The 2014 version of the NCAA Tournament officially tipped off on Tuesday night, but the real madness doesn’t get going until Thursday and Friday when each of the remaining 64 teams will take the floor. This year’s tournament features shocking parity and a wealth of enthralling matchups over the course of the second and third rounds. NCAA Tournament tickets still remain for each of the second round sites with prices starting at as little as $43.
In perhaps the marquee matchup of the second round, Oklahoma State is slated to take on Gonzaga on Friday in San Diego. This eight-nine matchup pits the enigmatic and exciting Marcus Smart and the Cowboys against the Bulldogs, anchored by big man Sam Dower and wily guard Kevin Pangos. Smart, the focus of national attention earlier this year following a suspension for a physical altercation with a Texas Tech fan, returned for his sophomore season and had a fantastic year averaging 18 points, five rebounds and five assists per game. The Bulldogs will struggle to stop him defensively but will seek to counter with their own outside threat in Pangos, who shot an impressive 41 percent from beyond the arc this season while leading Gonzaga to a 28-6 record. Tickets remain available for this second-round tilt, with the get-in price currently sitting at $107 while the average ticket is selling for $200.
Big East fans witnessed the Providence Friars streak through the conference tournament en route to a championship behind an impressive team effort, knocking off Doug McDermott and the Creighton Blue Jays in the finals. The Friars were rewarded for their efforts with an 11 seed in the East bracket against perennial contender North Carolina, who limped into the tournament with losses to Duke and Pittsburgh in the previous week. The Tar Heels, led by sophomore upstart Marcus Paige, finished fourth in the ACC despite losing highly-touted P.J. Hairston before the season started. This promises to be a difficult matchup for the sixth-seeded UNC team, which is likely to be a small favorite over Bryce Cotton’s Providence squad. Cotton, a 6-foot-1 senior, led the nation in percentage of minutes played this year with 96.3 percent and put up 21 points a game to go with six assists per. These two teams are forced to travel out west to San Antonio and the AT&T Center where tickets still remain for a low price of $52 with the average ticket going for around $158.
While the second round promises an exciting slate, perhaps the game of the tournament will occur in the third round where a potential Florida-Pittsburgh matchup looms pending the second-round games. If the Panthers are able to get by an injury-laden Colorado team, the Gators will await the ACC foe on the wings of a 27-game winning streak. Despite Florida’s recent streak, the Gators are unlikely to be favored by more than three or four points and the Panthers’ physicality inside, anchored by senior Talib Zanna, will give Florida fits. The road to the Final Four goes through Pittsburgh for Florida and the trio of Prather, Wilbekin and Young will need to be up for the challenge if the Gators want to continue their season. This is a can’t-miss game and tickets still remain for the potential Saturday tilt for the reasonable get-in price of $120 and an average ticket of $218.