March Madness 2022: Five best first-round NCAA Tournament matchups

Tom Izzo, Michigan State

March Madness is here! Check out the five best first-round matchups on Thursday and Friday.

The time is finally here! The brackets are seeded, the matchups are set, and 68 teams are preparing for the best two days in college basketball. Yes, four teams will not make it to Thursday, but First Four games are NCAA Tournament games too.

Some of the discussion immediately following the Selection Show centered around the selection committee’s decisions and some potentially underwhelming matchups. However, the committee still gave us plenty of high-level games that should provide some great March memories.

The unfortunate situation every year is the need to schedule the best matchups during primetime, which leaves some of these games in overlapping time slots. But let’s take a look at the top five first-round matchups so we know which games to prioritize on Thursday and Friday.

—BUY: Heat Check CBB Tournament Preview Magazine
March Madness 2022 schedule: TV channels, tip times, locations
Upset predictions | Questionable top seeds | Players to watch

All times Eastern.

South Region: No. 6 Colorado State vs No. 11 Michigan

  • Thursday, March 17 at 12:15 p.m. (CBS)

While some may be upset about Michigan’s inclusion directly into the Round of 64, the Wolverines have been set up to play in a great matchup. Colorado State has one of the best tandems in college basketball, with Isaiah Stevens and David Roddy leading the Rams to their best regular season in school history. Michigan’s season has not been terribly successful, but they have undeniable talent up and down the roster, headlined by big man Hunter Dickinson. This talent has created a unique situation in which the Wolverines opened as 1.5-point favorites and the only seed-line upset pick on ESPN’s People’s Bracket at the time of this article. Everything is set up for Michigan to make a run at being this season’s Syracuse team, going from controversial inclusion to deep run threat, but Colorado State certainly has the ability to put an end to that story.

Midwest Region: No. 4 Providence vs No. 13 South Dakota State

  • Thursday, March 17 at 12:40 p.m. (truTV)

This is likely the most popular major upset pick in brackets across the country. For the entire second half of the season, Providence has been the most slept on team in the country. The Friars were Big East regular-season champions, losing just five games all year, yet their metrics do not necessarily match their record. They enter the tournament as the 49th overall team on KenPom, while their first-round opponent has an adjusted efficiency margin that is just 2.5 points worse. South Dakota State starts postseason play as the most efficient shooting team in the country. The Jackrabbits are first in 3-point percentage, ninth in 2-point percentage, and 38th in free-throw percentage. This game will likely serve to vindicate one side of the debate over Providence’s status as an overrated team.

East Region: No. 7 Murray State vs No. 10 San Francisco

  • Thursday, March 17 at 9:40 p.m. (CBS)

This game represents the annual practice from the committee of placing two of the strongest mid-major teams in a first-round matchup against each other. Both Murray State and San Francisco are in the top 30 in adjusted efficiency per KenPom, and feature relatively balanced attacks that would have been good enough to beat a high-major opponent in the first round. Unfortunately, one of these teams has to lose, and San Francisco will be a man down after Yauhen Massalski re-injured his knee in practice. However, Jamaree Bouyea and Khalil Shabazz form one of the strongest backcourts in the country and are capable of carrying a heavy scoring load. Murray State’s team centers around big man KJ Williams, who has been one of the best rebounders and interior scorers in all of college basketball. While still one of the best games of the weekend, this matchup may lose some luster if San Francisco’s depleted frontcourt can’t slow Williams down.

Midwest Region: No. 5 Houston vs No. 12 UAB

  • Friday, March 18 at 9:20 p.m. (TNT)

Another popular upset pick, the Houston Cougars will look to avoid defeat at the hands of Jordan Walker and the UAB Blazers. This season may be Kelvin Sampson’s best coaching performance after losing multiple major contributors early in the year. Houston went on to capture the AAC regular season and tournament titles, but many fans continue to doubt their ability to win in the Big Dance. On the other side, Walker may be the best guard on the floor, and can score at a high rate if given space. The Blazers can also match Houston’s size down low, and have a ball pressure defense that could give the Cougars issues on offense. Kelvin Sampson should never be doubted late in a season, but this game is not as safe a win as some of the other 5-seeds.

West Region: No. 7 Michigan State vs No. 10 Davidson

  • Friday, March 18 at 9:40 p.m. (CBS)

Coming into the first round, this game is about as close as possible, with Michigan State opening as 1-point favorites over the A10 regular-season champions. Since the turn of the new year, the Spartans have struggled to put together a winning streak longer than two games. In fact, they have gone just 8-10 since Jan. 15. Their inability to make 3-pointers in volume has limited their scoring potential, and the team has crossed 80 points just twice in 2022. Davidson, on the other hand, shoots incredibly well, with four highly efficient shooters who can space the floor with ease. Davidson’s loss in the A10 Tournament may scare some people off, but they may have one of the best opportunities for a deep run of any non-power-conference team.