N.C.A.A. Men’s Tournament: What to Watch on Friday


The first full day of the N.C.A.A. tournament is in the books, and the madness is in full swing. Now, the action shifts to 16 new highly anticipated matchups.

Eight games will take place across four cities Friday afternoon, beginning with a meeting between No. 10 Loyola Chicago — and 102-year-old Sister Jean Delores Schmidt — and No. 7 Ohio State at 12:15 Eastern in Pittsburgh.

Another eight contests in those four cities — Pittsburgh; Greenville, S.C.; Milwaukee; and San Diego — will be played Friday evening, airing across four television networks: CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV.

With so many games going on at once, it can be tough to keep track of it all — so here are some ideas of what to watch for on Friday.

Are the Ramblers poised for yet another deep run in March? They certainly have some factors in their favor.

Ohio State enters Friday having lost two straight games and four of its last five. Two key players, Zed Key (ankle) and Kyle Young (concussion protocol), were set to be evaluated on Thursday and were listed as game-time decisions. Together, they combine for 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Regardless, the Buckeyes still feature E.J. Liddell, the 6-foot-7 junior forward averaging 19.6 points and 7.9 rebounds who is a projected first-round N.B.A. draft pick, and the freshman forward Malaki Branham, a projected second-round pick averaging 13.3 points and 3.6 rebounds. Ohio State has not reached the round of 16 since 2013.

The Ramblers, meanwhile, have reached the round of 16 in their last three N.C.A.A. tournament appearances and marched all the way to the Final Four in 2018. They are led by the battle-tested senior guard Lucas Williamson, who is averaging 14 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Under the first-year coach Drew Valentine, who was elevated to the role when Porter Moser left for Oklahoma last spring, Loyola has excelled as a defense-oriented team, allowing just 5.8 transition points per game and ranking 17th in the nation in scoring defense (allowing 61.7 points per game). Ohio State averages 73.8 points per game.

The big question is how the Louisiana State players will respond after their former head coach, Will Wade, was fired on Saturday after the school received a notice of allegations from the N.C.A.A. related to its involvement in the F.B.I. investigation into bribery in college basketball. Kevin Nickelberry, a former head coach at Hampton and Howard, is the interim coach.

“Obviously, they were heartbroken, but these guys are resilient, they know the task at hand and we’re going to love them up and make sure that they know that at the end of the day adversity will bring us together, bring us closer,” Nickelberry said on Sunday.

He added: “We’ll play together, we’ll play for L.S.U., we’ll play for their families, and more importantly, we’ll play with integrity and play with character.”

The Tigers are led by the sophomore forward Tari Eason (16.9 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game) and the senior forward Darius Days (13.7 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game), who will be counted on to provide leadership after a tumultuous few days for the program.

After winning just two games a year ago under Steve Prohm, Iowa State rebounded this season under the first-year coach T.J. Otzelberger to win 20 games. The Cyclones raced out of the gates to a 12-0 start, only to finish the season 8-12. The Cyclones are led by the senior guard Izaiah Brockington, who is averaging 17.2 points and 7.1 rebounds.

When Paul Atkinson’s putback layup went in to seal Notre Dame’s 89-87 double-overtime victory over Rutgers in the play-in round, it was 12:02 a.m. early Thursday morning. The game had tipped off at 9:36 p.m. on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio.

“You notice Paul’s shot went in at 12:02 on St. Patrick’s Day, so maybe there was a little bit of karma there,” Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey joked. “If there’s a better game in the N.C.A.A. tournament, I got to see it.”

Notre Dame’s reward was a 2,165-mile trip to San Diego — and a date with No. 6 Alabama at 4:15 p.m. Eastern on Friday.

“Let’s move that game back!” Brey said, before adding: “We’ll get our legs under us by Friday afternoon, but we’ll need some time to do that.”

The Fighting Irish enter Friday’s matchup as 4-point underdogs, but they have some history on their side. Since 2011, in every year except for one — 2019 — a team that started the tournament in the play-in round has advanced not just to the round of 32, but to the round of 16.

Entering Thursday, three other teams that advanced out of the play-in games were still alive: No. 12 Indiana, No. 16 Texas Southern and No. 16 Wright State.

Indiana lost, 82-53, to St. Mary’s, which got 20 points and 6 rebounds from Logan Johnson, and Texas Southern lost, 83-56, to Kansas. Wright State plays Arizona, a No. 1 seed, Friday night.

Programs that started in play-in games have reached the Final Four twice (U.C.L.A. in 2021 and Virginia Commonwealth in 2011).

A year ago, the Big Ten Conference placed nine teams in the N.C.A.A. tournament, including five top-four seeds: Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio State and Purdue. Of the conference’s nine teams, only Michigan advanced to the round of 8.

Nine Big Ten teams were once again part of the 68-team field this year, the most from any conference. The league also placed three players on the five-man Associated Press all-America team: Kofi Cockburn of Illinois, Johnny Davis of Wisconsin and Keegan Murray of Iowa, while Purdue’s Jaden Ivey made the second team and Ohio State’s Liddell made the third team.

But the question this year will be whether the Big Ten, which hasn’t won an N.C.A.A. championship since Michigan State’s victory over Florida in 2000, can advance multiple teams deep into the tournament. Or even just one.

Notre Dame had already eliminated Rutgers before Iowa, a No. 5 seed, lost its first-round game Thursday to No. 12 Richmond (Richmond is 9-0 as a No. 12 seed or lower).

Several of the league’s showcase teams play Friday, including No. 3 Purdue, No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 4 Illinois, No. 7 Ohio State and No. 7 Michigan State. Wisconsin, which faces No. 14 Colgate, and Michigan State, which drew No. 10 Davidson, could face surprisingly tough tests.

Wright State, which will face top-seeded Arizona on Friday evening in San Diego, lost seven of its first nine games this season. That, by far, was easier than the other losses the team has faced.

Coach Scott Nagy’s father, Dick, died last fall. Then, just after the season started, one of the brothers in a family Scott Nagy lived with in high school also died.

“I lost my dad and, really, one of my brothers in about a month’s period,” Nagy said. “And we got off to a terrible start. And I wasn’t in a very good spot emotionally, mentally, spiritually. And so I wasn’t much help when we got off to that bad start.”

Dick Nagy coached for 33 years, including 17 as an assistant to the Illinois coach Lou Henson. His grandson T.J. Nagy, Scott Nagy’s son, is a junior guard at Wright State, which is near Dayton, Ohio.

There was more sad news. In late January, center A.J. Braun’s father died unexpectedly. Starting guard Tanner Holden lost a grandfather during the season, and redshirt senior James Manns lost a grandmother. The father of one of the Raiders’ recruits from Ohio died around Thanksgiving, Nagy said.

The Raiders adopted the motto “Brotherhood Over Basketball,” and the still-raw emotions spilled out when they clinched an automatic N.C.A.A. tournament berth by edging Northern Kentucky, 72-71, in the Horizon League tournament championship game.

“You go around to some of the parents and just see the crying,” Scott Nagy said.

The Raiders beat Bryant, 93-82, in a play-in game on Wednesday in Dayton to earn the right to face Arizona as a No. 16 seed.

The first two games of the day on CBS should be entertaining, with Loyola Chicago facing Ohio State, followed by No. 2 Villanova, the Big East Conference tournament champion, meeting No. 15 Delaware. Keep an eye on the fifth-year Villanova point guard Collin Gillespie, who is among the most savvy floor generals in college basketball.

At 4:15 p.m., flip over to TNT to see how Brey and Notre Dame fare against Alabama — and remember to check in on the 4:30 p.m. game on TBS between No. 11 Virginia Tech, which beat Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final, and No. 6 Texas, which features a number of high-profile transfers under its first-year coach, Chris Beard.

Stay up late on Friday to see if Colgate or Davidson can pull off upsets, and then finish off your day of madness with the nightcap, No. 8 Seton Hall against No. 9 Texas Christian, from San Diego at 9:57 p.m. Eastern.

Scott Miller contributed reporting.



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