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PITTSBURGH (AP/KDKA) — For many sports fans, this is one of the best days of the year.
First-round action in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament tips off Thursday. The first game of the day will be played in Pittsburgh. PPG Paints Arena is hosting tournament games for the third time (It also hosted in 2012 and 2015). The tournament is set to return in 2022.
Here’s a look at the full slate of games being played Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
No. 7 seed Rhode Island (25-7) vs. No. 10 seed Oklahoma (18-13)
First round, Midwest Region; 12:15 p.m.
BOTTOM LINE: The Rams have reached the NCAAs in consecutive years for only the second time in program history. The Sooners and star freshman Trae Young stumbled down the stretch in the Big 12 and their surprising at-large bid provided the critics with plenty of fodder. There’s only one way to quiet them.
YOUNG IS RESTLESS: Young is on his way to becoming the first Division I player since the NCAA began tracking assists in 1983 to lead the nation in scoring (27.4 points) and assists (8.8). He’s not shy about putting it up. Young’s 600 field goal attempts are 63 more than the combined attempts of Oklahoma’s next two leading scorers (Christian James and Brady Manek).
RHODY RULES: While Oklahoma relies heavily (at times too heavily) on Young, the Rams have put together consecutive 25-win seasons by taking a more balanced approach. Five different players average at least 9.0 points and all five have had at least one 20-point game this season.
HE SAID IT: Rhode Island head coach Danny Hurley on hearing his name in connection with jobs at higher-profile schools, including Pittsburgh: “It’s something, social media age, for me to sit up here and say I have no awareness would be, you know, it wouldn’t be truthful,” Hurley said. “But I haven’t thought one second about, you know, any other team or program or, you know, what city I’m playing in, relative to who has a coaching vacancy.”
No. 2 seed Duke (26-7) vs. No. 15 seed Iona (20-13)
First round, Midwest Region, 2:45 p.m.
BOTTOM LINE: The Blue Devils appear to have put their midseason issues behind them, at least when they’re not playing North Carolina. The Gaels, however, love to push the pace and won’t be intimidated by the stage in their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
MARVIN’S ROOM: Duke forward Marvin Bagley is the second player in ACC history to be named league Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. He leads the ACC in scoring (21.1) and rebounding (11.5), if that holds up he’ll be the first freshman in league history to pace the conference in both categories.
GO GO GAELS: Duke loves to push the pace, finishing eighth in the nation in scoring (84.7). The Gaels won’t be afraid to go up and down. Iona led the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in 3-pointers made and have been held under 70 points just twice since Dec. 17.
DEJA VU?: Once a rarity, a No. 15-seed over a No. 2 seed is now far more commonplace. It’s happened four times since 2012. One of the losses? Lehigh stunning the Blue Devils 75-70 six years ago. In 1997, Coppin State upset No. 2 seed South Carolina in a game played at Pittsburgh’s old Civic Arena.
No. 1 seed Villanova (30-4) vs. No. 16 seed Radford (23-12)
First round, East Region, , 6:50 p.m.
BOTTOM LINE: Villanova is looking to keep No. 1 seeds unbeaten in the NCAA Tournament when it opens against Radford in the East region. The Wildcats dominated in the Big East again this season and won the conference tournament for the second straight season. They are a top-two seed for the fifth straight season and should roll against Radford.
COUNTRY ROAD TO THE DANCE: Radford head coach Mike Jones was an assistant at West Virginia during the 2002-03 season. In 2011, he was part of the coaching staff that helped lead Virginia Commonwealth the Final Four. Jones is in his seventh season at the helm of the Radford men’s basketball program. This year he was honored as the Big South Coach of the Year for the first time.
TOTALLY RAD: Radford is rolling following a win over LIU Brooklyn in the First Four for its first-ever NCAA Tournament win. The team from rural southwest Virginia won the Big South and is making its third tournament appearance and first since 2009.
OPENER WOES: The Wildcats have a 2016 national championship but not much else to show for all their top seeds. Villanova lost on the opening weekend as a No. 1 seed in 2015, when they were upset by N.C. State. That was also the last time NCAA Tournament games were played at PPG Paints Arena. Villanova also lost as a No. 2 seed in 2014 and 2010. The Wildcats failed to get out of the first weekend in 2011 and 2013. They were the top seed last season and lost in the second round to Wisconsin.
DID YOU KNOW: Jay Wright is the winningest coach in Villanova history? He set the record in the Big East Tournament and is 416-165 with the 2009 Final Four and 2016 national championship on his resume.
No. 8 seed Virginia Tech (21-11) vs. No. 9 seed Alabama (19-15)
First round, East Region, 9:20 p.m.
BOTTOM LINE: Two programs with very little recent NCAA Tournament experience both get it this season with at-large bids. The Hokies are one of nine Atlantic Coast Conference teams in the field of 68.
HOMECOMING: Virginia Tech’s Devin Wilson plans to savor his first NCAA Tournament game. The fifth-year senior point guard has won over his coach, reclaimed his spot in the starting lineup and will be making his tournament debut in Pittsburgh, about 15 minutes from Montour High School, where his journey began.
BUZZ WORTHY: The Hokies had their best season under Buzz Williams and made the tournament for the second straight season. Guard Justin Robinson (13.8 points, 5.6 assists) is the top scorer on a team that has five players averaging double digits in points. The Hokies have lost four of five but have wins this season over tournament No. 2 seed Duke and No. 1 Virginia.
FANTASTIC FRESHMAN: Collin Sexton is the player to watch for the Crimson Tide. He averages 19 points and was named SEC co-freshman of the year and second team all-SEC. He dropped 40 points against Minnesota and his buzzer beater against Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament helped lead the Crimson Tide into the NCAA Tournament.
DID YOU KNOW: Alabama coach Avery Johnson also coached the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Finals in 2006.
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