The first round of the NCAA tournament will offer fans plenty of juicy matchups.
In one matchup, two of the hottest teams in the country will square up right off the bat. In other action, a former Top 10 team will battle it out as an underdog.
All in all, there is plenty of excitement to go around.
But before we jump into the matchups to watch, let’s take a look at the bracket.
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West: No. 8 Gonzaga (28-6) vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State (21-12)
When: Friday, 4:40 p.m. ET on TNT
This could easily be the best first-round matchup of the entire NCAA tournament.
In fact, whichever team wins this game will have a good chance to knock off No. 1 Arizona in the second round.
Both teams enter with momentum behind them. The Bulldogs have won five straight games while the Cowboys are winners of five of their last seven.
Gonzaga will look to stretch the floor with forward/center Sam Dower (15.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG). At 6’9”, the senior is fairly accurate from distance (33.3 percent) for a big man.
What Oklahoma State lacks in size, they make up for in firepower. Behind a trio of guards in Marcus Smart (17.8 PPG), Markel Brown (17.1 PPG) and Phil Forte (13.3 PPG), the Cowboys can put up points in bunches—the team ranks No. 16 in the nation in points per game (80.3).
Most likely, the game could be decided by which is the more battle-tested team. Oklahoma State has faced 10 Top-25 opponents while the Bulldogs have only faced one.
Still, this should be a highly competitive affair.
Midwest: No. 6 Massachusetts (24-8) vs. No. 11 Iowa (20-12)/No. 11 Tennessee (21-12)
When: Friday, 2:45 p.m. ET on CBS
The Minutemen caught the nation’s attention by racing out to a 15-1 record to start the season.
Now, the team is set to once again be in the national spotlight with an intriguing first-round matchup on tap.
The price for Wednesday’s First Four contest between the Hawkeyes and Vols is the opportunity to play UMASS on Friday. Regardless of who wins, either team could present problems for the Minutemen.
In fact, according to USA Today’s Dan Wolken, the winner of Wednesday’s contest might actually have the upper hand:
UMass as a 6 will almost certainly be an underdog in Vegas to either Iowa or Tennessee.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 16, 2014
That’s not too much of a stretch. Both Iowa (Big Ten) and Tennessee (SEC) come from conferences that are known for their talent.
The same cannot be said about UMASS (Atlantic 10).
Still, it’d be tough to look past the accomplishments of the Minutemen this season. The team has held its own and proven its worth as an NCAA tournament team this year.
West: No. 6 Baylor (24-11) vs. No. 11 Nebraska (19-12)
When: Friday, 12:40 p.m. ET on TruTV
This is a matchup that will showcase two teams that will be riding a wave of momentum into the NCAA tournament.
On one side, the Bears have won 10 of 12 games that resulted in a trip to the Big 12 tournament final. On the other side, the Cornhuskers have won 10 of 13 after starting the season 9-9, including victories over two Top-10 opponents in Michigan State and Wisconsin.
According to Baylor head coach Scott Drew, his team’s late resurgence in the Big 12 should help them in the tournament.
“I think having our backs against the wall (has helped),” he said, per Baylorbears.com. “It’s basically been do-or-die and playoff basketball for a while. I think that prepares you for the NCAA tournament, because you have to be sharp each day in practice and each game.”
The play of forward Cory Jefferson has been a big part of that run. The senior has averaged 16.0 points and 8.7 rebounds over the last six games.
Meanwhile, Nebraska has been able to rely on swingman Terran Petteway (18.1 PPG). Most recently, the sophomore poured in 21 and 25 points in his last two games respectively.
This should be an all-out battle.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats, rankings and other information are courtesy of ESPN.com.