LOUISVILLE, KY (Sporting Alert) — It’s time for March Madness to begin!
The NCAA DI men’s basketball tournament round of 64 tips off on Thursday with a full set of fixtures, as the hunt for the national championship begins.
No. 1 overall tournament seed and undefeated Kentucky leads the list of teams in action on the day, with East Region top seed Villanova, another Wildcats — also down for action.
The Wildcats (34-0), which take an impressive form into the NCAA tournament, after finishing the regular season and conference tournament with a 100 percent record — hunt its ninth national crown when they open up in the second round against First Four playoff winner Hampton (17-17).
As expected, lots of attention will be on last year’s runner-up and head coach John Calipari is backing his squad to stay focus and together in its title hunt.
They last won this tournament in 2012 after beating Kansas 67-59 in the final, while the last time Calipari’s side lost in the second round was in 2007, also against the Jayhawks.
“I think they see what’s happening for each other, and I think they’ll stay the course,” Calipari said.
Despite its outstanding run on the season, Kentucky knows all that effort would be in vain with a defeat at any stage during this challenging tournament, but Calipari isn’t entertaining any changes.
“I stopped them (Wednesday) when we practiced,” the veteran coach confirmed. “Don’t be changing now. Don’t. No, no, no, no, no. You stay on the path you’re on.
“Don’t let someone tell you now is the time to go crazy. Don’t do that. Just be the best version of you right now, and that’s good enough.”
Heading into Thursday’s game against the Pirates, the Wildcats, who are 118-48 all time in the NCAA tournament, are ranked 3rd in points allowed, at 54.0 and 2nd in blocks per game, at 6.9 — areas that have helped them to be one of the top defensive teams this season.
Hampton, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship winners, will be making their third appearance in the tournament.
The Pirates are 1-3 in the NCAA tournament and make their second appearance in the second. They lost to Georgetown in the only other time at this stage in 2001.
Another tournament No. 1 seed Villanova, the Big East regular season and conference tournament champion, will also tip-off in the East Region on Thursday against the 16th seeded Lafayette (20-12).
These Wildcats (32-2), which last defeat came exactly two months ago at Georgetown, are on a 15 game winning streak and they are hoping to build on this run in the push for a second national championship.
The Leopards, who are shooting 48.8 percent from the floor this season, are confident coming into this game, but the experts doesn’t believe the Patriot League champions have enough to cause any problems to Villanova.
Surprised Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champion Notre Dame (29-5) will look to extend its positive recent form against the 14th seed Northeastern (23-11) in the Midwest Region in Pittsburgh, PA.
The third-seeded Fighting Irish, who have won five straight, including three wins against top 25 teams — and eight of the last nine contests, defeated Duke and North Carolina on their way to landing the ACC tournament title and they are seen as one of the teams which can be a threat to Kentucky.
Elsewhere on the day, fourth-seeded North Carolina take on 13th seed Harvard, (11) Texas battle with (6) Butler, while an interesting contest is expected when (9) LSU and (8) NC State take the court.
NCAA Tournament March Madness
GAME TIMES (ET) AND TV CHANNELS
12:15 PM (14) Northeastern vs (3) Notre Dame* CBS
12:40 PM (14) UAB vs (3) Iowa State* truTV
1:40 PM (14) Georgia St vs (3) Baylor* TBS
2:10 PM (15) Texas Southern vs (2) Arizona* TNT
2:45 PM (11) Texas vs (6) Butler* CBS
3:10 PM (11) UCLA vs (6) SMU* truTV
4:10 PM (11) Ole Miss vs (6) Xavier* TBS
4:40 PM (10) Ohio State vs (7) Virginia Commonwealth* TNT
6:50 PM (16) Lafayette vs (1) Villanova* TBS
7:10 PM (9) Purdue vs (8) Cincinnati* CBS
7:20 PM (13) Harvard vs (4) North Carolina* TNT
7:27 PM (12) Stephen F. Austin vs (5) Utah* truTV
9:20 PM (9) LSU vs (8) NC State* TBS
9:40 PM (16) Hampton vs (1) Kentucky* CBS
9:50 PM (12) Wofford vs (5) Arkansas* TNT
9:57 PM (13) Eastern Washington vs (4) Georgetown* truTV