I know that most people don't get excited about about March Madness until the barrage of games in the Round of 64 tips off on Thursday. But the tournament is already underway, with Kansas State and Mount St. Mary's advancing out of the First Four last night.
Tonight, North Carolina Central and the University of California - Davis will knuckle up to see who will get the chance to be stomped by the No.1 seed in the Midwest Region, Kansas, while the winner of Southern California and Providence will go on to face No. 6 seed SMU in the East Region.
If you need a reason to get excited about the First Four, all you need to do is peep what VCU did six years ago. Now, those No. 16 seeds, well, this game is merely ceremonial, because they won't have any more victories coming. But it's great to see the little guys who get a chance to dance on the big stage. But those No. 11 seeds, like Kansas State, who beat Wake Forest last night, and the victor of tonight's matchup between the Friars and the Trojans, have a chance to do something special.
In 2011, No. 11-seed VCU and their dynamic young coach Shaka Smart earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament's First Four. No one could have predicted what would follow from there. The Rams finished the season with 28 wins and 12 losses, had lost to Old Dominion in the Colonial Athletic Conference Tournament's championship game and walked into the NCAA Tournament with no fanfare at all.
If you had picked them to make a deep tournament run before March Madness began, you would have been labeled a fool. But we know how things played out from there. They knocked out USC in the First Four, and proceeded to snuff Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas en route to one of the most remarkable and fun dashes to the Final Four that the tournament has ever witnessed.
So buckle up your chin straps and let's get ready to get it started. Here are the players that you want to be paying attention to tonight.
Kyron Cartwright, Guard, Providence
The matchup of diminutive point guards from California in the Friars vs Trojans game should be worth the price of admission. Cartwright, a 5-foot-11 junior from Compton, leads Providence with close to seven assists per game. He also averages 11 points and four rebounds for a squad that boasts four double-digit scorers. Trust me, you don't want to miss him going heads-up against USC's Jordan McLaughlin.
If Providence wants to represent the Big East with a chance to knock off the team that many people are picking for a possible spot in the Elite Eight in No. 6 SMU that awaits the winner of this game, Cartwright will have to play like the guy who had 20 points and eight assists against Seton Hall earlier this year.
Patrick Cole, Guard, North Carolina Central
The 6-foot-5 senior from Newark, New Jersey is the engine that makes the Eagles offense, which puts up over 75 points per game, hum. Cole averages 19.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game.
In their three wins over Bethune-Cookman, Maryland - Eastern Shore and Norfolk State in the MEAC Tournament, he scorched for 17 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, 21 points, seven boards, six dimes and five steals, and 18 points and eight rebounds respectively.
Brynton Lemar, Guard, UC Davis
The Aggies leading scorer at 16.1 points per game, the 6-foot-4 senior from San Diego poured in 18, 23 and 20 points respectively against Cal Poly, CSU Fullerton and UC Irvine in the Big West Conference Tournament.
Jordan McLaughlin, Guard, Southern California
The Trojans feature four players that average double figures, led by 6-foot-10 sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright, who averages 14.6 points per game. But if USC wants to make some real noise in the tournament, they'll need point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who puts up 13.1 points and gives out 5.5 assists per game, to be at his best.
The 5-foot-9 junior from Etiwanda, California was honored as the Pac-12 Player of the Week twice this season, making him the first Trojan to win two weekly conference honors since Baby Jordan, aka Harold Miner, did it back in the 1991-92 season.