There are few days more captivating for a sports fan than the first two days of the NCAA Tournament.
From noon to midnight, multiple games vie to match the hype of March Madness, usually surpassing. In this way, it is the anti-Super Bowl, which is a single, frequently disappointing game to match two weeks of publicity.
In addition, nearly all of us participate in bracket-related activities. My favorite part of the Big Dance is how impossible it is to predict: I have already conceded defeat to my wife, who could be heard last night, as she filled out her bracket, making clucking noises each time she had Purdue advance a round. (Her title pick is New Mexico. Lady loves the Lobos).
With the advent of DirecTV's tournament package, and NCAA.com's offering of all games streaming online, you the viewer have more responsibility than ever before. There will be a right sequence and wrong sequence of games to watch, and it is vital you choose correctly. I offer you a helpful viewer's guide.
Thursday at 12:20 p.m. ET, three games begin. If you haven't seen Villanova play, take a few minutes to marvel at Scottie Reynolds, and if Taylor King is out on the court, assume 'Nova will go far.
But your primary objective should be to watch Notre Dame and Old Dominion. ODU is legit. Fun quiz: What's the difference between Duke, Pitt and Old Dominion? Answer: Only Old Dominion has beaten Georgetown. And with Notre Dame's new Princeton-style attack keeping the score low, this one should go to the final buzzer.
The game to watch in the second group of matchups is St. Mary's and Richmond. St. Mary's seems to be seeded too low to me. They have a great center in Omar Samhan, terrific perimeter shooters, and they just crushed Gonzaga to get here. Richmond is a talented team as well, and either one will give Villanova a tough time in Round 2.
One of the great things about this year's tournament is the shadow 5 p.m. game exists on both Thursday and Friday. This is usually a 5-12 game that is not on national TV. But as referenced above, now there's no reason for you to step away from the television for 12 full hours, no matter how hungry your children are. They can eat during the offseason.
This Thursday matchup is UTEP and Butler, teams with a contrast in styles. Butler has become one of the elite teams in basketball-rich Indiana by playing like the Hoosiers used to, while UTEP has the horses to challenge the Bulldogs. Worth skipping dinner to watch this one.
And with that, we are on to prime time. Northern Iowa and UNLV should have a classic encounter for the right to get trounced by Kansas. Ohio University, ninth in the MAC, should have some trouble with Georgetown, eighth in the Big East. (Spoiler alert: The Big East is better).
But you shouldn't miss a minute of Washington and Marquette, a battle of two athletic teams with NBA talent and 3-point shooting galore. It is one of my favorite first-round matchups.
In the nightcaps, I'll start by watching Lehigh vs. Kansas, because someday a 16 is going to beat a 1, and I want that 16 to come from the pure, sweet Patriot League.
After KU goes up double figures at the 18-minute mark of the first half, switch over to San Diego State and Tennessee. No need for coffee -- Bruce Pearl's orange-laden wardrobe and the action between these two will leave you sad that there is another 12 hours until ...
Friday action begins! And it begins with a pair of games that should have you watching one game on a computer, another on your TV. (Assume you have called in sick at work, or picked a relative to have died tragically. Hint: Pick a young, healthy one, decreasing the chances that you will have to ask out to attend that relative's actual funeral until you are at your next job.)
Minnesota, an 11 seed, is playing as well as anyone right now, with terrific depth at guard, a first-tier swing player in Lawrence Westbrook, and tremendous interior presence.
Alternate between the Golden Gophers taking on Xavier and 12-seed Cornell's game against Temple. Big Red reminds me of the same premise as Pinocchio. Each year, the Ivy presents a puppet team. This year's Cornell? Real team! If you don't believe me, ask Kansas, who trailed Cornell at Kansas with a minute left. Poor Temple. This draw is the Mourner's Kaddish of opponents.
From Jewish to two-ish games we go, and while people love Wofford (Sleeper alert! My wife loves to say "Wofford"), it is Siena as a 13 against Purdue, a 4 seed like Luis Castillo is a second baseman. The Saints are the toast of Albany because of their intelligent offensive sets, giant-killing tendencies, and because hey, there ain't much to do in Albany.
The 4:45 p.m. bridge game is between Texas A&M and Utah State. What's funny here is Utah State got a ton of grief for playing a very weak out-of-conference schedule. But Texas A&M beat nobody outside of the Big 12 worth noting. This one should be awfully close. Forget dinner, again. When your wife is trying to get you served for divorce papers over inattention, you let that doorbell ring and ring!
And before you know it, the process server has given up, and it is time for the 7 p.m. games. Count on New Mexico State and Michigan State as a good 5-12 matchup. The Spartans have been all over the place this year, while the Aggies are coming on strong. Also check in on Gonzaga -- they may be too tough for Syracuse if Arinze Onuaku is still out by Saturday -- a likely possibility.
In the late action, check out Vermont-Syracuse -- again, a 16 will beat a 1 someday, and Vermont has pulled upsets -- yes, over Syracuse -- before.
And don't sleep on Houston vs. Maryland, either. The Cougars are on fire right now, and Maryland often plays like they are in a trap game, even when they aren't. By the time Louisville-Cal ends -- a stark reminder of how much better Big East also-rans are than this year's Pac-10 regular-season champ -- it is time to get right to your big, empty bed. Saturday brings second-round action you'll love, so go ahead and unplug that phone. It is a magical time for sports fans and family-court proceedings everywhere.