The Big Dance is coming to Salt Lake City.

The Delta Center will play host to a share of Thursday’s and Saturday’s NCAA Tournament action, comprising of six total games to feature eight teams from the bracket’s West and Midwest regions.

The crop of Salt Lake City’s selections boasts plenty of intrigue. There are blue bloods, Cinderella candidates, superstars, underdogs and all sorts of coaching characters. Some schools are competing to continue their tradition of excellence, while others play hoping to establish their own.

Heroes will rise, hearts will break and lives will change forever. It will make for some of the most compelling drama in sports, all taking shape on the Delta Center’s stage.

Here are the main storylines heading into each of Salt Lake City’s opening-round contests Thursday.

No. 2 Arizona (25-8) vs. No. 15 Long Beach State (21-14): Noon

Arizona guard Caleb Love celebrates after a play against USC during game in the quarterfinal round of the Pac-12 tournament Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Las Vegas.
Arizona guard Caleb Love celebrates after a play against USC during game in the quarterfinal round of the Pac-12 tournament Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Las Vegas. The Wildcats will face Long Beach State in the first round of NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City on Thursday. | John Locher, Associated Press

KenPom win probability: 96% Arizona

Arizona: The most likely Final Four squad in this group, Arizona is an elite offensive team that excels in practically every area. Caleb Love is one of the true stars in the sport, earning Pac-12 Player of the Year honors in his first season with the Wildcats.

Love, who posted a team-high 18.1 points on the campaign, was previously one of the key pieces to UNC’s run to the national title game in 2022. Should Arizona advance to the Elite Eight, a meeting with the No. 1-seeded Tar Heels could be in the cards. Such an outcome would be must-see TV, but an early showing at the Delta Center this week will likely gauge how dangerous Love and company can be going forward.

Long Beach State: No one is happier to be in this tournament than Dan Monson.

Last week, the school announced its intention to part ways with the longtime Beach head coach upon the season’s conclusion. His team, however, decided to delay that moment as long as possible, going on a miracle run in the Big West tournament to capture the conference crown after having lost five straight to end the regular season. Can you say “Monson magic”?

Long Beach State shoots poorly, but grabs offensive boards and forces turnovers at a high clip — a good start when attempting to topple a giant such as Arizona. With Monson’s days with the Beach numbered, his players could be ultra-motivated to send him off with a bang. Having been one of the nation’s most underrated coaches for more than two decades now, an improbable first-round upset could help Monson land a more prestigious job elsewhere in the coming weeks. Look for him and his team to throw the kitchen sink at the Wildcats.

No. 7 Dayton (24-7) vs. No. 10 Nevada (26-7): 2:30 p.m.

Nevada coach Steve Alford gives a pat on the chest to guard Kenan Blackshear during game against Colorado State on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Reno, Nev.
Nevada coach Steve Alford gives a pat on the chest to guard Kenan Blackshear during game against Colorado State on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Reno, Nev. The Wolfpack plays Dayton Thursday in an NCAA Tournament first-round game in Salt Lake City. | Tom R. Smedes, Associated Press

KenPom win probability: 51% Dayton

Dayton: The Flyers are a team as electric as they can be aloof. They’ve shot higher than 40% from 3-point range as a team and don’t cough up possessions easily, but have squandered a number of late leads to lose recent contests, including in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals against Duquesne.

Dayton was far and away the best squad in its conference during the regular season — ranking nearly 50 KenPom spots higher than any other A-10 foes — but doesn’t have anything to show for it yet. With elite deep shooting and a dynamic star in Daron Holmes II, the Flyers can be a dangerous team in the tournament, but only if they arrive in Salt Lake City hungry rather than haunted.

Nevada: Few teams will enter the dance hotter than the Wolfpack, who went 10-2 down the stretch in the Mountain West bloodbath. Nevada’s guard tandem of Jarod Lucas and Kenan Blackshear is nothing short of elite, leading one of the best assist/turnover groups nationally.

A No. 10 seed feels too low for Steve Alford’s squad. Nevada is a Wolfpack in sheep’s clothing and should be the most likely of all double-digit seeds to make a Final Four run. This matchup with Dayton could very well be one of Thursday’s most exciting contests across the bracket.

No. 5 Gonzaga (25-7) vs. No. 12 McNeese (30-3): 5:25 p.m.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few gestures during game against Saint Mary's, Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Moraga, Calif.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few gestures during game against Saint Mary's, Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Moraga, Calif. The Zags open NCAA Tournament play against McNeese Thursday night in Salt Lake City. | Godofredo A. Vásquez, Associated Press

KenPom win probability: 70% Gonzaga

Gonzaga: Seemingly left for dead on the bubble just a few weeks ago, Mark Few’s Zags caught fire down the stretch to roar back into the field, with new paint monster Graham Ike leading the way to win 14 of their last 16 contests.

Though a late nine-game unbeaten run saw the Bulldogs hit 41% of their 3-pointers, they’re still too post-dependent, getting less than 25% of their total scoring production from behind the arc. If punched in the mouth early, it can be tough for Gonzaga to claw back, especially against teams with sizable frontcourts.

Few’s team is the lowest seed it’s been since 2016, and the hot finish still wasn’t enough to keep the campaign from feeling like a disappointment compared to the program’s standard. Are Gonzaga’s glory days numbered, or does the slipper still fit in Spokane? This Salt Lake City showing could very well determine the Zags’ future trajectory.

McNeese: ESPN is calling it “one of the greatest one-year turnarounds in college basketball.”

Winners of just 11 games a year ago, former LSU head coach Will Wade has immediately transformed the Cowboys into a Southland Conference powerhouse. McNeese went 30-3 on the season — including 17-1 in league play — thanks to hyperactive defensive pressure, tenacious rebounding and exceptionally efficient shooting.

It’s been quite the comeback for Wade, who was subject to a number of recruiting violations, NCAA infractions and FBI probes during his time at LSU. His Cowboys making noise in the tournament could launch the 41-year-old “outlaw” back into a big-time job. How Wade handles his duel against Gonzaga’s Few in Salt Lake will essentially be seen as an audition to interested suitors.

No. 4 Kansas (22-10) vs. No. 13 Samford (29-5): 7:55 p.m.

Kansas head coach Bill Self signals to his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)
Kansas coach Bill Self signals to his team during game against Baylor in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024. The Jayhawks will play Samford in the late game Thursday in Salt Lake City. | Reed Hoffmann, Associated Press

KenPom win probability: 73% Kansas

Kansas: For the first time since 1989, the Jayhawks are headed to the dance with 10 losses.

It was a strange year in Lawrence, where the preseason No. 1 stumbled to a 10-8 Big 12 record and 2-7 mark in conference road contests. When healthy, Kansas performed as expected, but injuries to Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar Jr. hindered Bill Self’s squad to an awkward 4-6 finish and embarrassing 20-point Big 12 tournament opening loss to NIT-bound Cincinnati.

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Simply put, the Jayhawks are in serious trouble. They rank No. 124 in offense, No. 78 in defense and No. 1 in teams widely expected to putter out early in this tournament. The upset watch for Kansas has never been more smothering. Escaping Salt Lake with two wins would be a near-miracle.

Samford: Kansas would have been in trouble no matter its first round opponent, but the Jayhawks’ draw is as brutal as it could possibly be.

Enter the Samford Bulldogs, arguably the most fun team in the country and one prime to score a legendary upset at the Delta Center. Their brand of basketball is as absurd as it is effective — play relentless, full court pressure on defense, move constantly on offense and jack up a ton of 3-pointers. They call it “Bucky Ball,” and it works. The Bulldogs shoot 39% from behind the arc and force turnovers on 21.8% of opposing possessions.

If there’s one team capable of capturing America’s heart in Salt Lake this week, it’s Samford. Kansas should be terrified.

Long Beach State practices at the Delta Center hosted by the University of Utah for the upcoming NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News