Every NCAA Tournament game is important, but some matchups are must-watch television.
The NCAA Tournament has tipped off. The First Four games have been played, and we finally have a complete list of matchups for the First Round. Thursday and Friday of the First Round is the best time of year for college basketball, and this season’s Big Dance promises to be no different.
With as many as four games being played simultaneously, it can be difficult to know which games should be put on the TV. Let’s take a look at how all 32 games rank. Remember, no game in the NCAA Tournament is bad, but some are definitely better than others.
—Tournament Index: March Madness projections, Cinderellas, more
—March Madness: Cinderellas | Contenders | Mid-major stars
—Region Previews: South | Midwest | West | East
32) No. 1 Alabama vs No. 16 Texas A&M Corpus Christi
Thursday, 2:45 p.m. ET, CBS (Birmingham/South Region): It was a fantastic moment to see the school with its own island get its first-ever NCAA Tournament win on Tuesday. The Islanders’ reward is to face the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, and the top NBA prospect in all of college basketball. This feels like a game that won’t be within 20 points for most of the second half.
31) No. 1 Kansas vs No. 16 Howard
Thursday, 2 p.m. ET, TBS (Des Moines/West Region): Kansas’s path to the Final Four may be widely regarded as the toughest of any of the 1-seeds, but that challenge won’t start until the weekend. The Jayhawks are the defending national champions and just have too much size and athleticism for the Bison. Bill Self is prepping for another deep run in March, and the Hall of Fame coach won’t let his team overlook the MEAC Tournament Champions.
30) No. 1 Houston vs No. 16 Northern Kentucky
Thursday, 9:20 p.m. ET, TNT (Birmingham/Midwest Region): Houston might be the most efficient 1-seed in the tournament, but they are taking on the most efficient 16-seed remaining. The Norse force a lot of turnovers on defense, and if Marcus Sasser is out, it could make portions of the game interesting. Still, Houston is No. 1 in the country for a reason. This game will be closer than the previous two by virtue of Houston’s style, but it should never be in doubt.
29) No. 1 Purdue vs No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson
Friday, 6:50 p.m. ET, TNT (Columbus/East Region): FDU head coach Tobin Anderson better be careful what he wishes for, or he just might find out why Purdue is a 1-seed. The Knights dominated Texas Southern from start to finish in the First Four game, behind a suffocating press defense and solid performance at the free throw line. Purdue’s freshman guards might be susceptible to struggles against the press, but the Knights have nobody who can stop National Player of the Year Zach Edey down low.
28) No. 2 Arizona vs No. 15 Princeton
Thursday, 4:10 p.m. ET, TBS (Sacramento/South Region): On the surface, this game might seem like one that could end up being close, with Arizona’s guards having a streaky nature about their play. However, Princeton does not necessarily have the makeup to take advantage of this flaw. The team is built around their bigs and that won’t be terribly successful against the likes of Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo. With a below-average jump-shooting unit and struggles at the strip, Princeton will likely be overwhelmed while trying to keep up with the Wildcats’ offensive attack.
27) No. 3 Gonzaga vs No. 14 Grand Canyon
Friday, 7:35 p.m. ET, truTV (Denver/West Region): The week has already started off as a struggle for the Antelopes of Grand Canyon University, as the players’ bags did not make it onto their flight to Denver. Maybe practicing in Baylor’s uniforms will grant the team some good vibes, but Gonzaga has been the most efficient team in the country since the beginning of February. This could wind up being close if Grand Canyon can keep the fire they played with in the WAC Tournament, but it could just as easily wind up being a blowout for the Zags as they try to make another deep run.
26) No. 2 UCLA vs No. 15 UNC Asheville
Thursday, 10:05 p.m. ET, truTV (Sacramento/West Region): UCLA might be vulnerable without Jaylen Clark, and potentially Adem Bona as well, but they aren’t vulnerable enough to lose their tournament opener against a 15-seed. The one reason to watch this game is to get a chance to watch Bulldog big man Drew Pember play on the sport’s biggest stage. Pember is a stretch forward that could be somewhat of a mismatch for the Bruins, who will have to decide whether to defend with Jaime Jaquez or risk drawing Bona (or his replacement) away from the paint.
25) No. 3 Kansas State vs No. 14 Montana State
Friday, 9:40 p.m. ET, CBS (Greensboro/East Region): Jerome Tang’s first season at the helm for Kansas State has been a massive success. The Wildcats earned themselves a 3-seed and a First Round battle with the Montana State Bobcats. MSU might give up some athleticism to the Wildcats, but they don’t give up any toughness. The Bobcats rank fifth in the country in free throw attempt rate, and they make those shots at a 76.3 percent clip. Kansas State, however, is an excellent free throw shooting team as well, so between their advantage on the floor and comparable success on freebies, the Wildcats should win this game without much stress.
24) No. 2 Marquette vs No. 15 Vermont
Friday, 2:45 p.m. ET, CBS (Columbus/East Region): The Tournament Index has Marquette as the most vulnerable 2-seed in the history of the metric, but the Golden Eagles play with a massive chip on their shoulder that no analytic can account for. On the flip side, this is not the same caliber of Vermont team that we have seen in the past. Could the Catamounts pull off another historic upset? Absolutely — it is March Madness after all — but whoever wins the Michigan State vs. USC game shouldn’t hold their breath.
23) No. 3 Xavier vs No. 14 Kennesaw State
Friday, 12:40 p.m. ET, truTV (Greensboro/Midwest Region): Xavier shouldn’t have much difficulty dispatching this Kennesaw State Owls squad that won two of their ASUN Tournament games by a single point each. Kennesaw State’s defense is based on around forcing turnovers, and the backcourt of Xavier is experienced and talented enough to neutralize that aggression. Souley Boum and Colby Jones might have their hands full defending Chris Youngblood and Terrell Burden, but their offense shouldn’t take any dip from their regular-season performance. Still, tune in to see the Owls make their Big Dance debut.
22) No. 2 Texas vs No. 15 Colgate
Thursday, 7:25 p.m. ET, TBS (Des Moines/Midwest Region): This game is going to be more exciting than it will be close. Colgate has the highest effective field goal percentage in the country, and they don’t turn the ball over. This should allow the Raiders to keep pace with the Longhorns for much of the first half like they did against Arkansas in 2021. It could also make this game an unusually high scoring one, for a 2-vs.-15 game. Colgate likely won’t threaten to actually win this one, but they will make sure Texas has to put in effort from tip to buzzer.
21) No. 4 Tennessee vs No. 13 Louisiana
Thursday, 9:40 p.m. ET, CBS (Orlando/East Region): Unlike the Texas game, this game will likely make up for a lack of excitement with a solid shot at a big upset. Tennessee is missing their starting point guard Zakai Zeigler and that could be an issue against a Louisiana defense that records a lot of steals on defense. Tennessee, on the other hand, is one of the best defenses in the country and will look to keep this game played at a slow pace. Louisiana will need to use the press to speed up the game and force turnovers — if they do that, fans could be in for a treat.
20) No. 3 Baylor vs No. 14 UC Santa Barbara
Friday, 1:30 p.m. ET, TNT (Denver/South Region): Don’t let the seeding fool you, the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos are much more talented than a 14-seed should be. Between former Oregon transfer Miles Norris, Cal transfer Andre Kelly and sophomore guard Ajay Mitchell, the squad has plenty of high-major caliber talent. Joe Pasternack’s squad likes to attack the basket and get to the line, and Baylor’s struggles on the interior should give the Gauchos confidence to do just that. Scott Drew is one of the best coaches in the country, and will have a game plan for Baylor to meet the challenge, but don’t be surprised if you see a two-score game going into the final stretch.
19) No. 6 Iowa State vs No. 11 Pittsburgh
Friday, 3:10 p.m. ET, truTV (Greensboro/Midwest Region): This game could go one of two ways. Either Iowa State rides a hot Gabe Kalscheur to a convincing win over the Panthers, or the Cyclones fall as flat as they have throughout Big 12 play. Pitt’s guards will not be caught off guard by the defense of Iowa State, which will make it difficult for the Cyclones to force the turnovers they like to rely on at the defensive end. This game is bound to be one of the ugliest in the First Round, which may actually make it more appealing.
18) No. 4 Virginia vs No. 13 Furman
Thursday, 12:40 p.m. ET, truTV (Orlando/South Region): Virginia plays a slow, boring style of basketball that many fans find unappealing to watch in any situation. Furman is the opposite. The Paladins play at a good pace, and they make 2s at a higher rate than any other team in the country. With Furman’s propensity to score, there will be pressure on the Cavaliers to find the offense that they have failed to produce with any form of consistency. Avoiding the upset will be a difficult task, and doing so will likely mean a much less watchable game.
17) No. 5 San Diego State vs No. 12 Charleston
Thursday, 3:10 p.m. ET, CBS (Orlando/South Region): A lot of people are picking Charleston as their 12-seed upset team, likely due to the Cougars’ brief stint in the Top 25 after a 21-1 start. The only issue with that start is that only one win came against a team in the NCAA Tournament field — a 74-72 home win over Kent State. In fact, the only game Charleston played against a top-70 team on KenPom was a 16-point loss against North Carolina. With San Diego State playing its best basketball of the season, and Charleston’s metrics not matching its fan perception, this game could turn into the “too good to be true” upset bid of the tournament.
16) No. 6 Creighton vs No. 11 NC State
Friday, 4 p.m. ET, TNT (Denver/South Region): The offensive success of the NC State Wolfpack cannot be ignored, but it can also be somewhat deceiving. The team is incredibly good at finishing possessions with shot attempts, but their ability to make those shots ranks outside the top 100. Creighton’s defense is made to play against teams like NC State, and the offense is equally as efficient. There are some juicy individual matchups here, but the overall battle remains one of the more underwhelming draws in the first round.
15) No. 5 Duke vs No. 12 Oral Roberts
Thursday, 7:10 p.m ET, CBS (Orlando/East Region): Another popular 12-seed winner picked on brackets across the country, Oral Roberts flew onto the national radar when they made a Sweet 16 run in 2021 as a 15-seed. This version of the Golden Eagles is significantly better than that team was, and ORU is riding the longest current winning streak in the nation. Connor Vanover’s ability to match up with Duke’s bigs could be the key to the potential upset, but with Max Abmas running the offense, anything is possible against the youth of Duke.
14) No. 4 UConn vs No. 13 Iona
Friday, 4:30 p.m. ET, TBS (Albany/West Region): The intrigue in this matchup has almost nothing to do with the play on the court. While the Gaels are a solid mid-major team with the length to match up against UConn, the rumors surrounding Iona head coach Rick Pitino’s future are the bigger draw. Pitino had many bouts with UConn during his time as the head coach for Louisville, and talk has been heating up that the Hall of Famer could be the top target for UConn’s conference rival St. Johns. The potential for this to be the first game of a reheated rivalry between Pitino and UConn is almost too good to pass up.
13) No. 6 Kentucky vs No. 11 Providence
Friday, 7:10 p.m., CBS (Greensboro/East Region): Last week was a tough one for Providence’s resume discourse on social media. As Selection Sunday approached, many analysts pointed out the fact that Providence had zero significant wins away from home on their resume. They will take on a Kentucky team that has had a season built around developing as a team and become one of John Calipari’s most underrated coaching performances since taking over the Wildcat program. If Providence hasn’t figured out its struggles on the road and on neutral floors, this game could go sideways quickly. Another fun subplot: Providence star Bryce Hopkins was suiting up for Kentucky this time last year. He could have a statement game on his mind.
12) No. 6 TCU vs No. 11 Arizona State
Friday, 10:05 p.m. ET, truTV (Denver/West Region): This game would have been ranked lower, if not for the absolute shellacking that the Sun Devils gave Nevada in their First Four game. TCU is not a team that shoots well from deep, which could allow Arizona State to hang around longer than they might against another 6-seed. However, if Arizona State can continue to shoot as well as they did in Dayton, it might not matter where TCU’s offense comes from. In 10 of 11 tournaments since the field expanded to 68, a First Four team has gone on to win (at least) their First Round game. Arizona State did an excellent job against Nevada convincing fans that they would be that team this season.
11) No. 8 Arkansas vs No. 9 Illinois
Thursday, 4:30 p.m ET, TBS (Des Moines/West Region): This game should be more intriguing than it is, with two preseason Top 25 teams matching up with each other — after limping into the tournament. Arkansas is a young team that has not shown it can consistently play as a unit, while Illinois is an experienced team that has shown no desire to play as a unit. Eric Musselman has shown the ability to turn it on in March; Brad Underwood has not. That alone could be the difference in what might be the worst 8 vs 9 or 7 vs 10 game on the bracket.
10) No. 4 Indiana vs No. 13 Kent State
Friday, 9:55 p.m. ET, TBS (Albany/Midwest Region): It would have been crazy to think that Indiana would be on upset alert back in early February, but the Hoosiers went 4-4 to end the season and got an extremely tough first-round matchup. Kent State, led by senior point guard Sincere Carry, has one of the toughest defenses among mid-majors, and the Golden Flashes took both Gonzaga and Houston down to the wire in nonconference play. Indiana will have the best player on the floor in pretty much any game they play (Trayce Jackson-Davis), but Kent State might the advantage at the other four spots.
9) No. 7 Northwestern vs No. 10 Boise State
Thursday, 7:35 p.m. ET, truTV (Sacramento/West Region): The two-headed monster of Northwestern’s Boo Buie and Chase Audige was enough to finish second in the Big Ten, but will it be enough to beat a balanced Boise State defense? That question will be answered in what is bound to be a relatively low-scoring game, even by NCAA Tournament standards. The only reason this game doesn’t rank higher is that the remaining eight games all have “blockbuster” potential that this game doesn’t quite promise.
8) No. 8 Iowa vs No. 9 Auburn
Thursday, 6:50 p.m. ET, TNT (Birmingham/Midwest Region): Iowa will have the better offense by a mile in this game, but they might have a worse defense by a few hundred miles. If anything can help Auburn reinvigorate its scoring attack, it is a matchup with a Fran McCaffery-coached team. Another factor that could play into this matchup is Auburns ability to draw fouls, and Iowa’s allergy to two-foul participation. Look for the Tigers to attack the basket and send the Hawkeye starters to the bench early in order to build a solid halftime lead.
7) No. 5 Saint Mary’s vs No. 12 VCU
Friday, 2 p.m. ET, TBS (Albany/West Region): If there is one 12-seed that the Gaels did not want to see in the First Round, it is the VCU Rams. Not only are the Rams on a nine-game winning streak, but they also play a press defense that has been effective against Saint Mary’s recently. While this is a defensive battle similar to Northwestern vs Boise State, the added upset potential lifts this game up in the rankings. Another factor: VCU is less than 500 miles from Albany, while Saint Mary’s is nearly 3,000 miles away.
6) No. 8 Maryland vs No. 9 West Virginia
Thursday, 12:15 p.m. ET, CBS (Birmingham/South Region): The Jahmir Young vs. Erik Stevenson battle for a shot at Alabama is bound to be an intense battle. Maryland found success this season with its balance on both ends, ranking 34th on KenPom in both offense and defense. West Virginia is much more reliant on their scoring attack, but their experience in the Big 12 should have them prepared for this moment. This might actually be one of the toughest games to pick a winner for because there is no clear situation that would benefit one team over the other. Just sit back and watch it happen.
5) No. 7 Michigan State vs No. 10 USC
Friday, 12:15 p.m. ET, CBS (Columbus/East Region): Another battle between two incredible scoring guards, the matchup between USC and Michigan State will be fantastic. Both Boogie Ellis and Tyson Walker can carry their teams to a win on their scoring alone. Michigan State and USC had disappointing conference tournament performances as well, which might add some extra motivation for both teams to prove that they are winners. Let’s just hope the Spartans don’t forget how to score again.
4) No. 5 Miami (FL) vs No. 12 Drake
Friday, 7:25 p.m. ET, TBS (Albany/Midwest Region): The battle between Miami’s offense and Drake’s defense is guaranteed to be a treat for all who watch. Drake forces everyone they play into tough shots, and Miami has some of the best tough-shot makers in the tournament. On the other end of the court, the uncertainty of Norchad Omier’s status could open the paint for Drake to attack relentlessly, opening up the perimeter for their shooters to shoot. This is the closest 12 vs. 5 game on KenPom for a reason, and a Drake win could blow this pod wide open.
3) No. 7 Texas A&M vs No. 10 Penn State
Thursday, 9:55 p.m. ET, TBS (Des Moines/Midwest Region): Texas A&M is playing at a much higher level than a 7-seed, and Penn State made a fantastic run to the Big Ten Tournament championship game, falling one shot short of taking home the trophy. Offensively, however, these teams could not be more different. Texas A&M isn’t the most efficient team from the floor, but they attack the boards and get to the line where they finish at a high rate. On the other end, Penn State relies a lot on Jalen Pickett’s “booty ball,” which opens up the floor for their shooters to convert on 3-pointers at a top-10 rate. These contrasting styles should make for a fun game to watch. It’s just unfortunate that one of these teams needs to go home before the Second Round.
2) No. 8 Memphis vs No. 9 Florida Atlantic
Friday, 9:20 p.m. ET, TNT (Columbus/East Region): This was a cowardly move by the committee, putting the hottest team in the country (Memphis) against the best mid-major in the country (FAU), but it created one of the most intriguing matchups of the entire tournament. Both teams are incredibly balanced between offense and defense. Both teams like to play with some pace. And both teams are take good shots and convert them at a high rate. With the Tigers and Owels each more than capable of giving Purdue a tough Second Round game, this one should be circled on everyone’s agendas.
1) No. 7 Missouri vs No. 10 Utah State
Thursday, 1:40 p.m. ET, TNT (Sacramento/South Region): It isn’t often that you get two top-15 offenses matched up against each other in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but here we are. This game has all the makings of being one of the highest-scoring games of the entire Big Dance, with both teams being incredibly efficient with their shots, shooting a ton of 3-pointers and having some of the most experienced rotations in the country. This game promises to be a back-and-forth affair where the last shot that falls might just be the winner.