Previewing Friday’s First Round Games

It’s March and the upsets are here, Kentucky lost to Saint Peter’s, two more 12 seeds lost and so much more from yesterday’s first games. After picking mostly chalk on the first day, it’s time to pick some more chalk on Day two of the dance and we’ll see how it goes. 

#10 Loyola-Chicago vs #7 Ohio State 12:15 ET on CBS

The Cinderella program of the past five years squares off against the team that lost to a 15 seed the previous year, what better way to start the day. The Ramblers made it to the Sweet 16 a year ago but with Porter Moser gone, Drew Valentine had a challenge but his team delivered with their last Missouri Valley title (they’re joining the Atlantic 10 next year). This team is tough defensively and can play small-ball five out to mismatch. Ohio State will have the two best players in this game, while EJ Liddell is a known superstar at the four, Malaki Branham has been the Robin to Liddell’s Batman, averaging 16 points a game in Big Ten play. This game comes down to how Loyola can slow tempo and slow Liddell, if they can do so, they have a shot. Ultimately, I think Ohio State will just have enough scoring to skate by in what will be a great matchup. 

Pick: Ohio State 76 Loyola-Chicago 71

#15 Jacksonville State vs #2 Auburn 12:40 ET on TruTV

The 15-2 matchup sees two regular-season Champions, as Jacksonville State goes up against Auburn. The Gamecocks got here by way of Bellarmine winning the Atlantic Sun Tournament, Ray Harper’s team is scrappy defensively and a really good three-point shooting team, which is a good recipe for an upset. Auburn has one of the premier frontcourts in the sport, as Jabari Smith is a long athletic big with a silky smooth jumper, while Walker Kessler is a shot-blocking machine, but the key for a deep run will be the guard play, which has been inconsistent. While Auburn is certainly susceptible to an early exit, this probably won’t be the spot, the Tigers should overpower Jacksonville State inside and win this game running away. 

Pick: Auburn 72 Jacksonville State 56

#14 Montana State vs #3 Texas Tech 1:45 ET on TNT

The high-octane offense of Montana State matches up against maybe the best defensive team in the sport, Texas Tech Red Raiders in a game that should be rather interesting to watch. The Bobcats made history by making their first NCAA Tournament since 1996, the trio of Jubrile Belo, Xavier Bishop, and RaeQuan Battle can light it up, but can they get stops? For Texas Tech it’s all about defense, the Mark Adams engineered no-middle defense is built to stifle teams, while offensively Bryson Williams has turned into a star inside. This game just has all the makings of Texas Tech overwhelming Montana State, shutting them down and winning handily. 

Pick: Texas Tech 70 Montana State 48

#14 Yale vs #3 Purdue 2 ET on TBS

You want fun basketball, Purdue will give you as fun of basketball as you could imagine and Yale is certainly a team capable of keeping up in this game as well. For Yale, winning the Ivy League is great but winning their first Tournament game since 2016 would make this season special and they have the star to do so in Azar Swain, who is a high-scoring guard. Purdue matches Swain with maybe the best guard prospect in Jaden Ivey who is an athletic freak, pair him with a duo of Trevion Williams and Zach Edey, plus elite shooting and this is an offense capable of beating anyone. The question comes down to whether Yale can score with Purdue, they are used to scoring in the 60s-70s but probably need 80-90 to win, which I don’t think is reasonable. Yale will hang tight but in the end, give me a double-digit win for Purdue.

Pick: Purdue 93 Yale 79

#15 Delaware vs #2 Villanova 2:45 ET on CBS

The matchup of all ages, Delaware against the school that produced “the Michael Jordan of Delaware” in a 2-15 matchup. The Blue Hens have a solid group with Jameer Nelson Jr and former Villanova Wildcat Dylan Painter but win low-scoring games. Villanova has a Championship in their sights, with Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels playing their last games as a Wildcat. This Villanova team is tough, scrappy, and has the big-time shot-makers to win meaningful games in the NCAA Tournament, playing the Blue Hens shouldn’t be an issue, give me the Wildcats to win running away. 

Pick: Villanova 80 Delaware 59

#10 Miami vs #7 USC 3:10 ET on TruTV

This is one of the more fascinating matchups of the first round as the great guard-tandem of Miami goes up against the long, athletic USC Trojans. The Hurricanes have a terrific backcourt of shooting, scoring, and off-ball cutting, Kam McGusty, and Isaiah Wong provides the scoring, while Charlie Moore runs the show at the point and is a terrific passer. The Trojans win games differently, they get quality looks inside and have a great big in Isaiah Mobley, plus a good guard duo of Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson. USC can overwhelm the Hurricanes athletically and that has to be a major concern but the guard play of Miami will be tough, I lean Miami but either team can win this game. 

Pick: Miami 74 USC 70

#11 Notre Dame vs #6 Alabama 4:15 ET on TNT

The first four team is always tough to go against and that will be the case again here for an Alabama team that has struggled down the stretch. Notre Dame is coming off a dramatic double-overtime win against Rutgers, they aren’t terrific defensively but run a difficult five-out offensive attack and have a matchup nightmare with Paul Atkinson, who hit the game-winner against Rutgers. Alabama will also look to take plenty of threes, they have a good trio of Jahvon Quinerly, Jaden Shackelford, and JD Davison, but haven’t been great defensively. This game will be high-scoring, as both offenses are better than the opponents’ defense and come down to which team makes the shots to win, for me, it is hard to bet for Alabama, so give me the Irish in a small upset. 

Pick: Notre Dame 81 Alabama 76 

#11 Virginia Tech vs #6 Texas 4:30 ET on TBS

One of the more fascinating first-round games will see analytics darlings Virginia Tech and Texas square off to try to advance in the NCAA Tournament. The Hokies season was dead, then Darius Maddox drilled a three to escape with a win against Clemson, and a great run by Keve Aluma, Storm Murphy, and Hunter Cattoor won this team the ACC title. Texas has won games ugly, they still are figuring out their roles offensively but will defend as tough as any team and that gives them a chance to make a run. The key to the game will be the Longhorns finding a way to get some offense going from somewhere, Virginia Tech has much more reliable scoring, so Texas will need to produce to keep up. They have the talent to win this game running away but this Texas team cannot be trusted, I’ll roll with the red-hot Hokies to win this one. 

Pick: Virginia Tech 67 Texas 62

#13 Chattanooga vs #4 Illinois 6:50 ET on TNT

This is one of the more fun games of the first round as a very good Chattanooga team coming off a miracle buzzer-beater goes up against an Illinois team hoping to make a Final Four run. The Mocs won the SoCon title behind great play from Malachi Smith, David Jean-Baptiste, and Silvio De Sousa, who make up one of the most formidable Big-Threes in mid-major basketball. Illinois runs things inside-out with Kofi Cockburn who is dominant, while Trent Frazier and Alfonso Plummer will deliver threes at will. This is a game where the Illini actually won’t be able to overpower their opponent with Cockburn, as De Sousa can match his physicality, so Illinois will have to make perimeter shots to win. I’m rolling with Illinois to win this one but don’t be surprised if this result goes the other way.

Pick: Illinois 82 Chattanooga 74

#15 Cal State Fullerton vs #2 Duke 7:10 ET on CBS

Coach K’s final NCAA Tournament run tips off as the Blue Devils take on Big West Champion Cal State Fullerton. The Blue Devils won the ACC regular-season title but are limping into the Tournament, having lost two of four, while a talented group of Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin, and Wendell Moore provide plenty of offensive firepower, it’s been defensively where this team has struggled. The Titans surprised people by winning the Big West Tournament, EJ Anosike is an athletic big who was a matchup problem, but can he replicate that against Duke? This game should be one where Duke simply overpowers their opponent, they have a distinct advantage at every position and will run away with this one

Pick: Duke 100 Cal State Fullerton 72

#11 Iowa State vs #6 LSU 7:20 ET on TBS

A game between two teams that don’t have great momentum, as Iowa State has dropped games like it’s going out of style, while LSU just fired Will Wade. The Cyclones are an elite defensive team but outside of Izaiah Brockington mid-range jumpers, this team doesn’t offense well. LSU doesn’t offense well either, while Tari Eason has stepped up and become a star, this Tigers offense is far from a sure thing either. This game will be a defensive slugfest, with the team that makes the tough shots winning the game. I’ll roll with the Tigers, who have a little more offensive firepower to win this game. 

Pick: LSU 59 Iowa State 54

#16 Wright State vs #1 Arizona 7:27 ET on TruTV

The Wright State Raiders are fresh off a great win against Bryant, while Arizona is coming off a great season where they won the Pac-12. Wright State has a star in Tanner Holden, as well as a good collection of pieces around him that will score at a high level. Arizona is a great team, Bennedict Mathurin is the Pac-12’s best player, as he is an elite scorer on the wing. Christian Koloko is a great defender, while Azoulas Tubelis and Dalen Terry are great complimentary pieces as well. While it would be cool for a cinderella like Wright State to win, the pick has to be Arizona here, and the game won’t be all that close either. 

Pick: Arizona 97 Wright State 71

#12 UAB vs #5 Houston 9:20 ET on TNT

The 12-5 matchup to watch will be UAB facing off against a Houston team that is vulnerable for a first-round upset. The Cougars are great analytically but with Sasser and Mark out, this team seems to be getting by through outrebounding opponents and defending tough, not a long-term strategy for success. UAB is one of the most fun teams to watch, the Blazers have a certified star in Jelly Walker, as well as plenty of other good scoring options. The Blazers will have to crash the boards at a high level to have a chance. I’ve been off the Houston bandwagon all season long and while they are great at beating bad teams but I think the Blazers get hot and win this one. 

Pick: UAB 76 Houston 71

#10 Davidson vs #7 Michigan State 9:40 ET on CBS

The Foster Loyer bowl is set and it should be a fun matchup to watch, as Loyer and his Davidson Wildcats take on his old team, the Michigan State Spartans. The Wildcats won the Atlantic 10 regular-season title, behind great play from big man Luka Brajkovic and wing Hyunjung Lee, who provided the scoring and got this team back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018. Michigan State is a consistent Tournament team, this year’s team certainly leaves a lot to be desired and is missing a go-to option but they play good enough on both ends and had enough individuals step up to still be a 7 seed. The Wildcats seem to have better role allocation and that’s important come March, knowing who to go to is key for making a run and that’s why I’m picking Davidson to pull off the slight upset over Michigan State in a close game

Pick: Davidson 70 Michigan State 66

#14 Colgate vs #3 Wisconsin 9:50 ET on TBS

In a game in Milwaukee, the Badgers will have the home-court advantage, but the question comes down to whether they can beat a red-hot Colgate team to advance. Colgate won the Patriot League once again behind a starting-5 that all averaged double-figures for the Raiders, mix that with some determination after a tough loss in the NCAA Tournament a year ago and this will be a tough matchup. Wisconsin has the best guard in the sport in Johnny Davis, who is a superstar that helped win Wisconsin the league title, while the Badgers supporting cast has greatly improved in time for a March run. This is a game that seems poised to be close in the first half but at the end of the day, the Badgers’ depth of scoring should help them pull away for a win.

Pick: Wisconsin 76 Colgate 62

#9 TCU vs #8 Seton Hall 9:57 ET on TruTV

The nightcap of the first round sees a TCU team that hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game in 35 years go up against a consistent Tournament appearing Seton Hall team. TCU has a star in Mike Miles, but mix him with athleticism all-around and a solid coach in Jamie Dixon, who will hope to break the streak. Seton Hall got off to a great start this season but have dealt with their share of injuries, they will defend tough but are missing an elite go-to option. This is a game destined for the 60s, the difference for me comes down to which team can make the tough shots, and that’s exactly what Mike Miles does, so give me the Horned Frogs to win this one.

Pick: TCU 69 Seton Hall 63

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