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Joe Boozell | | March 15, 2018

March Madness: Every first round game analyzed, picked

High Five: Best Final Four Cinderella stories

Here are predictions for all 32 NCAA tournament first round games.

South Region

No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 UMBC, Friday

Like most 16-1 games, this should be a mismatch. Virginia has the No. 1 defense in the land; UMBC ranks 208th in offense. The Retrievers might not crack 50.

Winner: Virginia

No. 8 Creighton vs. No. 9 Kansas State, Friday

Dean Wade’s health is the most important thing for Kansas State. Khyri Thomas and Marcus Foster might be the two best guys on the court, but Creighton struggles to defend bigs. Wade could go off if he plays, but that’s no guarantee considering he missed the Big 12 semifinal.

Winner: Creighton

No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Davidson, Thursday

Kentucky is rolling, having won seven of eight, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander looks like a difference-maker at point guard. Davidson is hot too, and Kellan Grady and Peyton Aldridge are matchup nightmares. Expect a close UK win.

Winner: Kentucky


No. 4 Arizona vs. No. 13 Buffalo, Thursday

Two words: Deandre Ayton. He averaged 32 points and 16 boards over his last two Pac-12 tournament games. The Bulls don’t have the personnel to stop him.

Winner: Arizona

No. 6 Miami (Fla.) vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago, Thursday

The Hurricanes feel like a weaker 6-seed – they accomplished a lot while Bruce Brown was still healthy, but he won’t play in the tournament. The Ramblers are balanced, experienced, skilled and hungry — it’s their first tournament appearance since 1985.

Winner: Loyola-Chicago

No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 14 Wright State, Thursday

Let’s get a little nuts. Tennessee is better, but both defenses are stout — there won’t be many possessions in this game, increasing the likelihood of an upset. The Raiders force turnovers on 21 percent of opponents’ possessions; the Vols are prone to coughing it up.

Winner: Wright State

MORE: Full March Madness home

No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 10 Texas, Friday

The matchup to watch here: Nevada’s No. 10 offense vs. Texas’ No. 10 defense. The Longhorns could eke this out, but points will come easier for the Wolf Pack. Keep an eye on Mo Bamba's status during the week.

Winner: Nevada

No. 2 Cincinnati vs. No. 15 Georgia State, Friday

R.J. Hunter isn’t walking through that door. Cincinnati beats the teams it’s supposed to beat — the Bearcats don’t have a sub-25 KenPom loss this season.

Winner: Cincinnati

East Region

No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 16 LIU Brooklyn/Radford, Thursday

‘Nova all day. The Wildcats regained their offensive form in Madison Square Garden, and their once inconsistent defense is perking up, too.

Winner: Villanova

No. 8 Virginia Tech vs. No. 9 Alabama, Thursday

Heck of an 8-9 matchup. It’s hard to pick against Collin Sexton in a single-elimination setting, but Virginia Tech has beaten Virginia, Duke and North Carolina this year. The Hokies have a wider margin for error.

Winner: Virginia Tech

No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 12 Murray State, Friday

Murray State’s best player is senior point guard Jonathan Stark, a huge plus when going up against Press Virginia. The Mountaineers cooled off after a sizzling start, and the Racers are secure with the ball — a must against the press.

Winner: Murray State

No. 4 Wichita State vs. No. 13 Marshall, Friday

Sneaky fun coaching matchup here between Gregg Marshall and Dan D’Antoni, noted analytics enthusiast. That said, Marshall just feels like a watered-down version of the Shockers, who rank fifth in offense.

Winner: Wichita State

No. 6 Florida vs. No. 11 St. Bonaventure/UCLA, Thursday

We’ll take the Gators over either. Mike White brought his team to the Elite Eight last year, and several pieces return. KeVaughn Allen hasn’t looked like himself, but heady senior point guard Chris Chiozza gives Florida a huge advantage in a pressure-packed setting.

Winner: Florida

No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin, Thursday

Keenan Evans seems healthy, which is the most important thing for Texas Tech. It’s the 2011 and 2014 UConn formula: stud point guard plus stingy defense equals NCAA tournament success.

Winner: Texas Tech

MORE: Bracket tips

No. 7 Arkansas vs. No. 10 Butler, Friday

Toss up here, but the Bulldogs have struggled to find a third option after Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin; the Razorbacks are more balanced. There’s no such thing as a good matchup for Daniel Gafford — the Butler front line offers no exception.

Winner: Arkansas

No. 2 Purdue vs. No. 15 Cal State Fullerton, Friday

Purdue has the talent to be a 1-seed. Isaac Haas surrounded by four shooters remains a lethal offensive attack.

Winner: Purdue


No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Penn, Thursday

The bottom of the bracket is tough, but the first few games seem easy enough for the streaking Jayhawks.

Winner: Kansas

No. 8 Seton Hall vs. No. 9 N.C. State, Thursday

This is a fun big man matchup here between Angel Delgado and Ömer Yurtseven, but the Pirates’ experience gives them the edge. Four seniors play heavy minutes for Seton Hall.

Winner: Seton Hall

No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 12 New Mexico State, Friday

Two top-12 defenses square off, and the Aggies excel in shutting down the 3-point line (30.8 opposing 3-point percentage). Without Donte Grantham, the Tigers are perimeter-oriented. New Mexico State has outstanding wing defenders and could pull out a close game.

Winner: New Mexico State

MORE: How to pick a successful March dark horse

No. 4 Auburn vs, No. 13 Charleston, Friday

Auburn is 2-4 in its last six games and hasn’t looked nearly as formidable since Anfernee McLemore’s injury. The Cougars rank 11th in turnover rate and will optimize every possession. Again: the Tigers deserved the 4-seed, but they did a lot of their damage with McLemore in the lineup.

Winner: Charleston

No. 6 TCU vs. No. 11 Arizona State/No. 11 Syracuse, Friday

None of these teams inspire a ton of confidence, but the Horned Frogs’ No. 8 offense is the best unit here. TCU is canning 40 percent of its 3s — it’s much better offensively than Syracuse, and is a similar but superior version of Arizona State.

Winner: TCU

No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 14 Bucknell, Friday

The Spartans are 1-3 in their last four NCAA tournament games, but they should have no problem handling Bucknell. Michigan State arguably has the most talented roster in the field.

Winner: Michigan State

No. 7 Rhode Island vs. No. 10 Oklahoma, Thursday

Both teams are struggling, but Oklahoma looks totally lost, having dropped eight of 10. The Rams peaked earlier in the year, but they look like a tournament-caliber team at the moment — we can’t say the same about the Sooners.

Winner: Rhode Island

No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Iona, Thursday

Expect Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter to go off against a smaller front line. This could be a 30 and 15 game for Bagley if he plays enough minutes.

Winner: Duke


No. 1 Xavier vs. No. 16 NC Central/Texas Southern, Friday

The Musketeers have struggled at times with inferior teams, but they’re clearly more talented than either 16-seed.

Winner: Xavier

No. 8 Missouri vs. No. 9 Florida State, Friday

Missouri is a big question mark considering Michael Porter Jr.’s return. But the Tigers were solid without him, and the Seminoles have lost five of their last nine. Missouri is good without Porter, but if he can give the Tigers anything, they could challenge Xavier in the second round.

Winner: Missouri

No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 South Dakota State, Thursday

Two of the best players in the country square off in Keita Bates-Diop and Mike Daum. Chris Holtmann has never lost a first round NCAA tournament game, though, and the Jackrabbits won’t scare the Buckeyes with their non-Daum scoring options.

Winner: Ohio State

No. 4 Gonzaga vs. No. 13 UNCG, Thursday

Gonzaga blitzed through the WCC tournament and looks nearly as good as it did this time last season. UNCG is interesting — it has the nation’s No. 30 defense — but it likely doesn’t have sufficient answers for Killian Tillie and Josh Perkins.

Winner: Gonzaga

No. 6 Houston vs. No. 11 San Diego State, Thursday

The Cougars have a top-35 unit on both ends and a senior leader at point guard in Rob Gray. As usual, the Aztecs are stout on defense, but they’re running into a team that might be better than its seed line.

Winner: Houston

No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 14 Montana, Thursday

There might not be a hotter team going than the Wolverines. This is the best defense of the John Beilein era, and he has plenty of scorers (Moritz Wagner always seems to play his best in March). The Wolverines have Final Four potential.

Winner: Michigan

MORE: March Madness schedule

No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Providence, Friday

Providence was incredibly impressive in the Big East tournament. The Aggies have an ultra-talented frontcourt, but the pieces don’t always fit. Kyron Cartwright is balling for the Friars and is late-game shot-maker.

Winner: Providence

No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 15 Lipscomb, Friday

North Carolina has lost once in the last two NCAA tournaments. The Tar Heels have a significantly different roster this time around, but they’re still really good, and Roy Williams excels in tournament play.

Winner: North Carolina

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