The 2017 NCAA Tournament bracket has been released and the selection committee gave us several juicy first round matchups. Here’s a look at the five best games the first round has to offer.
West Region: No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast
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The West Region has some really intriguing early games, but this one between a faltering Florida State team and an in-state opponent in Florida Gulf Coast might be the best. The 25-8 Seminoles and the 26-7 Eagles will be facing off Thursday night in Orlando in the late game. This one could get crazy.
FGCU is a really fun team to watch and Florida State is a ridiculously talented squad that opened the season 18-2. Florida State freshman Jonathan Isaac is set to be a lottery pick this year and (as a bonus) has phenomenal hair, while sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon is a heck of a player.
The Eagles have won 19 of their last 21 games, including seven in a row, and have people believing they can make another miracle run in the tournament. The atmosphere in Orlando for this one should be incredible and the game should live up to that kind of hype. Mark this one down on your calendar as a must-watch for 9:20 ET Thursday night.
South Region: No. 7 Dayton vs. No. 10 Wichita State
This game pits two of the best mid-major programs in the country against each other in a really interesting first round matchup. Dayton head coach Archie Miller is a rising star in the coaching ranks and Gregg Marshall has long shown what he can do at Wichita State.
The 30-4 Shockers have won 15 games in a row and will surely feel underseeded as a 10, while the Flyers finished the season 24-7 and had won nine in a row before losing back-to-back games against George Washington and Davidson. Dayton went 15-3 to win the regular season Atlantic 10 championship, while Wichita State went 17-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference.
These are two teams that did an incredible job during the regular season and now one of them will be eliminated on Friday in Indianapolis. If you enjoy mid-majors and good on-court coaching, this game will be for you. Tune in at 7:10 ET on Friday night.
Oh, and if that description wasn’t enough, the winner likely faces a second-round date with Kentucky.
West Region: No. 5 Notre Dame vs. No. 12 Princeton
At first glance this looks like a walkover for Notre Dame, but Princeton is for real this year. The Tigers finished the season unbeaten in the Ivy League, while also reeling off 19 wins in a row to finish the season. When at their peak, the Irish are as good as anyone, but they lost five out of six at one point this season and dropped tight contests to Louisville and Duke late in the season.
Mike Brey’s Notre Dame teams have been great in the tournament in recent years, that makes the 25-9 Irish a big favorite in this one. But Princeton is 23-6 and its style is so difficult to prepare for that this should be a tight game.
Notre Dame has one of the nation’s best offenses (16th on KenPom), while Princeton is great on the defensive end and the team’s entire goal is to slow the tempo and control the clock. The Tigers don’t turn the ball over and scored 41.7 percent of their points from beyond the 3-point line. If Princeton is hitting from the outside, it could spell doom for the Irish.
It will be a fascinating chess match between Brey and Mitch Henderson and one worth tuning in to Thursday at 12:15 ET.
Midwest Region: No. 8 Miami vs. No. 9 Michigan State
This game features two of the best coaches in the business taking two of their most frustrating teams into the tournament. Tom Izzo’s Spartans are as purely talented as anyone, but they’re young and just can’t get out of their own way. Meanwhile, Jim Larranaga’s Hurricanes opened the season 11-2, fell apart, regained their composure to beat Virginia and Duke, then lost three of four down the stretch.
These are two teams that should be better, and Miami (21-11) and Michigan State (19-14) both have a lot to prove. Senior guard Davon Reed runs things for the Hurricanes, averaging 15.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Meanwhile, the Spartans will go as far as freshman and future lottery pick Miles Bridges (16.7 points, 8.3 rebounds per game) can take them.
Both Izzo and Larranaga have pulled off crazy runs before and both of their teams are capable of getting things together this season. The winner of Friday night’s 9:20 ET matchup likely faces Kansas in the second round. So a big run isn’t out of the question if either team figures things out by then.
East Region: No. 5 Virginia vs. No. 12 UNC-Wilmington
Last year Virginia was in the mix to be the No. 1 overall seed, but this year Tony Bennett’s team struggled to score. Meanwhile, UNC-Wilmington knows how to put the ball in the bucket and gets a ton of shots up.
The Seahawks are a really fun, up-tempo team, while the Cavaliers play at a snail’s pace and win with defense. Wilmington is 18th in offensive efficiency on KenPom, while Virginia is first in defensive efficiency. So you can see where I’m going with this one, right? Hellooooo clash of styles!
Wilmington finished the season 29-5 and won nine of its last 10 games. Meanwhile, Virginia opened the season 11-1 with a ton of promise. The Cavaliers then wound up 16-3 before losing six of their next eight. They followed that up by winning four straight and looking like they had figured things out before Notre Dame smacked them around in the ACC Tournament in a 71-58 loss. Virginia finished the seasons 22-10 with a ton of questions to answer.
It should be a fascinating 5/12 matchup and either team is capable of making a run with a win. Be sure to keep an eye on this one when it tips off at 12:40 ET on Thursday.