Nearly every year, upsets take place in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament, and we all know they're awfully difficult to predict.

There are also some givens -- blowouts that raise the question of who really deserved to be at the tournament.

Most of the teams playing the Nos. 1 through 4 seeds won smaller conference titles or had to pull off inspiring winning streaks to make the field. Will any of them win this year? We'll know soon enough.

So without further delay, here's a preview of some of the upcoming matchups on Thursday.

North Carolina, No. 1 in the South, will play the Radford Highlanders, the winner of the Big South. The game, in Greensboro, N.C., is practically in the Tar Heels' back yard. Although North Carolina is obviously the favorite in this matchup, it should be an up-tempo game with a lot of action from both sides.

UNC has Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington, but worth noting is that point guard Ty Lawson is likely out with a foot injury. The Heels might be able to get past Radford without him, but they need him if they plan to contend for the title this year.

It's no secret that Roy Williams likes his kids to play a fast offense -- they've averaged 90 points a game this year, often leaving opponents in the dust. The Highlanders averaged a more humble 76 points a game, but have sped up, eclipsing 90 in four of their last six games and reaching 108 in their Big South championship game win. Sixty-four of those 108 points were in the paint, so expect them to try to set up shop inside.

In the West, the Chattanooga Mocs meet the top seed Connecticut Huskies. Chattanooga will have to seriously step it up to match UConn, which allows just 64 points a match and has the intimidating 7'3" center Hasheem Thabeet.

Connecticut is coming off two consecutive losses, including a first-round upset in the Big East Tournament to Syracuse in six overtimes. The Mocs struggle away from home, but are coming off a three-game winning streak, led by Stephen McDowell, who averages 18.6 points a game.

No. 2 in the West is Memphis, last year's national runner-up. Regardless of whether you think Conference USA isn't equal to other major conferences or how many times John Calipari says it is, Memphis is still a heavyweight.

After losing six of its first seven games, Memphis opponent Cal State Northridge managed to pull it together for a decent season, overcoming the arrest of its top scorer and a season-ending car accident involving its third-highest scorer, Josh Jenkins. This dramatic season culminated in an overtime win for the Big West title.

Needless to say, the Matadors, who will have to play in Kansas City after a 5-and-11 road record, aren't afraid of a little adversity.

"They set a great tempo," Pacific coach Bob Thomason said of the Matadors after they beat his team in the Big West championship. "They created pressure. They went kamikaze -- got into you and got physical."

Another No. 2 seed, Oklahoma, will play Morgan State in the South. The Sooners will meet the Bears in Kansas City, and they're playing their first game since Oklahoma State ousted them from the Big 12 Tournament. OU was dominating most of the season with Blake Griffin in control but lost their stride when a concussion caused them to play Griffin-less late in the season. The team lost four of its last six games.

Griffin went for 17 points and 19 rebounds in Oklahoma's last game, his 26th double-double of the year, but that just wasn't enough.

The Bears, who have won 13 of their last 14 matches, are a lower-scoring team, but if allowed will run up a string of points quickly. The Bears will need a solid performance from guard Reggie Holmes in their first-ever NCAA performance.

Also Thursday, East No. 2 Duke will play the Binghamton Bearcats. The Bearcats actually have a good road record, which is fortunate because they meet the Blue Devils, the ACC champions, in Greensboro.

Three-seeded Villanova, which lost to Louisville in the Big East semifinals, will play American University, the No. 14 seed. Villanova is in a tough conference, behind the three No. 1 seeds. In its last game, Villanova turned the ball over 23 times and made less than 35% of field goals. It will need a top-notch effort from Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds, as the Eagles have allowed their opponents to score an average of only 58 points a game.

This will be the second consecutive NCAA appearance for the Eagles, who have won 19 of their last 20 games, including a 13-game winning streak at the end of the season. The team shot better than 50% against Holy Cross to win the Patriot League title.

But keep in mind, Villanova beat Marquette, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse this season. American University didn't pull out wins against any teams that made it to the NCAA Tournament. Thus far, Bucknell is the only school from the Patriot League to have won in the NCAA tournament, in 2005 and 2006.

West No. 4 Washington, which was upset by the Arizona State Sun Devils relatively early in the Pac 10 Conference tournament , will face the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The Huskies are a scoring team with freshman and senior guards Isaiah Thomas and Justin Dentmon averaging more than 15 points a game and senior forward Jon Brockman averaging nearly that and 11.2 rebounds.

Once a bubble team, the Bulldogs ended the speculation and won their last six games, including the Southeastern Conference Tournament, to earn a spot in the NCAA tourney. The teams will play in Portland, which is almost a home-court advantage to the Huskies.

Mississippi State shot roughly 44% for the season, with its top four scorers averaging a combined 48.1 points a game, while the Huskies shot closer to 46%, with their top four bringing in 56.8 combined.

The other four seed to play Thursday will be Gonzaga in its 11th consecutive tournament appearance. The Bulldogs will take on the Akron Zips, who are in their second. The Bulldogs have won 18 of their last 19 games, including the West Coast Conference Tournament title.

Akron won its last four games and the Mid American Conference Tournament title, but it has been less consistent. It's a lower-scoring team than the Zags, but the Zips play sturdy defense.

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