Day one is in the books and March Madness rolls along to Friday. As always, the wall-to-wall nature of the first round of the NCAA Tournament is a beautiful thing and, with any smorgasbord of basketball action, there will be some duds along the way. Still, the highs will be almost certainly be high and that will help the basketball viewing public to keep the energy necessary to navigate 12 hours of action.
As always, let’s enjoy the sporting beauty together and here is a quick guide to the 16-game slate that is on the horizon.
Game of the Day: No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 Oregon (4:30 pm ET, TBS)
It isn’t often that a 5-12 game takes top billing like this but the stars are aligned. In fact, Oregon has been favored in Las Vegas at times this week, with the Ducks riding the wave of momentum after a Pac-12 title. In contrast, the Badgers flopped in memorable fashion against Michigan State during the Big Ten Tournament with a cornucopia of missed shots and, if that image is in your head, you’re probably envisioning an upset.
More than anything, this game lands here because it is essentially a coin flip and that makes for high drama. Throw in the fact that it is two major conference squads facing off in a nice time slot and here we go.
Watch these games, too
No. 7 Cincinnati vs. No. 10 Iowa (12:15 pm ET, CBS): The appetizer should be a fun game. Iowa sports a good offense and the Hawkeyes play at a relatively fast pace, even when they aren’t playing all that well. Cincinnati has a strong defensive profile and they really like to grind it out. Contrasting styles meet and produce fireworks during Friday’s lunch hour.
No. 8 Utah State vs. No. 9 Washington (6:50 pm ET, TNT): Washington is the Pac-12 regular season champion and they aren’t the better team here. I know that might sound odd but, for one, the Pac-12 was ghastly this season and, for good measure, Utah State is very good. Keep an eye on Washington’s zone defense, though, as Mike Hopkins was a longtime Jim Boeheim assistant and modeled his defense after Syracuse.
No. 6 Iowa State vs. No. 11 Ohio State (9:50 pm ET, TBS): Which Iowa State team is going to show up? If the Cyclones have their A game, they look the part of a national title contender. When they struggle, anyone can beat them. Ohio State didn’t exactly stride into the NCAA Tournament at their best (3-7 in the last 10 games) but the Buckeyes do have a few quality wins to take solace in.
No. 4 Kansas State vs. No. 13 UC-Irvine (2:00 pm ET, TBS): This might come down to the presence of Dean Wade. If the veteran doesn’t play for Kansas State (or plays on a limited basis), the Wildcats might be in serious trouble. They’ve been wholly underwhelming without him this season and Irvine really protects the rim as the nation’s best two-point defense. Look out.
No. 5 Mississippi State vs. No. 12 Liberty (7:27 pm ET, TruTV): Liberty plays slow, which can increase variance. Mississippi State is better and well-coached by Ben Howland but the small point spread could indicate that a slugfest is on the way.
Could get interesting
No. 8 Ole Miss vs. No. 9 Oklahoma (12:40 pm ET, TruTV): Oklahoma is 8-12 in the last 20 games and it’s kind of bizarre that they are a No. 9 seed. This is a winnable game for the Sooners, though, as Ole Miss also lost five out of their last seven contests to end the season. It’s a typical 8-9 game that no one is overjoyed about, but it is a contest that should be competitive for 40 minutes.
No. 6 Buffalo vs. No. 11 Arizona State (4:00 pm ET, TNT): Buffalo is perhaps the most entertaining mid-major this season, and the Bulls have been legitimately good on both ends with a No. 22 KenPom ranking to back up the eye test. Arizona State hasn’t been lights out, including during their First Four win on Wednesday, but the Sun Devils do have talent on the roster and a few high-profile wins to hang their hat on this season. For added bonus, ASU coach Bobby Hurley left Buffalo two years ago to take his current job.
No. 8 VCU vs. No. 9 UCF (9:40 pm ET, CBS): If Marcus Evans plays for VCU, we’ll see the Rams at full strength, which adds a layer of intrigue. VCU has a top-10 defense nationally and they are capable of putting the clamps on anyone. UCF plays at a glacial pace and, if you are looking for a close game, this should appeal to you.
No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 14 Northern Kentucky (1:30 pm ET, TNT): The committee did Texas Tech no favors, as Northern Kentucky has a better KenPom rating than a No. 13 seed like Saint Louis. Beyond that, the Red Raiders occasionally have some issues scoring and NKU has displayed the ability to get hot at times.
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Gardner-Webb (3:10 pm ET, TruTV): There is at least a small chance that Gardner-Webb makes some threes early and scares everyone, right? Right?
No. 3 Houston vs. No. 14 Georgia State (7:20 pm ET, TBS): There is a chance Georgia State has the best player on the floor in D’Marcus Simonds and the Panthers deploy an unusual defense that could stymie Houston for a while. In the end, the Cougars have been tremendously consistent and they should take care of business, but it might be fun.
No. 4 Virginia Tech vs. No. 13 Saint Louis (9:57 pm ET, TruTV): There is some genuine intrigue in the nightcap. Saint Louis was bizarrely underwhelming for most of the year but they turned it on during the A-10 Tournament and the Billikens have quite a bit of talent. Virginia Tech is still the better team and this is also the first chance to see the Hokes since Justin Robinson returned.
Other games are on, you know
No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 15 Colgate (2:45 pm ET, CBS): Colgate is actually the best No. 15 seed in the tournament (at least according to KenPom) but it is hard to envision the veteran-led Volunteers really struggling into the second half.
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 North Dakota State (7:10 pm ET, CBS): It would be easy to argue on behalf of watching Zion Williamson and, if you somehow haven’t seen the best player in the country yet this season, this would be a good place to start. Still, Duke isn’t likely to be challenged (even with its historically shaky three-point shooting) and there are more competition viewing options.
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 16 Iona (9:20 pm ET, TNT): North Carolina enters this game with a top-10 offense nationally. Iona enters this game with the No. 275 defensive efficiency in the country. It’s not going to end well.