NCAA tournament: Ranking Friday's 16 first-round matchups

Ready for another all-day hoops marathon? So are we.

Here are Friday’s 16 NCAA tournament games in order of watchability. As always, keep in mind that they don’t call this March Madness for nothing, so the unexpected is always at least possible.

1.) No. 7 Michigan vs. No. 10 Oklahoma State, Midwest Region, 12:15 p.m. ET, CBS

The first game of the day could turn out to be the best one. The Wolverines will look to maintain their hot shooting after blazing through the Big Ten tournament. The Cowboys had a rough stretch drive but are battle tested after a full season of Big 12 competition. Both head coaches, Michigan’s John Beilein and OSU’s Brad Underwood, know how to prepare teams for the tourney stage.

2.) No. 7 Dayton vs. No. 10 Wichita State, South Region, 7:10 p.m. ET, CBS

The team almost universally declared to have been underseeded must now prove it. The Shockers are almost expected to win despite their lower spot on the bracket. That also has something to do with the Flyers, who won the A-10 regular-season title but enter on a two-game skid. But Dayton has plenty of veterans in its starting lineup, and Wichita State has feasted on a weaker-than-usual Missouri Valley.

3.) No. 6 SMU vs. No. 11 USC, East Region, 3:10 p.m. ET, truTV

The Mustangs, out of NCAA purgatory, are among the hottest teams in the field. But as we learned Wednesday night, the Trojans never feel like they’re out of a game. SMU has a lot of interchangeable parts but must find someone who can stay with USC’s Bennie Boatwright.

4.) No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 Rhode Island, Midwest Region, 4:30 p.m. ET, TBS

This has the potential to be close throughout. Both teams needed some late-season success to secure their places here, with the Bluejays reaching the Big East final and the Rams snaring the automatic bid from the A-10. URI can be streaky from beyond the arc and must hope Creighton’s Marcus Foster doesn’t heat up.

5.) No. 8 Miami (Fla.) vs. No. 9 Michigan State, Midwest Region, 9:20 p.m. ET, TNT

Despite an early exit last season and a subpar campaign as a whole in 2016-17, the Spartans are still never to be taken lightly in the tournament. They’ve come to rely heavily on Miles Bridges, of which the Hurricanes will certainly have been advised. Miami lacks a super-star player but is deep and does many things well.

6.) No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 14 New Mexico State, East Region, 12:40 p.m. ET, truTV

Baylor’s recent history of playing early upset victim is not news to the team. They should have a considerable edge in overall talent and depth, but if the Aggies are within striking distance in the second half, the Bears might start to squeeze the orange a bit too tightly.

7.) No. 6 Cincinnati vs. No. 11 Kansas State, South Region, 7:27 p.m. ET, truTV

K-State must switch gears rapidly for its second tournament opponent, from the fast-paced style of Wake Forest to the Bearcats’ constant pressure. Veteran UC point guard Troy Caupain must also solve an effective Wildcats’ defense, and any points he can provide will be a bonus.

8.) No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 9 Seton Hall, South Region, 1:30 p.m. ET, TNT

The battle to face — barring something unprecedented — North Carolina in the next round could be a defensive struggle. The Razorbacks have more depth, with nine players averaging double-digit minutes, but they must find an answer on the interior for the Pirates’ Angel Delgado.

9.) No. 3 UCLA vs. No. 14 Kent State, South Region, 9:57 p.m. ET, truTV

The Bruins aren’t overly concerned about defense on occasion, and the Golden Flashes have three scorers who average in double figures. But in the end, UCLA’s superior fire power should carry the day.

10.) No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 10 Marquette, East Region, 9:50 p.m. ET, TBS

This is, to coin a phrase, a clash of non-strengths. Marquette isn’t the best defensive team, but the Gamecocks don’t tend to score a lot. The game could come down to whether South Carolina’s best weapon, G Sindarius Thornwell, can do enough to counter the Golden Eagles’ more numerous options.

11.) No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 14 Iona, Midwest Region, 2 p.m. ET, TBS

The Ducks could be vulnerable as they learn on the fly how to compensate for the absence of key big man Chris Boucher. The Gaels could push them a bit if their treys are falling.

12.) No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 15 Jacksonville State, Midwest Region, 2:45 p.m. ET, CBS

The Cardinals can struggle to score at times, but that shouldn’t be an issue in this round against the upstart Gamecocks.

13.) No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 15 Northern Kentucky, South Region, 9:40 p.m. ET, CBS

Welcome to the Division I tournament, Norse. Don’t expect too many gifts from the Wildcats though.

14.) No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 16 Texas Southern, South Region, 4 p.m. ET, TNT

The Tar Heels are familiar with being a top seed and should have this one in hand quickly.

15.) No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Troy, East Region, 7:20 p.m. ET, TBS

This feels more like a 1-16 matchup with the red-hot Blue Devils likely to make short work of the surprise Sun Belt champion Trojans.

16.) No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 UC Davis, Midwest Region, 6:50 p.m. ET, TNT

UC-Davis had a nice tournament debut in Dayton. But, though the Jayhawks sometimes take a while to get rolling, the Aggies’ run will end here.

 

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