If you buy into the NCAA's inclusion decree, Thursday merely carries the NCAA tournament over into its second round after Tuesday's and Wednesday's First Four games. But Thursday is when the NCAA tournament gets rolling, and by any measure it should get rocking sooner than later with some quality matchups early in the day.
No. 3 Michigan State and No. 14 Valparaiso kick off the action at 12:15 p.m. ET, and those two will have the stage to themselves for almost half an hour until an East regional matchup between No. 6 Butler and No. 11 Bucknell tips off in Lexington, Ky.
Not much separates the Bulldogs and the Bison. KenPom.com had Butler 52nd in his rankings through Sunday's games — by far the lowest for a No. 6 seed — and Bucknell at No. 62. Keep an eye out on Bucknell big man Mike Muscala, who's one of the most skilled low-post scorers in the field of 68 (which, of course, will be down to 64 by the time Bucknell takes the Rupp Arena floor Thursday). His matchup with Butler's Andrew Smith will be critical for both teams. Smith allowed Indiana Hoosiers center Cody Zeller to tally 18 points in Butler's 88-86 overtime win on Dec. 15, but he also held Zeller to five rebounds in Zeller's 37 minutes.
The night session will feature two of the tournament's No. 1 seeds. Gonzaga will play as a top seed for the first time ever, and Louisville, the No. 1 overall seed, will do so for the first time since 2009.
Two of the best point guards in the tournament will face off in a South regional game, as Trey Burke and Michigan meet Nate Wolters and South Dakota State. Wolters seems to have the experience and ability to keep up with Burke; the question is if the rest of the Jackrabbits can provide Wolters enough slack on their end of the rope to stay in the game.
A number of intriguing matchups highlight the night session. Arizona is no lock to win over Belmont, which is one of the top three-point shooting teams in the country. Colorado State and Missouri, two of the top rebounding teams in the nation, play for the presumed right -- barring a colossal upset -- to play Louisville in the round of 32. And New Mexico, which finished the season No. 2 in RPI, kicks off its intriguing NCAA tournament against Harvard in the West regional nightcap.
No. 14 Valparaiso Crusaders vs. No. 3 Michigan State Spartans, 12:15 p.m. ET, CBS
No. 13 New Mexico State Aggies vs. No. 4 Saint Louis Billikens, 2:10 p.m. ET, TNT
(No. 11 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders/No. 11 St. Mary's Gaels) vs. No. 6 Memphis Tigers, approx. 2:40 p.m. ET, CBS
No. 12 Oregon Ducks vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State Cowboys, approx. 4:40 p.m. ET, TNT
(No. 16 Liberty Flames/No. 16 North Carolina A&T Aggies) vs. No. 1 Louisville Cardinals, 6:50 p.m. ET, TBS
No. 9 Missouri Tigers vs. No. 8 Colorado State Rams, approx. 9:20 p.m. ET, TBS
No. 9 Wichita State Shockers vs. No. 8 Pittsburgh Panthers, 1:40 p.m. ET, TBS
No. 16 Southern Jaguars vs. No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs, approx. 4:10 p.m. ET, TBS
No. 11 Belmont Bruins vs. No. 6 Arizona Wildcats, 7:20 p.m. ET, TNT
No. 14 Harvard Crimson vs. No. 3 New Mexico Lobos, approx. 9:50 p.m. ET, TNT
No. 13 South Dakota State Jackrabbits vs. No. 4 Michigan Wolverines, 7:15 p.m. ET, CBS
No. 12 Akron Zips vs. No. 5 VCU Rams, approx. 9:45 p.m. ET, CBS
No. 11 Bucknell Bison vs. No. 6 Butler Bulldogs, 12:40 p.m. ET, TruTV
No. 14 Davidson Wildcats vs. No. 3 Marquette Golden Eagles, approx. 3:10 p.m. ET, TruTV
No. 12 California Golden Bears vs. No. 5 UNLV Runnin' Rebels, 7:27 p.m. ET, TruTV
No. 13 Montana Grizzlies vs. No. 4 Syracuse Orange, approx. 9:57 p.m. ET, TruTV