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The first round of the 2018 men’s NCAA tournament started with a bang on Thursday, with the very first game between Rhode Island and Oklahoma going to overtime.
But that was only the beginning.
Kentucky, Gonzaga, Ohio State and Texas Tech all got pushed to the limit by underdogs before ultimately prevailing. Miami wasn’t quite so lucky, losing to No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago on a last-second bucket by Donte Ingram. And goodness gracious did Arizona ever get its butt kicked by No. 13 seed Buffalo. (R.I.P. our brackets.)
What type of incredible madness does Friday have in store for us?
Most Likely Upsets
No. 12 New Mexico State over No. 5 Clemson
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The last game of the first round could be where your bracket finally goes up in flames.
Clemson was a great team early in the year, but the Tigers have been extremely hit or miss since losing Donte Grantham to a torn ACL in January. They scored just 36 points in their first game without him and have been held to 58 or fewer points in four of their last seven contests. There’s little question that this is the least trustworthy of the No. 5 seeds this year.
And for a team that has been struggling to score, this is a rough opponent to draw. New Mexico State plays outstanding defense and could dominate this game with rebounds. Jemerrio Jones isn’t a household name, but he should be. The 6’5″ forward has averaged a mind-blowing 16.1 rebounds over his last 13 games. If Zach Lofton is hitting his shots, the Aggies should pull off the upset.
No. 11 Syracuse over No. 6 TCU
One of the strangest axioms in the NCAA tournament is that the team who least deserved an at-large bid always seems to win a couple of games. UCLA did it in 2015, reaching the Sweet 16 as a No. 11 seed. The following year, most bracketologists said Syracuse didn’t belong in the tournament, but that didn’t stop the Orange from reaching the Final Four as a No. 10 seed.
Once again, Syracuse was a surprising revelation during the selection show, sneaking into the field as the last team in. The Orange went on to beat Arizona State in the First Four, and now they’ll face TCU.
These coaches know each other well from their days in the Big East. More often than not, Jamie Dixon had Jim Boeheim’s number. And all stats point toward the Horned Frogs eliminating the Orange in this game. But could Syracuse be headed for another “Nobody believes in us” type of run in March?
Biggest Stars in Action
Michael Porter Jr., Missouri
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press
Twenty-five minutes. That’s all we have seen thus far this season of a star who was a strong candidate for the No. 1 overall draft pick before suffering a back injury. But Porter is back (no pun intended) and could be the star of this game against Florida State. Call it a hunch, but there might be a couple of scouts in the building for this one.
Mohamed Bamba, Texas
Speaking of soon-to-be lottery picks, Bamba could have a field day against Nevada. The Wolf Pack have fully embraced positionless basketball, starting a 6’3″ shooting guard at point guard, surrounded by four 6’7″ wing-forwards. Against most opponents, that versatility is an advantage. But most opponents don’t have a 6’11” forward with a 7’9″ wingspan manning the low post. A points-rebounds-blocks triple-double is a legitimate possibility here.
Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State
If one lottery pick is nice, two is twice as nice, right? Michigan State has a pair of potential top-10 guys in Bridges and Jackson, both of whom will be crucial against a Bucknell team that has won 18 of its last 19 games. You might recall that Bridges was everyone’s preseason pick for National Player of the Year. He hasn’t been quite as dominant as expected, but he is more than capable of taking this game over.
Game Most Likely to Produce a Buzzer-Beater
No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 12 Murray State
There are games with closer spreads, but this one feels like it’s destined for an exchange of haymakers in the final five minutes before a dramatic ending.
As has been the case for the past few years, West Virginia thrives on relentless defensive pressure and offensive rebounds. The Mountaineers have left many an opponent wetting its proverbial pants on the court, collapsing under the pressure of all the steals. But if you can avoid getting eviscerated by turnover margin, West Virginia isn’t that great in a half-court game.
Donning the Underdog cape, Murray State is the type of team that can handle that pressure. The Racers have a pair of sensational guards in Jonathan Stark and Temetrius “Ja” Morant, as well as a stretch 4 who can cause some matchup problems in Terrell Miller Jr.
If this does come down to the wire, expect either Stark or West Virginia’s Jevon Carter to take the game-deciding shot. Both of those guards have ice in their veins and the ability to put up points in a hurry.
1 Player You Should Be Rooting For
Nati Harnik/Associated Press
Marcus Foster, Creighton
Transfers are a way of life in college basketball. There are roughly 800 per year. Heck, Nevada is likely going to start five transfers against Texas. But none of those players originally starred at Texas, nor had a messy exit from their previous school.
Marcus Foster, on the other hand, was a freshman sensation at Kansas State before clashing with head coach Bruce Weber during his sophomore season. At the end of the year, the school announced Foster had been dismissed from the team. Foster was more than content to sit out a season before restarting his career elsewhere, landing at Creighton.
And look what we have here: Creighton versus Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Kansas State fans certainly won’t be rooting for the guy who has scored more than 600 points in each of the last two seasons with the Bluejays. But if you’re a fan of a player being given a second chance and getting the opportunity to rub his success in his former coach’s face, you’re going to be pulling for Foster in this one.
Prop Bet of the Day
John Minchillo/Associated Press
Number of times an announcer marvels over a player’s height.
In addition to Jemerrio Jones getting all of the rebounds for New Mexico State even though he’s the size of a shooting guard, we’ll have Texas Southern’s Demontrae Jefferson trying to put the team on his 5’7″ shoulders against No. 1 seed Xavier. And at the opposite end of the spectrum, Purdue will start 7’2″ Isaac Haas at center before replacing him with 7’3″ Matt Haarms.
Those three games alone should get us to at least 10 lengthy conversations about the height of various players, so we’ll set the over/under at 14.5.
Day 2’s Games
No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Providence, 12:15 p.m. ET on CBS
No. 2 Purdue vs. No. 15 Cal State Fullerton, 12:40 p.m. ET on truTV
No. 4 Wichita State vs. No. 13 Marshall, 1:30 p.m. ET on TNT
No. 2 Cincinnati vs. No. 15 Georgia State, 2:00 p.m. ET on TBS
No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 15 Lipscomb, 2:45 p.m. ET on CBS
No. 7 Arkansas vs. No. 10 Butler, 3:10 p.m. ET on truTV
No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 12 Murray State, 4:00 p.m. ET on TNT
No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 10 Texas, 4:30 p.m. ET on TBS
No. 8 Creighton vs. No. 9 Kansas State, 6:50 p.m. ET on TNT
No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 14 Bucknell, 7:10 p.m. ET on CBS
No. 1 Xavier vs. No. 16 Texas Southern, 7:20 p.m. ET on TBS
No. 4 Auburn vs. No. 13 College of Charleston, 7:27 p.m. ET on truTV
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 UMBC, 9:20 p.m. ET on TNT
No. 6 TCU vs. No. 11 Syracuse, 9:40 p.m. ET on CBS
No. 8 Missouri vs. No. 9 Florida State, 9:50 p.m. ET on TBS
No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 12 New Mexico State, 9:57 p.m. ET on truTV
Live streams for all games available at NCAA.com.