You’ve filled out your bracket. You’ve called out sick from work. You’ve got enough chicken wings and pizza to feed an entire football team.
That can only mean one thing: One of the best long weekends of the year has arrived.
Over the next four action-packed days, CBS and Turner Sports will televise 48 first- and second-round NCAA tournament games. Here’s a look at which games on Thursday’s slate are must-see and which you can afford to click away from until the final two minutes.
THURSDAY AFTERNOON SESSION
12:15 p.m. — No. 7 Rhode Island vs. No. 10 Oklahoma (CBS)
12:40 p.m. — No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 14 Wright State (Tru TV)
1:30 p.m. — No. 4 Gonzaga vs. No. 13 UNC Greensboro (TNT)
2 p.m. — No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Penn (TBS)
Must-see: Trae Young was the runaway favorite to win national player of the year. The Sooners have since dropped 11 of their last 15 games and Young’s shooting efficiency has plummeted. Oklahoma’s last chance to salvage its season comes against a Rhode Island team with a deep rotation of big, athletic guards. The Atlantic 10 champion Rams (25-7) skidded to the finish line with losses in four of their last eight games, but they certainly arrive with more momentum than the Sooners.
Must-skip: The matchup between Tennessee and Wright State has the potential to be the worst kind of rock fight. Not only does it project to be slow and defense-oriented, it may not be all that close either. Wright State’s offense is ranked 246th in the country. About the only thing the Raiders are above average at is getting to the foul line. It’s tough to see how they’re going to score enough points to win this game against a Tennessee defense whose only weakness is giving up second-chance points.
Potential upsets: Slingshot-wielding No. 16 seeds have taken aim at a heavily favored No. 1 seed 132 times in NCAA tournament history without ever slaying the giant. Therefore Penn must not have any chance against Kansas … right? Look, Kansas wins this game at least nine times out of 10, but this is a brutal draw for the Jayhawks. Penn is the highest-rated No. 16 seed on KenPom in six years, the Quakers excel at taking away the 3-point arc (maybe Kansas’ greatest strength) and the Jayhawks are likely to be without top big man Udoka Azubuike. That’s enough ingredients to make this closer than your average 16-versus-1 rout.
Player to watch: With all due respect to Big 12 player of the year Devonte Graham, SEC player of the year Grant Williams or suddenly torrid-shooting Killian Tillie, the player to watch in this time slot is Young. He was the face of college basketball during the first half of the season when he was doing his best Steph Curry imitation. He has been an object of scorn and derision from opposing fans lately. Now he gets one final chance at redemption against a Rhode Island defense that will surely deploy the same game plan every Big 12 team has: Deny Young the ball and either force him to take heavily contested shots or make one of Oklahoma’s other players beat you.
2:45 p.m. — No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Iona (CBS)
3:10 p.m. — No. 6 Miami vs. No. 11 Loyola Chicago (Tru TV)
4 p.m. — No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 South Dakota State (TNT)
4:30 p.m. — No. 8 Seton Hall vs. No. 9 NC State (TBS)
Must-see: While the two matchups between power-conference programs and dangerous mid-majors should be a lot of fun, the 8-9 game also pits a pair of evenly matched teams that play contrasting styles. NC State has beaten Duke, North Carolina and Arizona this season, but the matchup with Seton Hall is not favorable. If the Pirates are able to handle NC State’s pressure without turning the ball over too often, they should be able to punish the Wolfpack at the rim and on the offensive glass.
Must-skip: The Duke-Iona matchup will be a rout because of the talent difference and the Gaels’ fast-paced, freewheeling style of play. That’s not a recipe for success against the Blue Devils. Expect Duke to bludgeon the MAAC tournament champs on the boards, score at will in transition and rack up 100 points. Iona is a proud, accomplished program that just drew the worst possible matchup.
Potential upsets: Miami boasts superior length and athleticism to Loyola (Chicago), but there’s a reason the Ramblers are a popular upset pick. They take care of the ball. They don’t foul. They give up anything in transition. They pride themselves on defense. And they’re lethal from behind the arc. Miami has done a credible job without injured leading scorer Bruce Brown, but the Hurricanes will have their hands full in this one. Expect this to come down to the last possession.
Player to watch: If 12th-seeded South Dakota State can hang with Ohio State in Boise, Mike Daum must have a huge game. The 6-foot-9 stretch forward is averaging 23.8 points per game, the sixth-most of any player in the nation this season. Daum’s ability to score efficiently in the post yet shoot 42.1 percent from behind the arc makes him a tough matchup, but Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop is big and athletic enough to nullify that. How that matchup goes could determine if South Dakota State has any chance.
THURSDAY NIGHT SESSION
6:50 p.m. — No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 16 Radford (TNT)
7:10 p.m. — No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Davidson (CBS)
7:20 pm. — No. 6 Houston vs. No. 11 San Diego State (TBS)
7:27 p.m. — No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin (Tru-TV)
Must-see: Having won 11 of its last 13 games, Davidson is red hot. The Wildcats will be a difficult team for freshman-laden Kentucky to prepare for as a result of their slow pace, precise offense and proclivity for taking care of the ball. Kentucky should be able to score against Davidson because of its superior quickness and athleticism, so the game will likely come down to whether Peyton Aldridge and Kellan Grady can keep their team in it. Aldridge is a skilled 6-foot-8 forward who presents problems inside and out. Grady is a high-scoring freshman guard with a sweet outside shooting stroke.
Must-skip: Radford just won its first NCAA tournament game in program history on Tuesday night at the First Four. Expect the Highlanders to have to wait awhile for their second. While Radford slows the tempo and defends capably, the Highlanders haven’t seen an offense like Villanova’s. Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and the rest of the Wildcats should pull away quickly and set up a second-round matchup with either Alabama or Virginia Tech.
Potential upsets: In addition to Davidson-Kentucky, keep an eye on San Diego State-Houston. The 11th-seeded Aztecs are a far better and healthier team now than the one that dumped games to Cal and Washington State in non-conference play and dropped six of eight midway through the Mountain West season. The Aztecs closed the season on a nine-game win streak spurred by the health of guard Trey Kell and a renewed commitment defensively. They should pose a challenge for a Houston team that boasts elite scorer Rob Gray and a capable defense.
Player to watch: Despite fading to the finish the past few weeks, Texas Tech received a No. 3 seed from the selection committee. Perhaps that’s because the committee recognizes the importance of having Keenan Evans healthy again. Kansas’ conference title streak might be over had Evans not suffered an ill-timed toe injury in mid-February. During Texas Tech’s ensuing four-game losing streak, Evans sat out one game and scored a total of 12 points on 3-for-19 shooting in the others. The 6-foot-3 senior has averaged more than 18 points besides that.
9:20 p.m. — No. 8 Virginia Tech vs. No. 9 Alabama (TNT)
9:40 p.m. — No. 4 Arizona vs. No. 13 Buffalo (CBS)
9:50 pm. — No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 14 Montana (TBS)
9:57 p.m. — No. 6 Florida vs. No. 11 Saint Bonaventure (Tru-TV)
Must-see: The battle for the right to meet Villanova in the round of 32 should be an especially compelling game. Whether Virginia Tech has any answer for Alabama freshman phenom Collin Sexton could be the decisive factor in the matchup. Sexton is fresh off a seven-game surge in which he averaged 22.3 points and shot 48 percent from the field and 40 percent from behind the arc. He should be an immense challenge for a Virginia Tech defense that has ranked in the bottom half of the ACC this season.
Must-skip: Keep your remote control at your side. There’s not a dog game in this window. Both Montana and Buffalo are 26-win league champions that finished top 75 in the KenPom ratings this season. They’re both capable of putting a scare into their highly seeded opponents, especially if Michigan’s 11-day layoff dulls its momentum or Arizona shows up unfocused or lackadaisical on defense.
Potential upsets: There’s a history of First Four teams coming into their second game sharper and more confident after getting those first-game jitters out of the way. That should worry Florida, as should the fact that the Gators have been maddeningly inconsistent all season. St. Bonaventure defeated UCLA on Tuesday night even though star guard Jaylen Adams struggled to generate any offense against Aaron Holiday. If he and backcourt mate Matt Mobley bounce back, there’s no reason the Bonnies can’t win another.
Player to watch: Point guard Zavier Simpson’s pesky perimeter defense has been one of the keys to Michigan’s ascendance. He pressures the ball, keeps his man in front of him and uses his quick hands to force turnovers. If Simpson can cause Montana’s leading scorer Ahmaad Rorie fits, the Griz have little chance at an upset. The Oregon transfer is an excellent ball handler and shooter and will need to have a big game Thursday night.
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