NCAA Tournament 2019: The five best March Madness first-round games you must watch
It’s time again for one of my favorite annual NCAA Tournament posts. Here’s your quick and informative guide to the five games you need to put on your primary screen during the first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA Tournament.
Make sure you’ve got your setup for this weekend a go with March Madness Live, CBSSports.com and the CBS Sports app. We will have you sufficiently covered. Here’s a head start on what to build your first couple of days around.
I pick based on team quality, matchup style, watchability of both clubs — and some obvious outside factors. Game. Check this link right here for the complete list of tip times and channels and announcing teams, which will update through the tourney.
Start a bracket pool to compete against friends or play for the chance to win a college basketball dream trip. Get in the action today!
No. 7 Louisville vs. No. 10 Minnesota
I think this is the third time in the past five years that the first game of the first round has made the list. That’s some great TV planning by the CBS suits. You’ve got Minnesota coach Richard Pitino going up against not just his father’s former school, but his too. He was on staff at U of L from 2007-09. That storyline is one of the biggest heading into the first round, but beyond that, you get Louisville in the NCAAs a season after it self-imposed a postseason ban. Chris Mack has done well in year No. 1. Aesthetically, this sets up as a fairly low scoring affair, with Minnesota trying to muck it up down low and relying on double-double great Jordan Murphy to close out his career with another powering performance. Louisville’s the better team; Jordan Nwora’s one of the most improved players in the country. This game will be played in Des Moines, by the way.
The pick: Louisville
No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 Yale
What we have here is a borderline top-80 KenPom team in Yale that went 22-7 and put together arguably its best offense in school history. Miye Oni is the star, and he will not be bullied around by LSU’s bevy of athletes. Yale picked off Baylor in the NCAA Tournament in 2016, providing us with an all-time press conference moment afterward.
Well, Yale’s at it again: the Bulldogs rank 24th in the country in defensive rebound percentage. But LSU shouldn’t repeat Baylor’s performance; the Tigers are the third-best team in this tourney at crashing the offensive glass. Irony: Baylor is No. 1!
There’s also the sideshow aspect to the fact that LSU will be playing this game without its coach, Will Wade, who has been suspended by the university. Wade, at the advice of his lawyer, has declined talking with his bosses in light of a Yahoo Sports report detailing an FBI transcript of Wade discussing what can only reasonably be deduced as a rule-breaking recruiting circumstance surrounding then-prospect/current LSU player Javonte Smart. Smart, by the way, has been cleared and will play vs. Yale. So yeah: there’s a lot of rubbernecking going on here. This game will be played in Jacksonville.
The pick: LSU
No. 5 Marquette vs. No. 12 Murray State
This is a game in the Hartford pod, and it features the best player-on-player matchup in the first round of the tournament. Murray State’s Ja Morant could potentially be the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. He’s the best point guard in college basketball. Meantime, Markus Howard of Marquette has been one of the best scorers/players in the sport this season as well. The players have different styles, but watching them go head-to-head will be a treat. Plus, Murray State is 27-4 and hasn’t lost since January. Marquette, on the other hand, has dropped four of its past five.
Murray State has great 3-point defense (fourth nationally); Marquette has great 3-point offense (ninth). Murray State has great 2-point offense (fifth); Marquette has great 2-point defense (19th). CANNOT WAIT FOR THIS ONE. Best part is: I’ll be there and writing and talking and podcasting about it for CBS Sports.
The pick: Murray State
No. 7 Wofford vs. No. 10 Seton Hall
The Terriers have the honor of carrying the longest win streak (20 games) into the NCAA Tournament. They go 10 deep, have a potential future NBA player in Fletcher Magee and boast the best 3-point offense (41.6 percent) of any team in the Dance. Wofford goes up against a physical Seton Hall team that has a star in Myles Powell and a healthy 3-point shooter in Myles Cale (38.1 percent). Wofford is rightfully favored in this game. It ranks as a top-five must watch due to how well Seton Hall’s been as of late and the buzz around the Terriers, who have landed the highest seed for a SoCon team since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Can this SoCon buzzsaw step into the NCAAs and win big right away? Fun potential for some late-Thursday drama here. Another Jacksonville must-see.
The pick: Wofford
No. 6 Buffalo vs. No. 11 Arizona State/St. John’s
The winner of the First Four game between the Sun Devils and the Red Storm is almost immaterial to why this game is a top-five watch. Buffalo, at 31-3, is unquestionably a top-20 team in college basketball — and has been for much of the season. The Bulls destroyed Arizona in last year’s tournament as a No. 14 seed. I’m curious to see if they can wear the favorite cap with pride and come out swinging heavily once again. As for the opponent, if it’s St. John’s, well you’ve got a team with a lot of talent that will have come off its first win vs. an NCAA Tournament team in almost a month. Plus it’s the whole battle-for-New-York thing.
But the Buffalo-ASU matchup is especially intriguing because Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley left UB to take the ASU job a few years back. Nate Oats worked under Hurley before being promoted within. That has a certain appeal. As does seeing Hurley on the sidelines of any NCAA Tournament game. They’ll play this one in Tulsa. The only game of the five listed here that’s a Friday tilt.
The pick: Buffalo