What I’m Hearing: From Jacksonville, USA TODAY’s Jeff Zillgitt provides the latest on Kentucky star P.J. Washington’s foot injury and if the team thinks he can play this weekend.
The NCAA tournament continues Friday with 16 more games. The 12-hour marathon of truly meaningful, win-or-go-home games begins shortly after noon ET.
Here is how we rank Friday’s games:
1. No. 6 Buffalo vs. No. 11 Arizona State (4 p.m., TNT). The Sun Devils won their First Four game over St. John’s and look to carry that momentum into their first-round clash with Buffalo, a dangerous mid-major that earned a great seed thanks to a 31-3 year. Bobby Hurley faces his former team and assistant, Nate Oats, in a game that uniquely sees the power conference team as the higher seed.
2. No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 Oregon (4:30 p.m. ET, TBS). The Ducks, riding an eight-game winning streak, won the Pac-12 tournament to get their shot at March Madness and now are an underdog favorite to shake up the South Region. The Badgers are led by All-American big man Ethan Happ (17.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg).
3. No. 5 Mississippi State vs. No. 5 Liberty (7:27 p.m., TBS). In a viable upset scenario, the Flames will look to lean on their top-six defense to control the game’s tempo in a way reminiscent of top-seeded Virginia’s style (coach Ritchie McKay was UVA’s assistant for six years). Mississippi State, meanwhile, will look to use its athleticism as an advantage.
4. No. 4 Kansas State vs. No. 13 UC Irvine (2 p.m. ET, TBS). Another potential upset in the South Region, the Anteaters are looking to become a mid-major Cinderella by knocking out the Big 12 co-champ that has plenty of vulnerabilities for a power conference team.
5. No. 1 Duke vs. North Dakota State (7:10 p.m., CBS). Normally a No. 1 seed blowing out an inferior opponent wouldn’t be up this high on our watchability list. But Zion Williamson dunking all over a Summit League school will likely lead to no shortage of highlight reels.
6. No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Gardner-Webb (3:10 p.m., truTV). Will it happen again? Perhaps the most enticing first-round matchup is one that sees the Cavaliers back as a top overall seed in the first round just a year after historically losing to No. 16 seed Maryland Baltimore County. The Cavaliers will surely devote their attention to this small mid-major this time, but the history-repeating-itself storyline makes this game hard to ignore.
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7. No. 6 Iowa State vs. No. 11 Ohio State (9:50 p.m. ET, TBS). The Cyclones are coming off an impressive streak that saw them win the Big 12 tournament title and they’ll be facing an Ohio State team that played itself off the bubble. Look for leading scorer Kaleb Wesson to be an X-Factor in this one as OSU tries to play spoiler.
8. No. 8 Utah State vs. No. 9 Washington (6:50 p.m., TNT). The Aggies are red-hot, riding a 10-game winning streak and looking like a dangerous team for North Carolina in the second round. But they’ll first have to get past the Pac-12 regular-season champ. Normally, that type of hardware would give the Huskies a top-five seed. Not in a horrid year for the Pac-12, however. USU’s Sam Merrill (21.2 ppg, 4.2 apg) is must-watch, as is Pac-12 player of the year Jaylen Nowell.
9. No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 15 Colgate (2:45 p.m. ET, CBS). Colgate is better than its seeding line, and will look to use its top-15 three-point shooting to become the biggest bracket-buster of the tournament so far. The Volunteers, for many reasons, are a legitimate Final Four contender. One of those reasons is All-American Grant Williams. The other is human bulldozer Admiral Schofield. Rapolas Ivanauskas is a 6-10 forward who shoots 44 percent from beyond the arc for Colgate, and guard Jordan Burns is coming off a 35-point performance to help the Raiders win the Patriot League.
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10. No. 3 Houston vs. No. 14 Georgia State (7:20 p.m., TBS). The Cougars were the best team in the American Athletic with 31 wins and look destined for a crash course with Kentucky in the Sweet 16. But the Panthers are the pesky mid-major with hopes of getting in their way. Houston leads the nation in field goal percentage defense (allowing opponents just 36.7 percent shooting) and figure to swarm GSU’s guards to make it a long night.
11. No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 14 Northern Kentucky (1:30 p.m., TNT). The Red Raiders rode a late nine-game winning streak to win a share of the Big 12 regular season, but now will look to get back to their winning ways after an early exit in the Big 12 tournament final vs. West Virginia. It starts and ends with All-American do-everything guard Jarrett Culver (18.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.7 apg) for Texas Tech. Northern Kentucky has an offense capable of pulling off the upset — ranking in the top-25 nationally in field goal percentage (48 percent). The Norse’s Drew McDonald (19.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg) leads four players who average double figures.
12. No. 8 Ole Miss vs. No. 9 Oklahoma (12:40 p.m., truTV). First-year coach Kermit Davis’ Rebels have lost three of their last four while the Sooners have lost eight of 12. So neither team is exactly peaking. But both have good enough squads to stun Virginia in the second round and make a surprise Sweet 16 trip. Coach Lon Kruger has this OU team playing defense at a high level (ranking top-25 in FG percentage defense) in the post-Trey Young era. His team will have to contain the explosiveness of Ole Miss guard Breein Tyree (18.2 ppg).
13. No. 7 Cincinnati vs. No. 10 Iowa (12:15 p.m., CBS). The Bearcats have a unique home-court advantage playing in nearby Columbus for this first-round matchup and after just winning the AAC tournament were badly over-seeded. That all could be bad news for an Iowa team that just got pummeled in the Big Ten tournament by Michigan by 21 points — their fifth loss in the last six games. In that latest loss, point guard Jordan Bohannon went scoreless, and he’ll need to produce for Iowa to have be in this.
14. No. 8 VCU vs. No. 9 UCF (9:40 p.m., CBS). VCU’s top-10 defense (allowing 61.6 points a game and 38 percent field goal shooting) meets a UCF team that’s lost its last two games, but look for the Knights to have the upper hand in this one. Guards B.J. Taylor and Aubrey Dawkins (36 points March 9 vs. Temple) are tough to stop, while 7-foot-6 big man Tacko Fall is an intimidating presence. Meanwhile, the Rams’ offense struggles and will have leading scorer Marcus Evans back in the lineup — albeit not at 100 percent.
15. No. 4 Virginia Tech vs. No. 13 Saint Louis (9:57 p.m., truTV). The Billikens unexpectedly won the Atlantic 10 tourney to punch their ticket to the NCAAs, beating Dayton, Davidson and Saint Bonaventure — while limiting them to an average of 51 points a contest. But now they’ll face an ACC team that outmatches them in just about every area. There are a lot of statistics that don’t favor Saint Louis in this one, starting with an often stagnant offense (ranking 304th in the country), an inability to connect from long range (ranking 327th in three-point field goals) and horrid free-throw shooting (ranking 350th of 353 Division I teams at 60 percent). All that said, it’s March and Travis Ford has this team highly confident to pull off a shocker. The Hokies are slated to get back point guard Justin Robinson, who missed the past 12 games with an injury. That extra ammunition could be a major difference-maker in this one and potentially later rounds.
16. No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 16 Iona (9:20 p.m., TNT). The Tar heels should have an easy way with the MAAC winner, using their explosive offense to cruise. Look for freshman guard Coby White to get his nerves out in this one as a tune-up for the second round.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.