#9 West Virginia vs. #8 Maryland
Thursday, March 16th 11:15 AM CT, CBS
9 seed West Virginia (19-14) gets the first round of the NCAA tournament underway as they take on 8 seed Maryland (21-12). The Mountaineers certainly had their share of highs and lows this season, but they ended the regular season on a relatively strong note, winning four of their last six games. Maryland has been a bit weaker down the stretch, going .500 in their last six games. What’s potentially more intriguing about this game is the rivalry angle, as these two teams are very geographically close and have a long history of heated showdowns. In my mind, this game is a bit of a toss up (as 8/9 games tend to be), but I’ve got Maryland winning this one as a substantially better defensive squad than the Mountaineers.
#1 Kansas vs. #16 Howard
Thursday, March 16th 1:00 PM CT, TBS
1 seed Kansas (27-7) gets its hopes of repeating a national championship underway with what should be a warm up game against 16 seed Howard (22-12). While Howard has won five of their last six games, they have gotten blown out by basically anyone with a pulse. Kansas will be looking to redeem itself after its own blowout loss to Texas in the Big 12 tournament championship. This game should provide just that opportunity.
#2 Texas vs. #15 Colgate
Thursday, March 16th 6:25 PM CT, TBS
2 seed Texas (26-8) is fresh off of winning the Big 12 tournament championship. What could go wrong? 15 seed Colgate (26-8) could go wrong. Colgate is currently on a nine game winning streak, having won twenty of their last twenty-one games. The Raiders boast one of the best offenses in the country, leading the nation in three point field goal percentage at 40.7% and coming in at second in overall field goal percentage at 51.4%. Compare that to 194th and 52nd, respectively, for the Longhorns and this is actually my super duper, hot-take upset pick of the tournament.
#3 Baylor vs. #14 UC Santa Barbara
Friday, March 17th 12:30 PM CT, TNT
3 seed Baylor (22-10) is another team that has had some ups and downs in the final stretch of its season. The biggest downs were the back-to-back losses to Iowa State. However, that is just a matchup nightmare that Baylor likely doesn’t have to deal with again, as Iowa State plays big with very tough defense. In the games they have played, UC Santa Barbara (27-7) has held its opponents to 65.6 points per game, a better defensive mark than Baylor. However, UCSB has really and truly, not played anyone with a pulse. Their strength of schedule puts them at 292nd, compared to Baylor’s at 5th, and their NET rank is 100th, compared to Baylor’s 15th. Honestly, UCSB feels a bit overseeded here, I would’ve put them as a 15 seed. We all know painfully well 3/14 seed upsets can happen, but I just don’t see it happening here.
#6 Iowa State vs. #11 Mississippi State/Pitt
Friday, March 17th 2:10 PM CT, truTV
6 seed Iowa State (19-13) is a team that, surprisingly, has seemed to pick up steam after kicking one of its better shooters off the team. Since the departure of Caleb Grill, Iowa State is 2-1 with two wins over Baylor and a hard fought loss to Kansas. So while the sample size is small, I’ve got Iowa State as a sleep pick moving forward given that they seem to be playing better basketball and, most importantly, incredibly tough defense. With all the offensive nerves of the tournament, defense usually remains as a staple. They will take on the winner of the Mississippi State (21-12) and Pittsburgh (22-11) 11 seed play-in game. Sometimes, the teams coming out of these play-in games can be dangerous (see my TCU pick below). However, without fresh legs, Iowa State will be a really tough team for either of these squads to play against. So I’ve got the Cyclones advancing, regardless of who they face.
68-61 Iowa State
#3 Kansas State vs. #14 Montana State
Friday, March 17th 8:40 PM CT, CBS
3 seed Kansas State (23-9) is looking to top off a great first season under new head coach Jerome Tang with a solid tournament run. That starts as they face off against 14 seed Montana State (25-9). The Bobcats have won their last eight games in a row, and 17 of their last 19. That’s impressive, but they have gotten blown out by good teams like Arizona, Oregon, and even lost by 17 to Quinnipiac. Kansas State, on the other hand, is 7-5 against top 25 competition and played through a brutal Big 12 schedule with plenty of success. Even though KState has lost their last two games coming into the tournament, I wouldn’t worry too much about that, at least in this game.
76-58 Kansas State
#6 TCU vs. #11 Arizona State/Nevada
Friday, March 17th 9:05 PM CT, truTV
6 seed TCU (21-12) is trying to navigate some rough waters, as star big man Eddie Lampkin Jr. has left the team and entered the transfer portal. Obviously, there was some tension in the locker room and it remains to be seen if that will carry over into the tournament. The Horned Frogs play the winner of Arizona State (22-12) and Nevada (22-10). Arizona State doesn’t seem like an exceptionally dangerous team to me, but I do think Nevada is. The Wolf Pack is 2-1 in games against top 25 competition, has played a tougher schedule than TCU, and has played better defense than the Horned Frogs. Further, Nevada has won six of their last ten games, compared to TCU only winning four of their last ten. I have Nevada winning their play-in game and extending that momentum into this matchup, upsetting TCU.