Five games to watch: NCAA tournament first round

Riley LaChance as Vanderbilt hosted Dayton at Memorial Gymnasium on December 9, 2015. Dayton and Vanderbilt's 2016 NCAA tournament opponent, Wichita State, face off Friday in one of the first round's top games.

The first two days of the NCAA tournament are always two of the best on the sports calendar. With games straight through from noon to well past 10 p.m. ET, there’s enough basketball to satisfy even the most rabid of fans.

Like always, there are some intriguing first-round matchups this year. Let’s take a look at five of the best.

No. 7 Dayton vs. No. 10 Wichita State

Friday at 6:10 p.m. CT, CBS

Lower-seeded Wichita State comes into this game as a six-point favorite according to Vegas, and on paper it’s hard to argue with that. The Shockers ended the season 30-4, including a final stretch of 15 consecutive wins. Wichita State is ranked the eighth-best team in the country by the KenPom rankings — admittedly, an imperfect system — and by all accounts looks to be a prime candidate for a Cinderella run.

Don’t count out the Flyers, though. Dayton was one of the hottest teams in the country before losing in its first game of the Atlantic 10 tournament. They’re an experienced team that is solid on both ends of the floor, and they boast marquee wins over tournament teams Vanderbilt, VCU and Rhode Island. Whoever comes out of this matchup will likely put Kentucky on upset alert in the second round.

No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 12 Nevada

Thursday at 8:57 p.m. CT, truTV

Some have speculated that this might be the year that Iowa State finally makes a deep tournament run, but it drew a tough first-round matchup against an underrated Nevada team. It is an inevitability of March Madness that at least one No. 5 seed will lose in the first round every year, and the Wolfpack look the part of a potential Cinderella. Nevada is an elite three-point shooting team with an excellent rim protector, two factors that mean it can play with anyone. If Nevada slows the tempo and gets enough open looks, the Cyclones could be in trouble.

No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 11 Xavier

Thursday at 5:50 p.m. CT, TNT

The Terps actually exceeded preseason projections this year, but that was largely due to a red-hot start that cooled off quickly to end the season. Xavier has experienced a similar downturn, although that was likely a result of the injury to point guard Edmond Sumner at the end of January. Regardless, the Musketeers match up well with the Terps, as they can dominate the interior and prevent penetration. Star guard Melo Trimble must be at his best for Maryland to move past the first round.

No. 8 Miami vs. No. 9 Michigan State

Friday at 8:20 p.m. CT, TNT

Miami is definitely an under-the-radar team entering the tournament. It is excellent defensively, allowing just 63.7 points per game, the 24th best mark in the country. Additionally, the ‘Canes are led by three guards — Davon Reed, Ja’Quan Newton, and Bruce Brown — who are all capable of exploding at any given time. The Hurricanes have beaten some of the best teams in the country (North Carolina, Duke and Virginia), and don’t have many glaring losses on their resume.

So why isn’t this an easy pick? Personally, I’m never comfortable betting against Michigan State coach Tom Izzo in March.

No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast

Thursday at 8:20 p.m. CT, TNT

If you’re looking for potentially the biggest upset of the first round, keep an eye on this matchup between two in-state teams of wildly different pedigrees. The Seminoles are another team that seems capable of beating anyone, but they also have a few worrying losses to their name, against the likes of Temple, Georgia Tech (by 22 points!) and Pitt.

The Eagles, meanwhile, have a recent history of pulling stunning first-round upsets, and they play with the same flair that made their “Dunk City” team famous in 2013. To make this potential shocker even juicier, a No. 3 seed has lost in the first round of each of the past four tournaments. Don’t pencil in the Seminoles for Round 2 just yet.

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