You know what just might be the best thing about the entire NCAA tournament? After Thursday’s insane day of wall-to-wall basketball finally ended, we only have to wait about another 12 hours to do it all over again. Friday’s slate is packed with 16 more games, from the seemingly academic (Duke vs. Robert Morris, Wisconsin vs. Coastal Carolina) to the potentially thrilling (West Virginia vs. Buffalo, Maryland vs. Valparaiso) to the toss-ups (Iowa vs. Davidson, Wichita State vs. Indiana).
The rest of the tournament promises to be as exciting as always, but it will have a hard time matching the excitement of Day 1, when a pair of upsets by 14-seeds highlighted a day of drama.
First and foremost for the Jayhawks, how does Perry Ellis look? Or, more specifically, how does he look on his injured knee? If the Jayhawks are going to make any noise in a region that includes Kentucky and Notre Dame, they need Ellis, their star forward, to be 100 percent. Even if he is a bit gimpy, however, Kansas shouldn’t have much trouble in its opening game. New Mexico State was a nice story out of the WAC, but it isn’t a special offensive team, and it’s going to have a lot of trouble slowing down Kelly Oubre and Wayne Selden. The real test for the Jayhawks will come on Sunday in the Round of 32.
The Bulldogs were safely in the tournament field, but should they have been? They had two wins all year against teams that qualified for the Big Dance, and both of those came against Mississippi, one of the last four teams in the field. Michigan State is a heavy favorite in this game, and with good reason. The Spartans could very well have been a seed line higher had they held on in the Big Ten championship against Wisconsin, and their top three of Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson have a ton of tourney experience. Georgia needs to find a way to keep Trice and Valentine in check from behind the arc. The Bulldogs simply aren’t efficient enough on offense to keep up with the Spartans if Tom Izzo's team is hitting its threes.
Wyoming stole a bid from Temple by winning the Mountain West tournament. Had the Cowboys not done that, however, they still would have been on the fringes of the at-large race, thanks to three regular season wins over top-40 teams. Still, this is about as bad a matchup as they could get. They’ve been burned by good perimeter-shooting teams year, and that’s what the Panthers are. Wyoming also doesn't have a individual defender who can really handle Seth Tuttle. The Cowboys don’t shoot it very well themselves and instead got by on bullying opponents in the paint. That’s going to be a tall task against Northern Iowa. Tuttle, an All-America, figures to be one of the breakout stars of this year’s tournament.
2:10 p.m. ET on TNT
Midwest Region: No. 5 West Virginia (23-9, 11-7 in Big 12) vs. No. 12 Buffalo (23-9, 12-6 in MAC)
This is a popular 12-over-5 pick, and the Buffalo backcourt of sophomore guard Shannon Evans and freshman shooting guard Lamonte Bearden could make it happen. Any team that beats West Virginia has to be able to handle its full-court pressure, and those two have the handle and poise to break it with consistency. The Bulls ranked 34th in the country in turnover rate, and they’ll know what to do offensively once they cross half court. The Mountaineers can make a deep run thanks to Juwan Staten and Devin Williams, but this isn’t a terribly efficient offense when it isn’t creating turnovers. West Virginia ranks outside the top 250 in the country in effective field goal percentage, three-point percentage, two-point percentage and free throw percentage. If Buffalo’s press break is better than the Mountaineers' press, the upset will happen.
2:45 p.m. ET on CBS
Midwest Region: No. 7 Wichita State (28-4, 17-1 in Missouri Valley) vs. No. 10 Indiana (20-13, 9-9 in Big Ten)
Everyone seems to be just giving this game to the Shockers, but that ignores the fact that Indiana can be hard to beat if Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon and Nick Zeisloft are hitting from long range. Remember, the Hoosiers beat Maryland, SMU and Butler this year, with the win over the Bulldogs coming on a neutral floor. Wichita State, meanwhile, went 2-2 against tournament teams, and even that’s being generous since one of those wins was over New Mexico State, a No. 15 seed. Indiana is seventh in the country at shooting the three, and Wichita State is 186th in defending it. The Hoosiers’ interior defense is bad, and it will only be worse if Hanner Mosquera-Perea is at less than 100 percent. Fred VanVleet, Tekele Cotton and Ron Baker comprise one of the best 1-2-3s in the country and have a lot of tournament experience, but this is going to be a closer game than many think.
Justin Anderson’s health is the most important part of this game. The Cavaliers are heavily favored to win, regardless of how Anderson plays, but they need him to be himself if they are going to make a run to the Final Four. A healthy Anderson means Virginia is a legitimate championship contender. If he’s still bothered by the broken hand, and rusty from the time he missed due to that and an emergency appendectomy, the Cavs could be vulnerable in the next round. Belmont can score, but it didn’t see a defense quite like Virginia’s in the Ohio Valley. In the Bruins’ only game against a team that even approximates UVa.'s defensive ability, they lost by 27 points to VCU.
4:10 p.m. ET on TBS
East Region: No. 4 Louisville (24-8, 12-6 in ACC) vs. No. 13 UC-Irvine (21-12, 11-5 in Big West)
It’s hip to be down on the Cardinals, but understand that all their losses but one came against tournament teams, and six of them were to teams seeded fourth or better. Even with their offensive woes, falling to UC-Irvine would be a shocker. The Anteaters do boast the nation's tallest player, 7'6" center Mamadou Ndiaye, but he has missed 20 games this season. Will he be able to shut down Montrezl Harrell? Louisville needs steady play from freshman point guard Quentin Snider, but it’s Terry Rozier who is really going to have to step up his game if the Cards are going to make it beyond the first weekend.
4:40 p.m. ET on TNT
Midwest Region: No. 4 Maryland (27-6, 14-4 in Big Ten) vs. No. 13 Valparaiso (28-5, 13-3 in Horizon League)
The Terrapins can lay claim to being the most underseeded team in the tournament. After finishing second in the Big Ten, with wins over Wisconsin, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue, the Terps got saddled with the No. 4 seed in Kentucky’s region. They also drew a tough first-round matchup against a Valparaiso team that can shoot the ball from outside and ranks 30th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Alec Peters, a 6'9" sophomore, has shot 50 percent from two-point range, 46.2 percent from three and 85.9 percent at the line. He’s capable of carrying this team to an upset, but he has help in junior guard Darien Walker and freshman guard Tevonn Walker (no relation). Dez Wells and Melo Trimble make up one of the best backcourts in the country for Maryland, and they’ll need to be at their best to keep their season alive past Friday.
6:50 p.m. ET on TBS
West Region: No. 8 Oregon (25-9, 13-5 in Pac-12) vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State (18-13, 8-10 in Big 12)
The Cowboys made it safely into the field of 68, but they lost six of their last seven games and haven’t defeated a team that qualified for the tournament since early February. The Ducks have been on the completely opposite trajectory, winning seven straight games—including two over Utah—before falling to Arizona in the Pac-12 championship. This game features a pair of dynamic scorers in LeBryan Nash of Oklahoma State and Joseph Young of Oregon, but the Cowboys' offense gets to another level when Phil Forte is knocking down shots from outside. Whether or not he does will go a long way in determining the winner of this game. Another interesting element to watch will be the activity of Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin on the offensive glass for the Ducks. Oklahoma State ranks 270th in the country in cleaning up the boards on defense, which could give Oregon plenty of second-chance opportunities.
7:10 p.m. ET on CBS
South Region: No. 1 Duke (29-4, 15-3 in ACC) vs. No. 16 Robert Morris (20-14, 12-6 in Northeast)
The Blue Devils seem to have the easiest road to the Elite Eight of any No. 1 seed. The most interesting part of this game will be seeing how Duke’s triumvirate of freshmen take to their first tournament game. If the Blue Devils are going to cut down the nets in Indianapolis, Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow will have to be at their best over the next three weeks, and Quinn Cook’s shooting will also be vital.
7:20 p.m. ET on TNT
South Region: No. 7 Iowa (21-11, 12-6 in Big Ten) vs. No. 10 Davidson (24-7, 14-4 in Atlantic 10)
The Hawkeyes rank 36th in adjusted offensive efficiency, while the Wildcats are eighth in that statistic. Tyler Kalinoski and Jack Gibbs were each in the top-50 in the country in offensive rating, giving Davidson of pair of go-to scorers. Aaron White, meanwhile, ranked 21st in offensive rating and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection. The Wildcats don’t nearly have the size to deal with White, Jarrod Uthoff and Adam Woodbury, so they’ll try to counteract that by getting up and down the floor and playing at a pace that makes Iowa uncomfortable. This should be a very entertaining game, and the winner has enough offense to make Gonzaga nervous in the next round.
The Great Danes made it back to the dance with a game-winning three from Peter Hooley in the America East championship, and the high-profile nature of that shot, combined with Oklahoma’s recent tournament struggles, have made this a popular upset pick, even before fellow 14-seeds UAB and Georgia State pulled shockers of their own on Thursday. That feels a bit ambitious, given the strengths and weaknesses of these teams. First of all, Albany simply doesn’t have anyone who can check Big 12 player of the year Buddy Hield. Secondly, Oklahoma achieved the fifth-best defensive efficiency playing in a conference that includes powerful offenses like Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas. This is decidedly a step down in weight class.
9:20 p.m. ET on TBS
West Region: No. 1 Wisconsin (31-3, 16-2 in Big Ten) vs. No. 16 Coastal Carolina (24-9, 12-6 in Big South)
The Badgers are widely viewed as one of the few teams that can really challenge Kentucky, and it all starts with their offense. Frank Kaminsky has probably lost count of how many of the various player of the year awards he has won already after leading the nation’s most efficient offense. Sam Dekker has taken that next step in his game that makes him such an intriguing NBA prospect. Nigel Hayes is another do-it-all big man for Bo Ryan, adding the three-point shot to his game this year. Bronson Koenig and Josh Gasser form a backcourt that is lethal from behind the arc and doesn’t turn the ball over. Wisconsin does everything you typically see in a national champion, and it expects to get senior guard Traevon Jackson back from a broken foot at some point in the tournament.
9:40 p.m. ET on CBS
South Region: No. 8 San Diego State (26-8, 14-4 in Mountain West vs. No. 9 St. John’s (21-11, 10-8 in Big East)
St. John’s is really going to miss starting center Chris Obekpa, who has been suspended for a violation of team rules, in this game. The Red Storm ranked 331st in the country in offensive-rebounding rate allowed with the 6'9" Obekpa, and that’s one of the strengths of the Aztecs’ offense. Without him, it could be a very long night on the glass. If the Red Storm are going to overcome that, they’re going to have to get out and run, forcing San Diego State to play much faster than it wants to. D’Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan and Sir’Dominic Pointer have that ability, but they’re going to have to make a concerted team effort on the boards. Without Obekpa, their tallest rotation player is the 6'6" Pointer. If the Aztecs can turn this into a grinding game, they should win.
9:50 p.m. ET on TNT
South Region: No. 2 Gonzaga (32-2, 17-1 in West Coast) vs. No. 15 North Dakota State (23-9, 12-4 in Summit League)
Is this finally the year the Bulldogs get back to the Elite Eight for the first time since their breakout tournament run in 1999? Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos are ranked in the top 15 in the country in offensive rating, but if they struggle shooting the ball, Gonzaga will need to win with its defense. North Dakota State will actually look a lot like some of the opponents the Bulldogs saw in the West Coast Conference. In fact, the Bison have a better RPI than seven WCC teams, and a better kenpom.com rating than three of them. Senior guard Lawrence Alexander is connecting on 44.5% of his three-point attempts for North Dakota State, and he’ll have to have a huge night for the Bison to spring what would be a monster upset.
Few teams have a 1-2 scoring punch quite like the Friars’ Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton. The duo combined for 35.5 points per game during the regular season and Big East tournament, and is the primary reason why Providence is a Final Four sleeper in this region. Dayton won’t have the same home cooking as it did in its First Four win over Boise State, but it won’t be playing too far away in Columbus. The Flyers are terribly undersized, with all of their players who get significant minutes 6'6" or shorter. That’s not a great formula against Providence, with Dunn and Henton each so lethal in the paint. The Flyers will likely need more than the average amount of offense they get out of the trio of Dyshawn Pierre, Scoochie Smith and Jordan Sibert to win this game.