NCAA tournament viewing guide: What to watch and what to skip on Friday

Jeff Eisenberg
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Thursday's NCAA tournament slate featured four overtime games, three upsets by double digit seeds, two close calls for No. 4s and one epic NC State collapse. Can Friday match that drama? Here's a look at which games on Friday's slate are must-see and which you can afford to click away from until the final two minutes:


12:15 p.m. -- No. 3 Duke vs. No. 14 Mercer (CBS)
12: 30 p.m. -- No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 11 Nebraska (Tru TV)
1:30 pm. -- No. 7 New Mexico vs. No. 10 Stanford (TBS)
2 p.m. -- No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 16 Weber State (TNT)

Must-see: The team that prevented Florida Gulf Coast from reaching this year's tournament will try to pull an upset of the caliber of the ones the Eagles sprung last March. Mercer boasts a balanced offense, a strong perimeter defense and confidence buoyed by having defeated Florida State, Alabama, Tennessee, Ole Miss and Seton Hall the past two seasons. The Bears haven't seen a forward tandem the caliber of Duke's Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker though.

Weber State's only hope against Arizona is if Damian Lillard has another year of eligiblity. One set of Wildcats lost to Utah Valley, Northern Colorado, Sacramento State and Idaho State and has an RPI of 149. The other won the Pac-12, beat Duke, San Diego State, Michigan and UCLA and has an RPI of 2.  

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Potential upsets: The Nebraska-Baylor matchup pits two teams who rescued seemingly sinking seasons with late surges in February and March. Baylor's size and athleticism in the paint makes it the favorite, but  the Huskers are capable of an upset if they defend the 3-point line, keep the Bears off the offensive glass and keep their nerves under control. 

Player to watch: One of the most improved players in the nation the past two seasons, Cameron Bairstow is the key to New Mexico's bid to make its first-ever Sweet 16. The Aussie power forward averaged 20.3 points and 7.4 rebounds this season and is capable of keeping foul-prone Stanford forward Dwight Powell on the bench much of the game.   

2:30 p.m. -- No. 6 UMass vs. No. 11 Tennessee (CBS)
3:00 p.m. -- No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette (Tru TV)
4 pm. -- No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 15 Eastern Kentucky (TBS)
4:30 p.m. -- No. 8 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State (TNT)

Must-see: Two opening-round upset victims last March meet in an intriguing eight-nine game in San Diego.  Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and the rest of Oklahoma State's athletic backcourt will be a handful for Gonzaga to guard, but the Michael Cobbins-less Cowboys have struggled to defend the paint and keep opponents off the offensive glass

Must-skip: The most blowout potential is certainly Kansas-Eastern Kentucky, but the Jayhawks are without 7-foot center Joel Embiid and the Colonels feature strong guard play and a bombs-away mentality from behind the arc. Even this one is worth monitoring to see if Eastern Kentucky can keep it interesting.

Potential upsets: The obvious one is a battle-tested Tennessee team against a UMass squad that excelled in non-league play but finished sixth in the Atlantic 10. UMass point guard Chaz Williams is tough to keep out of the lane and his supporting cast is stronger this season, but can the Minutemen handle Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon in the paint?

Player to watch: From Marcus Smart, to Andrew Wiggins, to Doug McDermott, this section of games features plenty of star power. Here's one more guy to watch who's not nearly as well-known: Elfrid Payton of Louisiana-Lafayette. The volume-scoring guard made the U.S. U-19 team this past summer and is capable of hurting Creighton with his ability to get to the rim and finish off the dribble.  


6:55 p.m. -- No. 8 Memphis vs. No. 9 George Washington (TBS)
7 p.m. -- No. 1 Wichita State vs. No. 16 Cal Poly (CBS)
7:15 pm. -- No. 6 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Providence (TNT)
7:25 p.m. -- No. 5 VCU vs. No. 12 Stephen F. Austin (Tru-TV)

Must-see: A VCU program that made a name for itself as a dangerous underdog will meet an opponent trying to do the same Friday in San Diego. Stephen F. Austin has reeled off 28 straight victories by forcing turnovers defensively and draining the shot clock on offense to look for an open shot. The question is whether that approach will translate against better competition. The Lumberjacks have faced a schedule rated 325th in the nation.

Must-skip: Those of you who think Wichita State may go down in the round of 64 are completely ignoring history. Not only are No. 1 seeds 117-0 against No. 16 seeds after Florida's win on Thursday, the Shockers are 29-0 against teams with a better RPI than Cal Poly. Maybe Cal Poly keeps it interesting for a while. Maybe Wichita State endures some jitters. But chances are this will be over by early in the second half if not sooner.  

Potential upsets: Aside from Stephen F. Austin, Providence will be out to sustain the momentum it built in winning the Big East tournament last week. One key for North Carolina will be whether it can generate second-chance points the way it had been prior to its two recent losses to Duke and Pitt. The other will be whether the Tar Heels can put away the Friars early. If not, they may have to rely on their anemic 62.5 percent free throw shooting, which gets even worse when Marcus Paige isn't on the line. 

Player to watch: Providence's hopes could rest on the efficiency of star Bryce Cotton,one of the most valuable players to his team in the nation. Cotton averages 39.9 minutes per game, logged all 50 in a double overtime game earlier this month and hasn't subbed out of 15 of his last 18 games. Despite that, he averages 21.7 points and shoots a respectable 41.3 percent from the field.   

9:15 p.m. -- No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Coastal Carolina (TBS)
9:30 p.m. -- No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 9 Kansas State (CBS)
9:45 pm. -- No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 14 North Carolina Central (TNT)
9:55 p.m. -- No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 13 Tulsa (Tru-TV)

Must-see: Everyone is eagerly anticipating a potential Kentucky-Wichita State round of 32 matchup, but the Wildcats will have to survive an opening-round matchup against a stingy Kansas State team. Kentucky built confidence and momentum in the SEC tournament when it handled LSU and Georgia before losing by one in the title game to Florida. Kansas State has a handful of quality wins this season, but Texas Tech is the best team it beat away from home in league play.

Must-skip: Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis is taking his fourth team to the NCAA tournament, but this appearance may not last as long as some of his previous ones at Clemson and Auburn. The best team the Chanticleers beat this season? Take your pick between High Point, Winthrop and VMI. 

Potential upsets: The last time Tulsa and UCLA met in the NCAA tournament, the Golden Hurricane upset the Bruins 112-102 in the opening round in 1994. The Bruins have an edge in talent once again this time around, but with the Golden Hurricane peaking in March and UCLA's habit of throwing in inexplicable losses from time to time, this one is worth keeping an eye on.

Player to watch: Whatever slim chance North Carolina Central has of upsetting Iowa State likely rests on the shoulders of Jeremy Ingram, a 20.3-point-per-game scorer and the MEAC player of year. The senior guard had 29 in an upset victory over NC State earlier this season.

Check out more NCAA tournament coverage on Yahoo Sports:

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Jeff Eisenberg

is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!