After a handful of First Four games opened things up on Tuesday and Wednesday night, the NCAA Tournament will officially start in earnest on Thursday, including four games from the Palace of Auburn Hills, in Auburn Hills, Mich.
In the first game of the afternoon, the Midwest region's No. 3 seed the Michigan State Spartans, will take on No. 14 seed Valparaiso in a 12:15 ET tip. And when they take the court, the key to the entire match-up could be Spartans' guard Keith Appling. On the season Appling led Michigan State in both points (13.5) and assists (3.5), and is playing especially well of late, with four double-digit scoring games in the Spartans' last four outings.
The winner of Michigan State-Valparaiso will next face the winner of the second match-up in Auburn Hills, between No. 6 seed Memphis and No. 11 Saint Mary's. The Gaels are coming off a strong showing in their First Four match-up with Middle Tennessee State on Tuesday night, in a game they won 67-54. Guard Matthew Dellavedova led all scorers with 22 points.
Next up, the night session will tip-off at the Palace at Auburn Hills with another local team, the Michigan Wolverines who will open play against South Dakota State in a 4 vs. 13 match-up in the South Region. In this game the key will be guard play, with Big Ten Player of the Year Trey Burke of Michigan going head-to-head with South Dakota State's Nate Wolters. Wolters finished the regular season ranked fourth in the country in scoring, averaging 22.7 points per game.
Finally, the day in Auburn Hills will conclude with a match-up in the South Region between No. 5 seed VCU and No. 12 seed Akron. It could prove to be a tough game for the Zips, who will be without point guard Alex Abreu, after Abreu was arrested back on March 7.