A Lightning Quick Guide to the First Round of March Madness: FRIDAY GAMES

Thursday’s edition of this post included an introductory paragraph that spent an entire paragraph explaining to you why there was no need for an introductory paragraph. I’m not going to repeat that mistake today. The games have begun! Begin panicking! BAHHHHHHHHHHH!

A quick aside for those of you thinking, “Wait, Shane. I used to see posts like this on this blog all the time. I didn’t see many this season. What the hell?”

It’s a fair question, dear reader. I have been posting less here at PB HQ, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing about college basketball. I am a contributor to multiple other outlets where you can find my work all basketball season long.

I write a ton of gambling-focused (but not gambling exclusive) content for The Action Network. I was once again on Joe Lunardi’s team for bracket breakdowns at ESPN. There’s others as well. Follow @OnTheShaneTrain on Twitter for all my work.

(10) USC vs. (7) Michigan State (CBS, 12:15 PM ET)

You came here for hard-hitting basketball coverage.

What I bring you instead, is true admiration as someone who took five years of Latin in school, that this game is Trojans versus Spartans. SICK! Who wants to watch Wolfgang Petersen’s 2004 classic Troy?

Anyway, this is such a sneaky little Tom Izzo team. Please, please, be on high alert for some big time Izzo-nian baloney this weekend.

Again, as I said, hard-hitting basketball breakdowns.

(14) Kennesaw State vs. (3) Xavier (TruTV, 12:40 PM ET)

I tangentially discussed my feelings on Xavier in a tweet earlier this week.

Yes, if Xavier plays the way we saw the Musketeers perform in the Big East title game, they aren’t long for this tournament, even putting a loss in this game on the table.

On the other hand, Xavier pounded Creighton the night before it lost to Marquette. Xavier also almost lost to DePaul the day before that. Xavier swept the UConn team that everyone is so quick to anoint as a title contender.

There’s nuance to all of this. Xavier is a deserving 3-seed, that may be expected to underperform due to a key injury to forward Zach Freemantle.

Could Xavier lose to Kennesaw State? Could Xavier play for a national championship?

The answer to both questions, to varying degrees, is “Yes, if…”. Forgive me if this is obvious, but it seems to get lost in the shuffle of bracket excitement this week.

(14) UC Santa Barbara vs. (3) Baylor (TNT, 1:40 PM ET)

Baylor has three of the best 50 or so guards in the country. The Bears offense can be a firehose of points at any given moment.

And yet, I have no faith in Baylor. The Bears can’t defend at all. The Michael Jordan cut-out from Kevin’s fake party in Home Alone could probably get to the bucket and score on this team.

That gives UCSB a chance to hang around or win.

(12) VCU vs. (5) Saint Mary’s (TBS, 2:00 PM ET)

As a Gonzaga fan, I’ve spent years defending the WCC from people saying the Zags never play anyone. And yet, here I sit, trying to figure out who the hell Saint Mary’s beat this year.

The Gaels played six games against teams that are in the NCAA Tournament field. They won four and lost three. The three wins were opening week wins over Oral Roberts and Vermont, at home, plus a home win over Gonzaga, in overtime (in a game the Zags let slip away after building a big lead).

Saint Mary’s only win over a tournament quality team came in a neutral court game against San Diego State, when the Aztecs shot 3-15 from deep. The Gaels haven’t won a game East of Provo, Utah.

News flash: we aren’t playing any NCAA Tournament games in Moraga, California. In fact, the Gaels had to ship across the country to play in Albany, New York, in a game that tips at 11:00 for their Pacific Time body clocks.

Beyond that, Saint Mary’s wants to slow the game down and play some of the ugliest basketball imaginable. Randy Bennett finds ways to put his team in position to succeed and this season, that’s commendable. Logan Johnson and Aidan Mahaney are creative guards with some wiggle, but the rest of the roster isn’t doing much offensively. Kyle Bowen in particularly stands out as ineffective offensively.

VCU is quick, athletic, and good enough to be opportunistic against a paper tiger Saint Mary’s team.

(15) Vermont vs. (2) Marquette (CBS, 2:45 PM ET)

My comments above about Xavier also apply conversely to Marquette. The Golden Eagles could cut down the nets in Houston or lose this very game to Vermont.

The Golden Eagles have done plenty to prove they can make a run this March. Winning the Big East regular season and conference tournament is a massive achievement.

But we love this stupid tournament because if Vermont shoots 12-20 from beyond the arc, Marquette could lose and the internet would act like Shaka Smart is allergic to the Sweet 16.

(11) Pittsburgh vs. (6) Iowa State (TruTV, 3:10 PM ET)

Did you watch Pitt play on Tuesday night? Be honest: did you enjoy it?

If you answered “yes” to that question, seek psychiatric help.

For the rest of us, keep tabs on this game but try not to stare directly at it. It might harm your rods and cones.

(11) NC State vs. (6) Creighton (TNT, 4:00 PM ET)

In the interest of time, let me just link you to a fully-fleshed out preview that I wrote for the Action Network. Every single game in this tournament will have a dedicated preview written by myself or one of my colleagues. That’s pretty cool.

(13) Iona vs. (4) UConn (TBS, 4:30 ET)

Hey, look! Another game for which I wrote a full preview! And, in typical Palestra Back fashion, I got carried away and blew past the recommended word count.

(16) Fairleigh Dickinson VS. (1) Purdue (TNT, 6:50 ET)

Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

I’m very glad FDU pulled Purdue in the draw. The Knights don’t start any players taller than 6-foot-6.

Purdue center Zach Edey is 7-foot-4.

This is how dreams come true.

(11) Providence vs. (6) Kentucky (CBS, 7:10 PM ET)

What do you know, another full preview! Dive into that bad boy.

For the second night in a row, CBS nailed which game should kick off the primetime slate.

(12) Drake vs. (5) Miami (TBS, 7:25 PM ET)

Apologies for once again linking to work I’ve written elsewhere, but this week I gave my rundown for why Drake could be this year’s Cinderella and why Drake star Tucker DeVries might become a star this month.

If it bothers you that this free blog post contains a bunch of links to other free content, you can file for a mail-in rebate that is good for another free blog post later in 2023.

(14) Grand Canyon vs. (3) Gonzaga (TruTV, 7:35 PM ET)

I’ve been a Gonzaga fan since I was 8-years-old. I’ve watched a ton of Zags games this season.

I have truly no idea what to think about this team anymore. I thought the lack of off-the-dribble playmaking in the backcourt would doom them come March. Over the past month or so, however, Gonzaga has had the best offense in the country, by a margin so wide it seems impossible.

Clearly someone is creating something off the dribble.

Drew Timme may flip a switch and have the tournament of a lifetime, with really no big man in the bottom half of this bracket capable of defending him one-on-one.

Then again, this team doesn’t have a defensive identity or any reliable rim protection. Does that matter if you score 90 every game? Probably. But I learned to stop trying to guess what will happen to this team months ago.

I stopped thinking this team could play in a Final Four in late 2022. The Zags did everything they could to make me change my mind. As a fan, I’d love to be proven wrong.

(9) Florida Atlantic vs. (8) Memphis (TNT, 9:20 PM ET)

I hate that two of the hottest teams in the nation have to play each other, just for a crack at a top seed. I think it’s fair to say Florida Atlantic would gladly trade draws with teams seeded as 12s or even 13s. What a strange reward for a fantastic regular season.

I’m not sure which school should target Florida Atlantic head coach Dusty May, yet I know he should spend the week after his Owls lose fielding offers.

(14) Montana State vs. (3) Kansas State (CBS, 9:40 PM ET)

I have seen a lot of people saying Jerome Tang should be National Coach of the Year for his work at K-State this season and that a program like Texas should gobble him up.

I’ve seen others suggest K-State is overseeded and on upset alert here.

Amazingly, I’ve seen both of these things said by the same people. What a world we live in, folks.

Personally, I am a believer in both Tang and his two stars, Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson. If you think sports are fixed for the narratives and TV ratings, Johnson’s recovery after collapsing on the court at Florida in 2020 would be a perfect pitch for a K-State Final Four run.

I’m no conspiracy theorist, unless you’re asking about Stevie Wonder, but think Johnson is good enough have a storybook March anyway.

(13) Kent State vs. (4) Indiana (TBS, 9:55 PM ET)

While Trayce Jackson-Davis is the best player on Indiana, and maybe in the country, it’s freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino that can really elevate the Hoosiers’ ceiling.

I explained that feeling in this piece for the Action Network.

If the Hoosiers make a run, TJD will be the headliner, but JHS will be the catalyst.

(11) Arizona State vs. (6) TCU (TruTv, 10:05 PM ET)

Pretty great draw for TCU, just in terms of travel arrangements. Nevada and Arizona State both had to fly from the western half of the country to Dayton to play on Wednesday, with the winner needing to hop on a plane and prepare to play TCU in Denver at altitude on Friday, all the week after Daylight Savings Time.

If you haven’t watched Mike Miles, point guard for TCU, I highly recommend his game. Cross your fingers the Horned Frogs win this one and you get to see him play Gonzaga at a reasonable hour.


Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, The Action Network, Betway Insider, Rush The Court, Larry Brown Sports, RotoBaller, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. You can find every post from this blog on Twitter by following @PalestraBack.

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