10 Things to Watch on Day 1 of the NCAA Tournament

The first four days of the NCAA Tournament might be the best stretch on the sports calendar, and everything kicks off on Thursday.

We've got 16 games coming at us, and it should be amazing.

Here are 10 things to keep an eye on as you take in Day 1 of the Big Dance.

Michigan Favored as an 11 Seed

In the very first game of the day (12:15 p.m. EST), we get 11 seed Michigan operating as a 2.5-point favorite, according to NCAAB odds, in their clash with 6 seed Colorado State.

Michigan boasts a lot more talent than your average 11 seed, sporting a roster that includes eight top-100 recruits, including two players who were ranked in the top 11 of the 2021 class. Colorado State has zero top-100 recruits.

Despite the spread, our nERD metric ranks the Rams (30th) slightly in front of the Wolverines (32nd). KenPom does, as well, slotting Colorado State 31st and Michigan 33rd. Torvik, however, puts Michigan 26th and Colorado State 41st.

We're starting the day with what should be a hard-fought affair.

Is Providence Overrated?

All year long, Providence has had to deal with people calling them overrated, lucky and the like. We did it this week on this very site. And it makes sense as their nERD rating aligns with the nERD for an 11 seed. Providence sits first in KenPom's luck factor. They are overrated and lucky!

Providence, a 4 seed, is just a 2.0-point favorite over the South Dakota State, a 13 seed.

The Friars have a chance to make a statement Thursday in their first-round matchup. Will they validate the critics or show that they went 25-5 for a reason?

The Jackrabbits Can Stroke It

On the flip side of that game, South Dakota State should be a treat to watch.

The Jackrabbits are deadly from deep. South Dakota State leads the nation in three-point percentage, hitting an astounding 44.9% of their three-point tries. That's 4.6 percentage points better than anyone else. Whew.

Per KenPom, South Dakota State is 59th in adjusted tempo and 12th in offense. Facing a Friars defense that ranks a blah 79th, the Jackrabbits could put on a show.

Oscar Tshiebwe Could Go Biserk

Kentucky opens tourney play against Saint Peter's, and it should be a showcase for Wildcats star Oscar Tshiebwe.

The SEC Player of the Year is a wrecking ball inside, and he's averaging 17.0 points and 15.2 boards per game.

Tshiebwe smacked Arkansas for 30 points and 18 rebounds in late February, and Arkansas is a team that KenPom slots 20th overall and 16th in defense. He could detonate on Saint Peter's, although the Peacocks do rank 36th in D on KenPom.

A Trio of 8/9 Games

We get three 8/9 matchups on Day 1 -- Memphis versus Boise State, North Carolina against Marquette and Creighton facing San Diego State.

All three games have a spread of 3.0 points or fewer, so if you want to watch matchups that will likely come down to the wire, here ya go.

Our numbers are pretty high on Memphis and San Diego State as they check in 24th and 23, respectively, in nERD. The Aztecs are an 8 seed that could make a run as they're second in D for both KenPom and Torvik. That will likely give San Diego State a puncher's chance versus Kansas in the second round if the Aztecs can get past Creighton.

Iowa's Electric Offense

Coming off a run to the Big Ten Tournament crown, Iowa enters the dance red-hot, and their offense has been one of the nation's best this year. Sports-Reference's adjusted offensive rating (123.09), KenPom and Torvik all rank the Hawkeyes as the second-best offense in the land.

Iowa is led by breakout sophomore Keegan Murray, who averages 23.6 points and 8.6 boards while shooting 40.5% from three. He is first in the nation in player efficiency rating.

The 5 seed Hawkeyes are taking on a dangerous Richmond squad in a 5/12 game -- a matchup that always carries upset potential. Richmond also won their conference tourney, knocking off Davidson in the A-10 title bout, but the Spiders are 10.0-point 'dogs in this one.

Iowa has not made the Sweet 16 since 1999. With one of the premier offenses in the tournament and an elite-level star in Murray, Iowa can snap that streak this season.

Will UCLA Go on Another Run?

UCLA was one of the surprise teams of last year's tourney, advancing to the Final Four as an 11 seed. The top-five scorers from that team are back, so the Bruins have all the pieces to make another deep run.

They won't sneak up on anyone this time, though, as UCLA is a 4 seed.

The Bruins are in the top 15 for offense (15th) and defense (12th), according to KenPom, and they are 14.0-point favorites against 13 seed Akron. The Zips figure to be in trouble as they're 131st overall in KenPom and sit outside the top 100 in offense and D.

My Favorite Game of the Day

I'm really geeked about the San Francisco-Murray State matchup for two reasons.

One, it figures to be a heck of a game. The 7th-seeded Racers are 1.5-point favorites over the 10th-seeded Dons, and the 137.0-point total means we should get a fairly fast-paced game.

The other reason I'm pumped for this one is that I think the winner of this contest -- especially if it's San Francisco -- can give Kentucky a game in the second round.

The Dons have a nERD of 12.41, which is more in line with the average nERD for a 6 seed. We rank them 21st, and so does KenPom. Torvik rates the Dons 19th. They're a dang good team, especially for a 10 seed, and could be a bracket buster.

But if Murray State beats the Dons, a Murray State-Kentucky commonwealth battle would be a blast, too.

The Loaded East Region

By our numbers, the East Region is the toughest region, and Thursday gives us six games from the East.

Going by nERD, the East contains the best 2 seed (Kentucky), 10 seed (San Francisco), 11 seed (Virginia Tech), 12 seed (Indiana) and 15 seed (Saint Peter's).

The aforementioned San Francisco-Murray State clash is an East Region battle. Indiana-Saint Mary's and Marquette-UNC is, as well. All of those games have spreads of 3.0 points or fewer.

Throughout the tourney, the East Region should be a treat to watch.

Can Indiana Keep It Going?

A week ago, Indiana's season was circling the drain. The Hoosiers went into the Big Ten Tournament having lost seven of their final nine regular-season affairs. They probably needed at least one Big Ten Tournament win to feel good about their at-large chances, and in their postseason opener against Michigan last Thursday, IU trailed by 16 early in the second half.

The Hoosiers have been pretty darn good from that point on. Not only did they rally to beat the Wolverines by five, IU followed that with a win over Illinois -- the Big Ten's regular-season champ -- and then gave Iowa all it could handle in a three-point loss.

That turnaround helped IU get an at-large bid, earning them a 12 seed and a spot in Tuesday's play-in round. They took care of Wyoming, 66-58, in that one, and they have a shot to keep their run going versus 5 seed Saint Mary's in a game in which the Hoosiers are just 3.0-point 'dogs.

On the negative, Indiana just had to fly across the country -- from Dayton to Portland -- last night, and the date with the Gaels will be Indiana's fifth game in eight days. On the positive, IU is hot, and with a ranking of 264th in KenPom's luck factor, the Hoosiers are likely a little better than their 21-13 record (and 12 seed) indicates.

We give IU a 34.9% chance to pull the upset.