NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Liberty At Oklahoma State

The opening weekend games of the 2023 NCAA Tournament are here, which means it's time to get that second TV out of the attic. For those on the streaming train, it could be time to invest in a new wireless router in order to be equipped for watching multiple games at once.

Some would argue that the Thursday and Friday of the NCAA Tournament are the two best days of the sports calendar. Now that so many Americans work from home, the all-day slate of action is accessible without fear of a supervisor strolling by to question why basketball is on during the work day.

But when it comes down to it, college basketball fans need a viewership plan for the first-round action. With 32 games on different channels and with overlapping times, it's important to be prepared to catch the best action when it happens.

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To help in that mission, here is a complete ranking of the first round 2023 NCAA Tournament games in descending order from worst to best. Advance apologies to Houston. The Kentucky vs. Saint Peter's game was ranked the least-watchable last season and wound up producing one of the most memorable upsets in tournament history.

Maybe the lesson there is that every game in the NCAA Tournament is pretty great.

32. (1) Houston vs. (16) Northern Kentucky

Thursday | 9:20 p.m. | TNT
These are two of the slowest-paced teams in college basketball, which gives Northern Kentucky a shot to keep it close, especially if Cougars' star guard Marcus Sasser is unavailable. But it could just as easily turn into a bludgeoning from the Cougars, who are a physically imposing machine.

31. (1) Kansas vs. (16) Howard

Thursday | 2 p.m. | TBS
It will be good to see Kansas coach Bill Self back on the sideline after he missed the Big 12 Tournament due to health issues. It will also be nice to hear the broadcast give Howard coach Kenneth Blakeney some props for leading the Bison to their first NCAA Tournament since 1992. The game itself may be a snoozer.

30. (1) Alabama vs. (16) Southeast Missouri State/Texas A&M Corpus-Christi

Thursday | 2:45 p.m. | CBS
The Crimson Tide are a No. 1 seed for the first time in program history, and they are the top overall seed for the entire tournament. Controversy follows this team into the Big Dance amid freshman phenom Brandon Miller's connection to a January shooting that left a woman dead. Hearing about that element of the plot could be shocking for some viewers tuning into the sport for the first time all season. But there should be little drama in the game itself.

29. (1) Purdue vs. (16) Texas Southern/Fairleigh Dickinson

Friday | 6:50 p.m. | TNT
There's a chance that Purdue and 7-foot-4 star Zach Edey could be taking on one of the shortest lineups in college basketball's modern era if tiny Fairleigh Dickinson wins its First Four game on Wednesday. But the Boilermakers should have no problem against whomever they play.

28. (6) Iowa State vs. (11) Mississippi State/Pitt

Friday | 3:10 p.m. | truTV
Iowa State started 13-2 (4-0 Big 12) and is 6-11 since. Over the last five weeks, the Cyclones are 1-7 against teams not named Baylor. Making matters worse, they play at a slow pace and commit too many turnovers. This may be one of the worst No. 6 seeds in NCAA Tournament history, and neither of their potential first round opponents are particularly interesting.

27. (2) Arizona vs. (15) Princeton

Thursday | 4:10 p.m. | TNT
When Stanford pulled a stunning upset of Arizona on Feb. 11, it did so behind a 10 of 18 shooting performance from 3-point range. These Princeton kids are smart enough to know they will need something similar to have a chance. Even that may not be enough against the Wildcats, who rank fifth nationally in points per game at 82.7. 

26. (3) Gonzaga vs. (14) Grand Canyon

Friday | 7:35 p.m. | TNT
Grand Canyon ranks No. 198 at KenPom in defensive efficiency while Gonzaga ranks No. 1 in offensive efficiency. The Antelopes are an excellent 3-point shooting team, but this seems like a bad matchup. Look for the Zags to race into the second round without much drama.

25. (4) Tennessee vs. (13) Louisiana

Thursday | 9:40 p.m. | CBS
Louisiana's strength is the interior play of center Jordan Brown. But Tennessee can take that away with interior behemoths of its own. The Vols' defense has been among the nation's best all season. There's always a chance that Tennessee forgets to score and this one ends up close at the end. But the Vols are fully capable of putting this one to bed early.

24. (3) Kansas State vs. (14) Montana State

Friday | 9:40 p.m. | CBS
Montana State had cracks at Oregon and Arizona in non conference play and lost those games by 30 and 21, respectively. The Bobcats have won 14 of their last 15, but nothing suggests they are suddenly ready to compete with one of the Big 12's best squads. These teams both live at the free-throw line, so this one could devolve into a foul-fest.

23. (3) Xavier vs. (14) Kennesaw State

Friday | 12:40 p.m. | truTV
This is the 12th NCAA Tournament appearance for Xavier coach Sean Miller across time at Arizona and a prior stint with the Musketeers. He's only lost in the first round twice before, and that tally is unlikely to grow. Kennesaw State is an incredible story after finishing 1-28 just three years ago, but the Owls are in for a challenge against a Xavier team that ranks ninth nationally with 81.4 points per game.

22. (7) Michigan State vs. (10) USC

Friday | 12:15 p.m. | CBS
Michigan State made a Final Four run in 2015 as a No. 7 seed, so maybe this could be the start of something special for the Spartans, who are making their 25th straight NCAA Tournament appearance under Tom Izzo. The battle of Michigan State guard Tyson Walker against USC's Boogie Ellis is reasonably intriguing as both are their team's leading scorers and good 3-point shooters. 

21. (2) Marquette vs. (15) Vermont

Friday | 2:45 p.m. | CBS
It has been over a month since one of these teams lost. Vermont has won 15 straight, and Marquette's streak is at nine after a run through the Big East Tournament. The Golden Eagles should have no trouble considering how elite they are offensively. But the Catamounts are a sound team that could make it interesting if they are able to surpass their season average of 8.6 made 3-pointers.

Marcus Carr drives the Texas offense. USATSI

20 (2) Texas vs. (15) Colgate

Thursday | 7:25 p.m. | TBS
Colgate's 40.8% 3-point shooting mark leads the nation, and the Raiders rarely turn the basketball over. Four of their starters are seniors with experience from the past two NCAA Tournaments, and this team hung tough with Wisconsin in a first round game last season. There is at least some upset potential here.

19. (6) TCU vs. (11) Arizona State/Nevada

Friday | 10:05 p.m. | truTV 
TCU is worth watching because of Mike Miles, who is an alpha guard capable of putting the team on his back for a March run. A potential second round matchup with Gonzaga involving TCU would also be an appetizing watch, provided the Horned Frogs get past their TBD No. 11 seed opponent.

18. (4) Virginia vs. (13) Furman

Thursday | 12:40 p.m. | truTV
Virginia lost a first round game to No. 13 seed Ohio in the 2021 NCAA Tournament and is back in the 4-13 slot against a Furman squad that has some Cinderella ingredients. The Paladins have veteran guards and jack up a ton of 3-pointers. If they get hot, this could turn into another nightmare for the Cavaliers.

17. (6) Creighton vs. (11) NC State

Friday | 4 p.m. | TNT
Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner is a fierce rim protector and his team's leading scorer with an obscene 71.4% shooting percentage. He will have his hands full with the lumbering load that is NC State big man D.J. Burns. The battle between those two gives this game some appeal.

16. (7) Northwestern vs. (10) Boise State

Thursday | 7:35 p.m. | truTV
Boise State has been a magnet for close games this season and has gone to overtime three times. Northwestern has gone to overtime in two of its past three contests. This one seems primed to provide us with the type of drama that makes the Big Dance so great.

15. (2) UCLA vs. (15) UNC Asheville

Thursday | 10:05 p.m. | truTV
UNC Asheville forward Drew Pember is one of the top unknown talents in college basketball, averaging 21.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game while shooting 37.3% from 3-point range. The Tennessee transfer is flanked by a couple of excellent 3-point shooters in Tajion Jones and Fletcher Abee. With UCLA a bit hobbled by injuries, it will be worth staying up late to see if the Bulldogs can pull a stunner.

14. (5) Saint Mary's vs. (12) VCU

Friday | 7:25 p.m. | TBS
This one is a must-watch for college basketball's hipsters -- that group of fans and writers who salivate over quality mid-major teams. It's also a battle of two elite defenses and two great guards in Ace Baldwin of VCU and Aidan Mahaney of Saint Mary's. If these teams play a classic, the hipsters will be claiming they live streamed their November exhibition games.

13. (7) Missouri vs. (10) Utah State

Thursday | 1:40 p.m. | TNT
Both these teams hoist a ton of 3-pointers and make more than nine per game, and Utah State's Steven Ashworth is one of the best perimeter marksmen in the game. While Missouri has an edge in athleticism and forces a ton of turnovers, the Tigers also allow opponents to shoot 35.4% from 3-point range. This one could feature a ton of points and momentum swings.

12. (3) Baylor vs. (14) UC Santa Barbara

Friday | 1:30 p.m. | TNT
Of the 3 vs. 14 matchups in the bracket, this is the one that stands out for its upset potential. Baylor is 2-4 over its last six games and doesn't play defense. UC Santa Barbara came within two points of upsetting Creighton in a first round game during the 2021 NCAA Tournament and could be ready to finish the deal this year. The Gauchos like to slow the game down, which could keep things close into the second half. From there, you just never know.

11. (5) Miami vs. (12) Drake

Friday | 7:25 p.m. | TBS
There is something about father-son combinations that creates captivating March storylines. Drake's leading scorer is sophomore guard Tucker DeVries, who averages 19 points per game on 38.7% shooting from 3-point range. Don't be surprised if he follows in the mold of R.J. Hunter from Georgia State in 2015 and Bryce Drew from Valparaiso in 1998 and gives us something memorable while suiting up for his father.

Is Iona coach Rick Pitino facing a future Big East rival in the first round?  usatsi

10. (4) UConn vs. (13) Iona

Friday | 4:30 p.m. | TBS
Rick Pitino's next job is a point of discussion.  No, it's not 1987. Pitino has just done such a good job at Iona that, at age 70, he is in the mix at St. John's (and maybe other places as well). This isn't a great draw for his Gaels as UConn is playing some of its best basketball entering the NCAA Tournament. But a coaching matchup of Pitino against UConn's Dan Hurley is a great show.

9. (5) San Diego State vs. (12) Charleston

Thursday | 3:10 p.m. | truTV
Charleston poses a serious problem as the Cougars will look to run against an SDSU team that likes to play slow. The contrast in styles between two strong mid-major squads creates a compelling matchup. Look for Charleston to play with reckless abandon on a mission to prove that it deserves this No. 12 seed after posting a gaudy record against a weak schedule.

8. (8) Memphis vs. (9) FAU

Friday | 9:20 p.m. | TNT
There is nothing gimmicky or cute about FAU, who tore through Conference USA to claim the program's first NCAA Tournament bid since 2002. The Owls are a sound team on both ends with a 31-3 record and the wherewithal to defend Memphis without fouling. The Tigers are a veteran-laden squad that has a pair of ready-made March superstars in Kendric Davis and Deandre Williams. Davis is an undersized scoring guard who directs the offense, while Williams is a dynamic 26-year old forward.

7. (6) Kentucky vs. (11) Providence

Friday | 7:10 p.m. | CBS
Bryce Hopkins played just 6.5 minutes per game as a freshman last season before transferring to Providence and becoming an all-Big East performer this season. The 6-foot-6 forward is the Friars' leading scorer and has a chance to inflict more first round misery on UK a season after he was part of the program's stunning loss to No. 15 seed Saint Peter's.

6. (8) West Virginia vs. (9) Maryland

Thursday | 12:15 p.m. | CBS
Maryland guard Jahmir Young and West Virginia guard Erik Stevenson have never met a shot they didn't like. You can bet one of them will make a key play in a game between evenly matched squads to kick off first round action on Thursday. The winner gets No. 1 overall seed Alabama, and neither will be intimidated by that after grinding through the nation's toughest conferences.

5. (5) Duke vs. (12) Oral Roberts

Thursday | 7:10 p.m. | CBS
Oral Roberts stunned No. 2 seed Ohio State in a first round game two years ago behind the play of star guard Max Abmas and reached the Sweet 16. Now, Abmas is back to try and take down the red-hot Blue Devils, who have won nine straight games with a rotation full of immensely talented freshmen. ORU owns the nation's longest winning streak at 17 games and is a potential giant slayer once again.

4. (4) Indiana vs. (13) Kent State

Friday | 9:55 p.m. | TBS
Kent State lost just 49-44 at Houston on Nov. 26 and just 73-66 at Gonzaga on Dec. 5. This team has the athleticism and toughness to compete at the highest level and represents a difficult draw for Indiana. The player to watch is senior guard Sincere Carry, who averages 17.6 ppg. Another senior guard, Malique Jacobs, is second in the nation with 89 steals this season. These guys are defensively ferocious and will make life tough on Indiana star freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino. For those who enjoy seeing blue blood programs fight for their lives in the first round, this will be a must-watch.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Iowa
  Iowa coach Fran McCaffery will probably not be this calm Thursday night. USATSI

3. (8) Iowa vs. (9) Auburn

Thursday | 6:50 p.m. | TNT
If you're into seeing coaches act like children, you'll love this one. We'll set the over/under on coach technicals at a cautious 1.5 and won't be surprised if either Auburn's Bruce Pearl or Iowa's Fran McCaffery get tossed for their antics. The Hawkeyes are a fun offensive team led by a potential first-round NBA Draft pick in Kris Murray, and Auburn's backcourt of Wendell Green and K.D. Johnson is constant chaos.

2. (8) Arkansas vs. (9) Illinois

Thursday | 4:30 p.m. | TBS
Both teams are loaded with talent and fully capable of playing beyond the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Both are also maddeningly inconsistent and capable of falling behind by 15 in the first half. Illinois is 4-6 over its last 10 and Arkansas 1-4 over its last five. But somewhere on that Illinois team bus is the squad that beat UCLA and Texas. And somewhere on that Arkansas bus is a team that beat Kentucky by 15 on the road. This one is ripe for chaos.

1. (7) Texas A&M vs. (10) Penn State

Thursday | 9:55 p.m. | TBS
Texas A&M and Penn State are two of the hottest teams in the field, making this one of the best matchups of the first round. There was a time when both their seasons seemed destined to end in the NIT, but now they are both performing well enough to make the second weekend of the Big Dance. Penn State forward Jalen Pickett has the chance to be one of this tournament's breakout stars.