GAMES OF THE DAY
No. 7 Michigan (-2) vs. No. 10 Oklahoma State, 12:15 p.m., CBS: I have a feeling that this is going to end up being the best game of the afternoon, and I don’t know if it will be all that close. Both the Wolverines and the Cowboys have a star point guard – Derrick Walton vs. Jawun Evans — and both teams love to put up points while seeming morally averse to playing any kind of defense. Great guard play + elite offenses + bad defenses = aesthetically-pleasing basketball.
PREDICTION: Oklahoma State (+2)
No. 7 Dayton vs. No. 10 Wichita State (-6), 7:10 p.m., CBS: This is a fascinating matchup, not only because of what Wichita State went through with the Selection Committee — they were vastly underseeded — and not only because that negligence from the committee means that a No. 7 seed is a six-point underdog in the first round, but because of Indiana. Both Gregg Marshall and Archie Miller are elite coaches outside the college basketball power structure, and both would be in the mix to get the Indiana job with Tom Crean gone. Winner moves to Bloomington?
PREDICTION: Wichita State (-6)
No. 6 SMU (-6.5) vs. No. 11 USC, 3:10 p.m., truTV: There are two things about this game that make it really interesting: This is rematch of a game played earlier this season where UCLA won, a game that very likely got USC into the NCAA tournament, but perhaps more interesting is the fact that this is the first game that SMU, one of the trendy sleeper picks in this year’s bracket, will play in front of the nation.
PREDICTION: SMU (-6.5)
No. 8 Miami (-2) vs. No. 9 Michigan State, 9:20 p.m., TNT: This is another matchup that should be all kinds of fun, as the floor will be stocked with high-end athletic talent. Miami’s perimeter players are far better than you think, but I don’t know if any on Miami will be an answer to Miles Bridges when he gets going.
PREDICTION: Michigan State (+2)
No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 Rhode Island, 4:30 p.m., TBS: This is one of my two favorite upset picks of the first round. (Middle Tennessee State was the other.) Rhode Island is a really talented team that has been battling injuries but it finally getting healthy at the right time. Creighton is slightly overseeded because they got credit for things that they did before Mo Watson was injured.
PREDICTION: Rhode Island (even)
No. 6 Cincinnati (-3.5) vs. No. 11 Kansas State, 7:27 p.m., truTV: I actually think that Bruce Weber’s club matches up pretty well with Cincinnati, although I fully expect Mick Cronin to have his boys ready to play. Jacob Evans vs. Wesley Iwundu will decide this.
PREDICTION: Cincinnati (-3.5)
No. 7 South Carolina (-1.5) vs. No. 10 Marquette, 9:50 p.m., TBS: This is a fascinating clash of styles. South Carolina is one of the nation’s elite defenses but is physically incapable of scoring at times. Marquette is lethal offensively and couldn’t guard a streetlight.
PREDICTION: Marquette (+1.5)
BLUE BLOODS IN ACTION
On Thursday, both Gonzaga and Villanova, as No. 1 seeds, were pushed in the first half before pulling away in sloppy games in the second half. On Friday, the tournament’s five blue-bloods — plus Louisville! — all square against teams seeded 14 or lower. Do any of them have a shot?
- No. 1 North Carolina (-27) vs. No. 16 Texas Southern, 4:00 p.m., TNT: No. 1 seeds have struggled twice in this tournament. I don’t think UNC will. PREDICTION: UNC (-27)
- No. 2 Duke (-20) vs. No. 15 Troy, 7:20 p.m., TBS: Duke landed three come-from-behind wins last week in the ACC tournament. Hopefully they won’t fall behind by 15 in this one. PREDICTION: Troy (+20)
- No. 3 UCLA (-18.5) vs. No. 14 Kent State, 9:57 p.m., truTV: Which UCLA shows up here? The only that can put up 120 points on anyone, or the one that doesn’t want to play any defense? PREDICTION: UCLA (-18.5)
- No. 2 Kentucky (-20) vs. No. 15 Northern Kentucky, 9:40 p.m., CBS: I actually think NKU makes this into a slugfest, and I think they give Malik Monk some trouble. Kentucky wins, but NKU cover. PREDICTION: Northern Kentucky (+20)
- No. 1 Kansas (-23.5) vs. No. 16 UC Davis, 6:50 p.m., TNT: It feels like the bigger story here is everything that is going on with Josh Jackson, whose name popped up in another legal incident on Thursday.
- No. 2 Louisville (-19.5)vs. No. 15 Jacksonville State, 2:45 p.m., CBS: Ray Harper has had a ton of tournament success in his career. That run ends today. PREDICTION: Louisville (-19.5)
HOPEFULLY, IT’S CLOSE LATE
- No. 3 Baylor (-12.5) vs. No. 14 New Mexico State, 12:40 p.m., truTV: New Mexico State is one of the best mid-major programs that you haven’t paid attention to. The Aggies went 28-5 this season. I don’t, however, think they have an answer for Johnathan Motley. PREDICTION: Baylor (-12.5)
- No. 8 Arkansas (-1) vs. No. 9 Seton Hall, 1:30 p.m., TNT: This game should give us some fireworks as well, as Arkansas loves to press and run in transition while Seton Hall is loaded with athletes who are tough and play hard. It may not be pretty, but it will be exciting. PREDICTION: Seton Hall (+1)
- No. 3 Oregon (-15) vs. No. 14 Iona, 2:00 p.m., TBS: We’re still waiting to see how Oregon is going to adjust to playing without Chris Boucher, and 15 points is a lot of points to cover for a team that may be trying to figure themselves out. PREDICTION: Iona (+15)