The opening Thursday of March Madness featured two big upsets, one by an Ivy League program with a giant-killing history and the other by a SoCon team that hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game in nearly half a century.
Now comes Friday’s slate with twice as many games to choose from.
Friday not only tips off 16 more men’s first round games, but also the first round of the women’s NCAA tournament. Here’s a look at which must-see games are on Friday’s slate and which games you can hold off on until the last two minutes:
12:15 p.m. – No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 10 USC (CBS)
12:40 p.m. – No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 14 Kennesaw State (truTV)
1:40 pm – No. 3 Boiler vs. No. 14 UC Santa Barbara (TNT)
2 p.m. – No. 5 St. Mary’s vs. No. 12 VCU (TBS)
11:30 am – No. 8 South Florida vs. No. 9 Marquette (ESPN2)
12 noon – No. 7 Arizona vs. No. 10 West Virginia (ESPN)
1:30 p.m. – No. 7 Florida State vs. No. 10 Georgia (ESPN2)
2 p.m. – No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 16 Norfolk State (ESPN)
Must see: Which powerful person did Andy Enfield anger? It’s bad enough that USC drew a team from Michigan State that creates matchup problems for the Trojans because of their perimeter shooting. What’s worse is that the game is being played in Big Ten country in Columbus and that tipoff is at 9:15 AM PST. Will adversity inspire or break the Trojans? Can Michigan State make a substantial leap over the top of the Trojans’ flock of interior defenders? That’s what makes this battle of the big brands intriguing.
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Must leave: South Carolina-Norfolk State has the potential to get ugly in a hurry — perhaps ugly enough to challenge the NCAA tournament record for margin of victory (88 points) set by Baylor in 2017. Alabama’s unranked women’s basketball team defeated Norfolk State 48–9. In the second part of the game in mid-December. What are you going to do with the 16th-seeded Spartans, reigning undefeated in South Carolina?
Most likely potential irritant: St. Mary’s is a top-15 team in the country by advanced metrics. This tied Gonzaga atop the WCC in the regular season and surpassed Gonzaga, San Diego State, Vanderbilt and Oral Roberts. So it’s a worthy number 5 seed and yet Gayle draws Bad Experience To match VCU has lost three games since the beginning of December and its hallmark is its disruptive defense. If you looked at Saint Mary’s struggle to mount attacking defensive pressure late in WCC games, it’s easy to see why VCU is a trendy first-round upset pick.
Players to watch: Ajay Mitchell, America. America, Ajay Mitchell. The UCSB standout is one of the best scoring guards that few people know about, but that will change if the Gauchos can intimidate a Baylor team with a high-scoring offense and a weak defense. Mitchell, last season’s Big West Freshman and this season’s Player of the Year, boasts a quick first step, the ability to change pace, and an uncanny skill at helping defenders and finding his way to finishing at the rim.
2:45 p.m. – No. 2 Marquette vs. No. 15 Vermont (CBS)
3:10 pm – No. 6 Iowa State vs. No. 11 Pittsburgh (truTV)
4:10 PM – No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 NC State (TNT)
4:30 PM – No. 4 UConn vs. No. 13 Iona (TBS)
2:30 p.m. – No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 15 Holy Cross (ESPNNews)
3 p.m. – No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 UNLV (ESPNU)
3:30 PM – No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 14 Southern Utah (ESPN2)
4 p.m. – No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 15 SE Louisiana (ESPN)
Must see: Before Rick Pitino leaves for a bigger job, perhaps in the Big East at St. John’s, he’ll try to lead what is likely his last Iona team to a major NCAA tournament upset. Gayle hasn’t lost since January… but he also hasn’t seen someone as talented as Yukon. Iona has a powerful backcourt and decent size for a mid-major, but defensive rebounding is a big concern. If Gayle can stop the Huskies for one shot, it has the potential to live up to the hype.
Must leave: Maryland is favored by 23.5 points over Holy Cross. Iowa leads over SE Louisiana by 29.5 points. There’s a good chance that none of the games are even that close. You’d be forgiven for skipping these two and catching the Diamond Miller and Caitlin Clarke highlights later in the day.
Most likely potential irritant: The Michigan women’s basketball team dropped four of its last six games entering the NCAA Tournament, including a stunner at Wisconsin. This dropped the Wolverines to the No. 6 seed and left them with a challenging first round matchup. UNLV didn’t play the most challenging non-league schedule, but the Rebels (31-2) swept the Mountain West and haven’t lost a game since mid-December.
Players to watch: Sonia Citron, G Notre Dame – If the Notre Dame women are going to move beyond the first weekend of the NCAA tournament and challenge for a Final Four bid, Sonia Citron will have to be special. Citron and Maddie Westbeld are the two weapons the Irish have out for the season with Dara Maubray with an ACL tear and Olivia Miles also sidelined with a knee injury. Notre Dame should handle Southern Utah without Mabry and Miles, but nothing will get easier from there.
6:50 PM – No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson (TNT)
7:10 p.m. – No. 6 Kentucky vs. No. 11 Providence (CBS)
7:25 PM – No. 5 Miami vs. No. 12 Drake (TBS)
7:35 PM – No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 14 Grand Canyon (truTV)
5:30 PM – No. 1 Virginia Tech vs. No. 16 Chattanooga (ESPNU)
5:30 PM – No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 Hawaii (ESPN2)
6 p.m. – No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 Mississippi State (ESPNNews)
7:30 PM – No. 2 Utah vs. No. 15 Gardner Webb (ESPNU)
7:30 p.m. – No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 16 Sacred Heart (ESPN2)
Must see: Two years ago, Kentucky endured its worst weather in decades. Last year, the Wildcats suffered their worst NCAA tournament loss in program history. Thus far, there is no coach in the country under more pressure to win their first-round game this week than John Calipari. Kentucky will be trying to end a 1,449-day drought without an NCAA tournament win when it faces a Providence team that contended for the Big East title in February but struggled on defense down the stretch.
Must leave: In the wake of Fairleigh Dickinson’s first four win on Thursday night, coach Tobin Anderson excitedly told his players, “The more I watch Purdue, the more I think we can beat them!” I … do not share Anderson’s optimism. Fairleigh Dickinson is the smallest team in college basketball. Knights starts the 6-foot-6 forward at center. That’s not ideal when trying to slow down college basketball’s national player of the year, 7-foot-4 Purdue center Zach Eddy.
Most likely potential irritant: The winner of the Creighton-Mississippi State women’s game has Sweet 16 potential due to injury to Notre Dame. In the first four, Mississippi State suppressed Illinois’ offense and attacked in transition. 6-foot-5 Jessica Carter, who had 22 points and 9 rebounds against the Illini, could be a tough matchup for diminutive Creighton.
Players to watch: Miami’s hopes of reaching the second weekend of the NCAA tournament rest on Nochard Omier’s gimpy right ankle. Omier, whom Jim Larrañaga described as the best rebounder he ever coached, suffered the injury just over a minute into Cane’s ACC semifinal loss to Duke. Without him, the Blue Devils controlled the glass on both ends of the floor.
9:20 PM – No. 8 Memphis vs. No. 9 Florida Atlantic (TNT)
9:40 PM – No. 3 Kansas State vs. No. 14 Montana State (CBS)
9:55 p.m. – No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 13 Kent State (TBS)
10:05 am – No. 6 TCU vs. No. 11 Arizona State (TruTV)
8 p.m. – No. 8 USC vs. No. 9 South Dakota State (ESPNNews)
10 p.m. – No. 8 Ole Miss vs. No. 9 Gonzaga (ESPNU)
10 p.m. – No. 7 NC State vs. No. 10 Princeton (ESPN2)
Must see: On one side is a 31-win Florida Atlantic team that always had a class in the underrated Conference USA and 13th nationally in the NCAA’s net rankings. On the other side is a fast-paced Memphis team that upset Houston in the American Athletic Conference title game and has lost to none other than the Cougars in six weeks. This is a first round game that feels deep into the tournament it shouldn’t.
Must leave: You’ll need multiple screens late Friday night. On paper, it’s a rare window with no real flaws. The largest spread of any of these games is Kansas State-Montana State, but even that game can be within 8.5 points.
Most likely potential irritant: Kent State won 28 games this season, yet it was the two Golden Flash losses that showed just how dangerous this team can be. They took both Gonzaga and Houston to depth in the second half on the road earlier this season. If the senior guard pays off the honest carry or if Indiana takes Kent State lightly, watch.
Players to watch: Two years after collapsing in the middle of a game at Florida, Keonte Johnson returned to the court and led Kansas State to a surprising top-four finish in the best league in college basketball. The former SEC Preseason Player of the Year’s resurgence is one of the best stories in the game this season.