SPORTS

Nate Wolters vs. Trey Burke, Belmont, Pitt Among Things To Watch In NCAA Tournament Day 1

03/20/2013 07:25 pm ET | Updated Mar 21, 2013

Call in sick, fake an illness or do whatever else you've got to do Thursday, because it's officially tourney time and that bracket deserves your undivided attention. With a slate of awesome team and individual matchups on the docket, here's a look at the 10 things to watch on the NCAA Tournament's opening day.

1) Nerves

The first round of the tournament is a feeling-out process. The guys who haven't been there before are trying to remember it's still just basketball and the guys who have been there before are trying to lead by example. The biggest way nerves can impact a game is in shooting. Defense actually improves because players are energized, but shooting will suffer. This is the best chance for upsets. If a high-seed team that loves the three -- Illinois, for example -- goes cold, it becomes vulnerable. It's precisely how Lehigh -- a 15 seed last year -- toppled Duke in the first round.

2) Nate Wolters vs. Trey Burke

The basketball gods will deliver a premium matchup of point guards when South Dakota State battles Michigan. Both Nate Wolters and Trey Burke control the game with tremendous efficiency and decision making. South Dakota State's Wolters -- who averages 23 points on 49 percent shooting -- can beat his opponents in every aspect of the game. Burke, with an elite handle and deft shooting touch, also is nearly unstoppable. But pay attention to size. At 6-foot-4, Wolters has a distinct height advantage over the University of Michigan's 6-foot-1 Burke. The Jackrabbits shoot 39 percent from the 3-point line, and Wolters assists on more than a third of his team's hoops when he's on the floor, per ESPN Stats & Info.

3) The Marcus Smart Experience

Perhaps the best freshmen basketball player in America, Marcus Smart will prove a pure bulldog of a point guard for dangerous Oklahoma State when his team faces Oregon. He takes -- and makes -- big shots, and is absolutely fearless in the lane. Oregon is one of the best defensive teams in the country, but Smart is a real problem.

4) Don't Sleep On Belmont

Arizona doesn't defend the three-point shot and Belmont will fire from deep all day long. Belmont has never won an NCAA Tournament game, but expect that to change. This is a brutal matchup for Arizona coach Sean Miller's squad.

5) Sparty Beware

Michigan State's Spartans have a history of struggling early on in the tournament and don't expect that to change when they face Valparaiso, a feisty bunch capable of springing an upset. 6-foot-7 senior wing Ryan Broekhoff is a very solid inside-outside threat for the Valpo Crusaders and if MSU Coach Tom Izzo's club isn't careful, this game will be close.

ncaa tournament

Tom Izzo and talented Spartans point guard Keith Appling face a very solid Valpo team in the first round.

6) Dangerous Davidson

No Steph Curry, no problem. Davidson may not be as explosive without its former star, but coach Bob McKillop's Davidson Wildcats feature an elite duo in De'Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen, a 6-foot-10 post and two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year. Marquette is its normally rugged self, but Davidson, which has won 17 straight games, has a proficient half-court offense that won't back down, and is far and away the most dangerous 14 seed in the field.

7). Anthony Bennett's Coming Out Party

UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett is a monster athlete at 6-foot-7 who can step away on pick-and-pop (38 percent 3s), but also control the painted area (54 percent shooting). California won't have an answer for 40 minutes.

8). Bucknell is Back

Bucknell pulled off a shocker over Kansas eight years ago and now gets a shot over perennial power Butler. The Bison (28-5) have a battle-tested group led by senior center Mike Muscala, who is averaging 19 points a game this season. Muscala -- who is also fourth in the nation in rebounding -- will be a lot for Butler's Andrew Smith to handle; he has great footwork and a soft touch around the hoop. Remember, fellow Patriot league cohort Lehigh beat Duke in last year's tournament.

9) Can't-Miss HAVOC!

Coach Shaka Smart's VCU Rams present a gruesome challenge and non-stop pressing scheme that forces teams out of their comfort zone from the opening tip. Led by Treveon Graham, VCU is a dynamic team on both ends. Opponent Akron also just had its starting point guard suspended.

10) Pittsburgh, an 8 Seed?

Pitt could make an argument for a 6 seed, but instead got an 8. Its reward? How about 9 seed Wichita State in the round of 64? This is a classic 8-9 bout between two really, really good basketball teams. The Wichita State Shockers feature Malcolm Armstead and a litany of playmakers against a Pitt club that will try and control the paint for 40 minutes. Do not miss this one.

Email me at jordan.schultz@huffingtonpost.com or ask me questions about anything sports-related at @Schultz_Report.

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