No. 10 Iowa (22-11)
vs. No. 7 Cincinnati (28-6)
Columbus, Ohio | South | 12:15 p.m. | WFMY-2
KenPom projection: Cincinnati, 53 percent.
The matchup: These teams are two ships passing in the night as the Bearcats have lost three games since Jan. 10 and upset Houston for the American Athletic Conference title last week. The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, have dropped six of their past eight as their defense has been nonexistent. Cincinnati will look to slow things down and play a defensive grinder, while Iowa will try to get out and run with its four double-figure scorers, led by Tyler Cook (14.9 points, 7.9 rebounds). The Bearcats won’t beat themselves, leaning on an offense that rarely turns it over and creates extra chances with the nation’s fourth-best offensive rebound rate.
No. 9 Oklahoma (19-13)
vs. No. 8 Ole Miss (20-12)
Columbia, S.C. | South | 12:40 p.m. | TruTV
KenPom projection: Oklahoma, 51 percent.
The matchup: Neither of these teams have played particularly well over the past month, with Oklahoma losing seven of 11 coming into the tournament while Ole Miss has dropped five of seven. Who knows which version of each will show up, because at one point in the season, both looked destined for much higher seeds. Lon Kruger usually has his Sooners ready to play in March, and if they’re to get anything done this weekend, it’ll be by leaning on a strong defense. The Rebels, in their first season under coach Kermit Davis, have built a solid offense around Breein Tyree (18.2 points) and Terence Davis (15.1 points).
No. 14 N. Kentucky (26-8) vs. No. 3 Texas Tech (26-6)
Tulsa, Okla. | West | 1:30 p.m. | TNT
KenPom projection: Texas Tech, 89 percent.
The matchup: The Norse, a pretty good offensive team, make their second tournament appearance in three seasons, but the selection committee did no favors in matching them up with the nation’s best defense. Seriously — they edged Virginia for the best defensive efficiency rating this season, forcing turnovers and wreaking havoc on opponents’ field goal percentages by keeping them out of the middle of the floor. NKU’s Drew McDonald (19.1 points, 9.5 rebounds) will be tasked with solving Texas Tech’s defense, while the Red Raiders’ Jarrett Culver (18.5 points, 6.3 rebounds) will likely be a lottery pick in June’s NBA draft.
No. 13 UC Irvine (30-5) vs. No. 4 Kansas State (25-8)
San Jose, Calif. | South | 2 p.m. | TBS
KenPom projection: Kansas State, 73 percent.
The matchup: Wake Forest fans should pay attention to this one as the Anteaters are led by former Deacons assistant Russell Turner, who has led UCI to a top-two finish in the Big West in each of the past six seasons. On the other sideline is Bruce Weber, who Wake Forest’s incoming athletics director John Currie hired at Kansas State. Should Wake Forest make a coaching change, these two would certainly make fine candidates. In terms of the game, expect a defensive slugfest between two teams that are comfortable playing at a slower pace. The Anteaters are best in the nation at defending against 2-pointers, while the Wildcats rank fourth nationally in defensive efficiency.
No. 15 Colgate (24-10) vs. No. 2 Tennessee (29-5)
Columbus | South | 2:45 p.m. | WFMY-2
KenPom projection: Tennessee, 91 percent.
The matchup: The Raiders were 13-10 before running off 11 straight wins and winning the Patriot League Tournament to get an automatic bid. For their troubles, they’ll get a shot at Tennessee’s juggernaut offense and big man Grant Williams (19 points, 7.6 rebounds), who is one of five Vols averaging in double-figures scoring. That will be a tall task for Colgate’s Rapolas Ivanauska (16.4 points, 7.9 rebounds) and a defense that ranks 203rd nationally in efficiency.
No. 16 Gardner-Webb (23-11)
vs. No. 1 Virginia (29-3)
Columbia | South | 3:10 p.m. | TruTV
KenPom projection: Virginia, 98 percent.
The matchup: Pray for the Bulldogs. After becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 last season, the Cavs will be locked in from the opening tip and looking to take out a year of jokes and frustration on GWU in its first NCAA Tournament appearance. Virginia is playing its same lockdown defense as always, but this time around, De’Andre Hunter (15.1 points) and Kyle Guy (15.6 points) lead an offense that ranks second in efficiency. The Bulldogs will look to David Efianayi (18.4 points) and Jose Perez (15 points) to equal the feat of UMBC last season.
No. 11 Arizona State (23-10) vs. No. 6 Buffalo (31-3)
Tulsa | West | 4 p.m. | TNT
KenPom projection: Buffalo, 28 percent.
The matchup: The Bulls won’t catch anyone by surprise after spending the majority of the season in the Top 25, and they certainly won’t shock their former coach, Bobby Hurley. The Sun Devils are in after topping St. John’s in a First Four game on Wednesday night, and they could have a little momentum behind the talented guard duo of Luguentz Dort (16.1 points) and Remy Martin (13.1 points). Buffalo will look to push the pace even harder than ASU, ranking ninth in tempo throughout the season. Greensboro’s Jeremy Harris (14 points) is one of the Bulls’ trio of top scorers, led by CJ Massiburg (18.3 points).
No. 12 Oregon (23-12)
vs. No. 5 Wisconsin (23-10)
San Jose | South | 4:30 p.m. | TBS
KenPom projection: Wisconsin, 68 percent.
The matchup: UNC-Greensboro fans, prepare to root against the team that kept the Spartans out of the tournament. The Ducks got in by way of winning the Pac-12 championship, salvaging something in what had been a complete disaster. It’s likely their stay won’t last very long thanks to a typically stout Badgers defense, as Wisconsin ranks third in defensive efficiency and plays its usual grinding brand of basketball. The Badgers don’t beat themselves with mistakes and have an All-American big man in Ethan Happ (17.5 points, 10.1 rebounds).
No. 9 Washington (26-8) vs. No. 8 Utah State (28-6)
Columbus | Midwest | 6:50 p.m. | TNT
KenPom projection: Utah State, 58 percent.
The matchup: UNC-Greensboro fans will probably want to root against Washington for blowing it against Oregon. And like the Ducks, it’s likely their stay in the tournament won’t be an extended one as they meet a USU team that has won 16 of its past 17 games. The Aggies have a takeover scorer in guard Sam Merrill (21.2 points, 4.2 assists) and solid big man in Neeimas Queta (11.1 points, 8.9 rebounds). The Huskies are one of the nation’s best defensive teams, ranking 20th in efficiency, but have trouble generating much of anything on offense. Merrill’s matchup with Matisse Thybulle,(9.3 points, 3.4 steals, 2.3 blocks) will be a good one.
No. 16 North Dakota State (19-15) vs. No. 1 Duke (29-5)
Columbia | East | 7:10 p.m. | WFMY-2
KenPom projection: Duke, 99 percent.
The matchup: All eyes will be on this one to see Vinnie Shahid (12.9 points). OK, maybe not, but North Dakota State is a good program that played its way into the first round with a win over N.C. Central on Wednesday night. The Blue Devils will look to avenge their Bull City brethren and are heavily favored to do so after the exhibition that Zion Williamson (22.1 points, 8.9 rebounds) put on in the ACC Tournament. As the top-seeded team in the tournament, all of the pressure is on Duke here and the Bison should be loose and free to try to play their style. It probably won’t work.
No. 14 Georgia State (24-9) vs. No. 3 Houston (31-3)
Tulsa | Midwest | 7:20 p.m. | TBS
KenPom projection: Houston, 85 percent.
The matchup: Both of these coaches should be in high demand this offseason. Kelvin Sampson continues his resurrection of the Cougars’ program, and Ron Hunter leads the Panthers to their third tournament appearance in five seasons. While Houston ranks 24th nationally in offensive efficiency, it’s even better on defense, where it forces bad shots and ranks first nationally in field goal defense, forcing opponents to shoot 36.7 percent. Georgia State, which is among the most experienced teams in the tournament, will have to lean on that maturity to hang around in this one and look to get a big game from junior guard D’Marcus Simonds (18.4 points).
No. 12 Liberty (28-6) vs.
No. 5 Mississippi St. (23-10)
San Jose | East | 7:27 p.m. | TruTV
KenPom projection: Mississippi State, 71 percent.
The matchup: The Flames have flown under the radar this season despite their consistency, losing just two games since the start of January. Ritchie McKay’s team is solid offensively with three double-figure scorers, led by Scottie James (13.1 points, 8.8 rebounds) and Caleb Homesley (12 points, 5.5 rebounds). The Bulldogs’ attack is even better under Ben Howland, who has quickly rebuilt the program at MSU behind guard Quinndary Weatherspoon (18.2 points). In what should be a good offensive matchup, rebounding might be the difference.
No. 16 Iona (17-15) vs.
No. 1 North Carolina (27-6)
Columbus | Midwest | 9:20 p.m. | TNT
KenPom projection: Carolina, 99 percent.
The matchup: The Gaels lean on their offense and like to run, which unfortunately for them, the Tar Heels do better than anyone. Iona has four double-figure scorers led by guard E.J. Crawford (17.9 points), but average shooting numbers from beyond the arc will likely be tough for Iona to overcome. If the Gaels want to run, Coby White (16.3 points, 4.2 assists) will be happy to oblige in what should be an absolute shootout. Expect buckets early and often, and the Tar Heels are likely to end up with quite a few more than an overmatched Iona team.
No. 9 UCF
vs. No. 8 VCU
Columbia | East | 9:40 p.m. | WFMY-2
KenPom projection: VCU, 53 percent.
The matchup: They both go by three letters and both rely on strong defense, but they go at decidedly different speeds. Former Duke star Johnny Dawkins has UCF moving at one of the slowest tempos in the nation while playing lockdown defense, while VCU still employs its signature fullcourt pressure while looking to move a bit faster. The Rams, who rank third in defensive efficiency, are ninth nationally in forcing turnovers and do a good job of defending the 3-point line. It’ll be up to guards B.J. Taylor (16 points) and Aubrey Dawkins (15.2 points) to solve the pressure, while VCU hopes to get Marcus Evans (13.8 points) back from an injury he sustained last week in the Atlantic 10 Touranemnt.
o. 11 Ohio State (19-14)
vs. No. 6 Iowa State (23-11)
Tulsa | Midwest | 9:50 p.m. | TBS
KenPom projection: Iowa State, 66 percent.
The matchup: The selection committee has a bit of credibility on the line here after including a Buckeyes team that went 8-12 in the Big Ten and lost seven of 10 games coming into the tournament. The appeal appears to be a defense that ranks 27th in efficiency but beyond that, it’s somewhat of a mystery as to why OSU received a bid, with just two double-figure scorers in Kaleb Wesson (14.4 points, 6.8 rebounds) and C.J. Jackson (12.2 points). Meanwhile, ISU has the ninth-ranked offensive efficiency rating behind former Virginia guard Marial Shayok (18.6 points) and Lindell Wigginton (13.5 points). Iowa State shoots the ball well, doesn’t turn it over and prepared with a tough schedule. The Cyclones have all the makings of a dark horse.
No. 13 Saint Louis (23-12)
vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech (24-8)
San Jose | East | 9:57 p.m. | TruTV
KenPom projection: Virginia Tech, 85 percent.
The matchup: Most important for the Hokies, point guard Justin Robinson (13.7 points, 5.2 assists) was cleared to return for the ACC Tournament after missing 12 games with a foot injury. Virginia Tech handled itself well in his absence, playing its usual strong brand of offense through Kerry Blackshear (14.7 points, 7.4 rebounds). The Billikens didn’t live up to their preseason billing in the Atlantic 10 race, but came on strong late to win the tournament behind improved defense. They’ll need it as they try to slow down the Hokies’ weapons, which include elite bucket-getter Nickeil Alexander-Walker (16.6 points).