (12) Princeton
12:15 p.m., CBS
The best day of the year gets underway with Ivy League champions Princeton, winners of 19 straight games, taking on Mike Brey’s Notre Dame team that has been to two consecutive Elite Eights. Fresh off Yale winning its first NCAA Tournament game last season, Princeton is hoping to win in the tournament for the first since 1998. The Tigers will have to contend with Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson, who averages a double-double (17.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg).
(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) South Dakota St.
2 p.m., TBS
Most 1-versus-16 games can be safely ignored and are over by halftime, but the Jackrabbits might be able to put a scare into the No. 1-seeded Zags. South Dakota State gave Maryland a game last season, losing by five in the first round, and might have the best player on the floor in sophomore Mike Daum, the second-leading scorer in the nation.
(5) Minnesota vs. (12) Middle Tennessee
4 p.m., TNT
One of the most popular first-round upset picks features last year’s Cinderella, Middle Tennessee, which stunned Michigan State as a No. 15 seed. The Blue Raiders are back in the field of 64 and are even better, bringing a higher seed and a résumé with wins over two tournament teams (N.C. Wilmington, Vanderbilt). Minnesota will be playing short-handed, without injured guard Akeem Springs.
(8) Northwestern vs. (9) Vanderbilt
4:30 p.m., TBS
Have you heard Northwestern made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history? You’ll see more cutaways to actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whose son (Charlie Hall) is a Northwestern walk-on, than wins for the Wildcats in the tournament, but they’ve got a winnable game against a Vanderbilt team that has shown the ability to beat Florida three times … and that’s about it, making the field despite 15 losses.
(6) Maryland vs. (11) Xavier
6:50 p.m., TNT
Another popular double-digit seed advancing, Xavier hasn’t been playing its best basketball since the loss of point guard Edmond Sumner. That’s OK, because neither has its opponent. Maryland laid an egg in the Big Ten Tournament played in Washington, minutes from their campus, and has lost four of its past six. The close spread indicates this should come down to the last possession, in which case watch out for Terps guard Melo Trimble, who has a reputation for his final-minute heroics.
(3) Florida St. vs. (14) Florida Gulf Coast
9:20 p.m., TNT
It’s two teams from the state of Florida playing at home in Florida (Orlando). Florida Gulf Coast actually has won as many NCAA Tournament games since 2013 (three) as Florida State has dating back to 1999. These Seminoles are deep and talented, though, starting 18-2 before sputtering down the stretch.
(8) Wisconsin vs. (9) Virginia Tech
9:40 p.m., CBS
The best game of the late session should be this Big Ten-ACC clash. Many felt the Badgers were underseeded, having rebounded from losing five of six to reach the conference tournament final. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is a scrappy squad in the field for the first time since 2007.