You’re trying to make those picks, you’re stressing out over a number of games. I get it. You want to read up, check out bracket advice, really just soak in all the tournament coverage. I’m right there with you. But let me help.
If you’re planning out your life the right way, you’re going to be able to watch the NCAAs during every window this week, from Tuesday night through Sunday evening. But if you want a little help in terms of picking out the best matchups, here’s my annual story: the five most intriguing first-round tilts.
I pick based on team quality, matchup style, watchability of both clubs. The things that I think give each of these games a really good chance to be close. And with some, close means possible upset.
For a full list of all the games,.
REGION: West. I absolutely love it when the first tip on that opening Thursday is a game that has upset potential and general intrigue. And that’s almost always the case when an Ivy League team is involved. The Ivy’s won a tournament game in two of the previous three tournaments (Yale last year, vs. Baylor; Harvard in 2013, vs. New Mexico), and Princeton will have a good shot. The Tigers went 16-0 in Ivy play this season and rank in KenPom’s top 60. Notre Dame is very fun on offense, but hasn’t been as consistently good all season as maybe it should have been. Still, the Fighting Irish nearly won the ACC tournament. Expect a lot of visually entertaining ball here. Princeton’s ability was not in question over the past two months. Now how will it play against an athletic team with really efficient offense and big, strong wings?
REGION: Midwest. Iowa State has a great duo: Monte Morris and Deonte Burton. Nevada (28-6) has Jordan Caroline and Cameron Oliver. Both of these teams earned auto bids; ISU took the Big 12 tournament title, Nevada took the Mountain West. I think this game will go into the 80s. I like Iowa State to win, but Nevada coach Eric Musselman has done a great job with the program. This will be fun and fiery, particularly because there’s a lot of aggressive players on the floor here. Should be a great way to wrap up Thursday, as this is the last tip. Always love when we get that final game as a really close one.
REGION: Midwest. I’ve posted on my five favorite first-round NCAA Tournament games every year since 2008. I believe this is the first time that the first tip on Thursday and the first tip on Friday have made the cut. This game is going to be all offense. Michigan in and of itself is one of the biggest stories, as the team’s aborted takeoff by plane that turned into a runway accident wound up sparking the Wolverines to the Big Ten title. Derrick Walton Jr. is in his senior season and playing inspired basketball. Oklahoma State is well-coached, led by a stud of a point guard in Jawun Evans, and should be able to give Michigan all it can handle. The Wolverines (who rank fifth in offensive efficiency) have had stretches in recent days where they’ve looked like a top-10 team. OSU is lying in wait, ready with the No. 1-ranked offense in the country. Bet you didn’t know that.
REGION: South. The game everyone will be tuning into on Friday night. By the time we get to this point, Wichita State will have been so pumped up as a favorite, some might expect the Shockers to win going away. Let’s not forget how good Dayton and its coach, Archie Miller, is. The Flyers getting a 7 was surprising for that staff, but they’ll take it. UD is a quality team. But Wichita State ranks in the top 12 of most predictive metrics. Gregg Marshall’s group has its skeptics, still, because of a lack of wins against tournament competition. That’s why Wichita State’s in the seed situation it finds itself in. The Shockers roll with Landry Shamet, Conner Frankamp, Shaq Morris and Markis McDuffie. Dayton has a sparkplug named Scoochie Smith to go along with Charles Cooke (so underrated) and Kendall Pollard.
REGION: Midwest. Really good late-evening tip to close up the first round here. This is the all-dudes game. Miami and Michigan State have big-boy athletes. Miles Bridges is one of the most exciting player in college basketball, and he has three other really good freshmen around him. Miami’s got size, strength, length. I literally flipped a coin when picking this game (it came up Miami). This one’s going to be in the low 60s, I think, but despite the low scoring could still well end up as one of the most physically engaging games of the first round. Tom Izzo’s in March, people. What if Michigan State wins this game and then gets Kansas in the second round? Izzo just got in the Hall of Fame last year, and Bill Self will probably get there this year. Remember, Izzo and Michigan State were upset in the first round in 2006 by Jim Larranaga’s George Mason team.