4 Things to Watch on Day 1 of the NCAA Tournament
There are exactly 16 games today.
How can we possibly watch them all?
What can we do then?
Well, I've found, over so many years of watching March Madness, that it's best to focus on a few games throughout the day -- the ones you want on your big screen. Then, maybe on your computer or tablet, it's best to have whatever games you deem "secondary" matchups to see if they turn into something interesting.
How do we decide which is which though?
Don't sweat it. I'm here to help you decide what to put on your main screen today.
An Underrated Texas Team
The game between Texas and Butler should be, without a doubt, one of the best matchups of the day. These two teams are pretty evenly matched, and our numbers agree. Texas is the 19th-best team in the country according to our power rankings, while Butler comes into the tournament ranked 20th. The two teams are separated by just 0.17 points within our nERD metric, which measures overall team efficiency and is an estimate of a team's score differential against an average team on a neutral court.
Accordingly, we expect this game to be the closest of the day with regards to score differential. One thing to watch in particular is which defense will perform the best, as both teams have defenses that fall within the 87th percentile or better. The Bulldogs and Longhorns will square off at 2:45 EST.
UCLA Looks to Make a Statement
The UCLA Bruins and Southern Methodist Mustangs will meet in what should be another close first-round matchup. In fact, our numbers expect this game to come down to the wire -- a margin of about four points according to our game simulator. This comes as no surprise since the two teams' nERD rankings are so close to one another. SMU has the slight edge, however, with a nERD of 11.15 over the Bruins' 9.52. The Mustangs also have the edge in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
But, one thing to watch for -- outside the numbers -- is whether the Bruins come out with a chip on their shoulders. Many people have talked about how UCLA shouldn't be in the tournament, but maybe they come out and make a point that they do belong. It'll be interesting to see if numbers or emotions win out in this kind of matchup. The two will meet up at 3:10 EST to decide their fates.
The NC State Guard Play
I know you're probably catching on to the theme here, but of course we're all looking for good games to watch. This one is no different. The LSU Tigers and NC State Wolfpack should provide a great game for your watching pleasure. LSU plays at the 15th fastest pace in the country so that will provide a nice uptempo feel to the game. Outside of that, the two teams strengths should create an intriguing contest.
The Wolfpack have some really good guard play, headed by lightning-quick point guard, Anthony "Cat" Barber, while the Tigers have a really good frontcourt, made up of two potential first-round picks -- Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey. Whichever group plays better, I'd expect that team to advance from this pivotal 8/9 matchup. Regardless of who wins, this should be a game you have on your radar. It will be a tight contest, and one that is set to start at 9:20 EST.
Kentucky's Margin of Victory
When it comes to competitive, closely contested games, Kentucky versus Hampton isn't one of them. I don't expect this to be much of a game, which is clear to just about anybody with college basketball knowledge. The Kentucky Wildcats are the odds-on favorite to win every game, most importantly the national championship. Hampton, on the other hand, is the worst team in the tournament, per nERD.
They're also at the disadvantage of playing a game just two days ago in order to get to this point. So what's so interesting about this game? The margin of Kentucky's victory. This might be a game I watch for the first five to seven minutes, but after that I'll probably tune out and just check the box score and highlight reels later to see just how dominant the Wildcats were. No offense to Hampton, of course.
If you're as interested as I am, you can check out this game in the night cap, at 9:40 EST.
Enjoy the madness!