From Selection Sunday until Thursday morning, the anticipation is off the charts for the NCAA Tournament. Games have been analyzed from every angle and, if nothing else, every bracket is full with definitive selections that are sure to go wrong.
Then, the ball is tipped, and the madness begins.
That will take place on Thursday morning and, to prepare you for the madness, we’ve laid out a handy watch guide for the beauty that is opening day. As always, let’s enjoy the basketball action together. All times listed are EST.
Game of the Day: No. 6 Villanova vs. No. 11 St. Mary’s (7:20 pm ET, TBS)
There are games with closer point spreads but, quite honestly, this might be the biggest toss-up of the day. Villanova has the name recognition and, of course, the Wildcats are the reigning champs. This is a much different team than the one the claimed the ultimate glory in 2018, though, and Jay Wright’s team has been vulnerable at times, especially when their three-point shots aren’t falling.
In contrast, St. Mary’s flew under the radar throughout the season until they beat Gonzaga for the WCC title. Even after that triumph, much of the attention was on the “failure” of the favorite, but the Gaels went out and took the championship. St. Mary’s enters this game as only a one-point KenPom underdog and, if they execute in even 80 percent of the way they did against the Zags, they’re good enough to win in front of a prime time audience.
Watch these games, too
No. 7 Louisville vs. No. 10 Minnesota (12:15 pm ET, CBS): The obvious angle is Richard Pitino coaching against the team that fired his father, which will bring in some casual fans. The biggest draw, though, is a competitive game and the fact that this is the first action of the tournament. It’ll only be happening by itself for 25 minutes, but it’s a beautiful 25 minutes.
No. 5 Marquette vs. No. 12 Murray State (4:30 pm ET, TBS): If you want to watch a top-three draft prospect in Ja Morant, this might be your only chance. To be fair to the Racers, Murray State is very capable of pulling the upset, but Morant is worth the price of admission on his own. We do have to mention, however, that Markus Howard is more than able to throw haymakers in his own right.
No. 7 Wofford vs. No. 10 Seton Hall (9:40 pm ET, CBS): This might not be the casual fan’s dream because there isn’t a gigantic name involved. However, Wofford is a heck of a story after 20 straight wins and Seton Hall is a frisky team that owns a win over Kentucky earlier this year. This projects to be a close-fought battle.
No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 Yale (12:40 pm ET, TruTV): If LSU shows up and plays to their capability, they will hold serve and win this game. However, the Tigers are operating without head coach Will Wade and that could level the playing field in a hurry. Yale is a tremendously talented team in their own right, particularly on the offensive end. The Bulldogs will have to play at 100 miles an hour in order to pull off what would be a big-time upset, but they are capable of doing it.
No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 13 Northeastern (4:00 pm ET, TNT): With Kansas living the charmed life of a “blue blood” program, you would think they would be bigger favorites in a 4-13 game. The Jayhawks have been disappointing since injuries struck mid-season, however, and Northeastern is capable of threatening as a result. Even in their weakened state, Bill Self’s team should be able to win but this isn’t your typical David-versus-Goliath scenario.
Could get interesting
No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 11 Belmont (3:10 pm ET, TruTV): Belmont took care of business and represented its mid-major brethren with a First Four win on Tuesday. The Bruins are tremendously efficient offensively and, while Maryland is the more talented team from top to bottom, most projection systems see this as a close-fought game. Throw in the fact that teams emerging from Dayton have enjoyed more success than you might think, and be on the lookout for chaos.
No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 10 Florida (6:50 pm ET, TNT): Even as I type this, Nevada-Florida feels underrated. Part of the skepticism stems from Florida being a weird team this season, or maybe it has to do with Nevada being a clone of the squad from last year. Regardless, there is a recipe for fireworks here and a near-coin flip situation. It should be just fine.
No. 8 Syracuse vs. No. 9 Baylor (9:57 pm ET, TruTV): There was danger in this game sliding into the category below but it is partially saved by the fact that is the nightcap. It won’t be the most aesthetically pleasing basketball but, for the die-hards among us, the contrast in the way the two teams play zone defense should be enough to satisfy some curiosity.
No. 5 Auburn vs. No. 12 New Mexico State (1:30 pm ET, TNT): Auburn is scalding hot on the heels of an SEC tournament title and very few people are picking against the Tigers. It is usually smart to keep one’s guard up concerning a 5-12 match-up and, if you want some intrigue, the good folks in Las Vegas made Bruce Pearl’s team a single-digit favorite here.
No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 13 Vermont (2:00 pm ET, TBS): This feels like a brutal match-up for an otherwise fun Vermont team. Florida State has weaknesses but they are ridiculously long and athletic, which should cause problems for the challengers … unless all of the shots fall for the Catamounts. That is the great equalizer, but this doesn’t seem like a 40-minute game.
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 Montana (9:20 pm ET, TNT): If you squint hard enough, there is probably a way this gets weird. Michigan’s offense is prone to flat-lining on occasion (just ask Michigan State) but, even if that happens, the Wolverines are so good on defense that it might not matter, at least in round one.
No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 14 Old Dominion (9:50 pm ET, TBS): Carsen Edwards is really fun when he has it going but Purdue, as a general rule, isn’t the most fun team in this tournament. If Old Dominion makes shots and makes it weird, the entertainment level will jump but, to this point in the year, the Monarchs haven’t really shown the ability to break out on offense.
Other games are on, you know
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Bradley (2:45 pm ET, CBS): Remember when Michigan State lost to Middle Tennessee in front of the entire country? Well, that isn’t likely to happen this time. Tom Izzo’s team just won the Big Ten title and Bradley doesn’t have the firepower needed to pitch a perfect game.
No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 15 Abilene Christian (7:10 pm ET, CBS): This feels like a 1-16 game that isn’t labeled as such. Kentucky is more than a 20-point favorite and they should have the talent to simply overwhelm Abilene Christian in a battle of two teams nicknamed the Wildcats.
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson (7:27 pm ET, TruTV): Gonzaga may be a mid-major in terms of their conference affiliation but this is an elite program. They recruit at that level and they have the talent to show it. With respect to the “anything can happen” quotient, Gonzaga isn’t likely to lose here.