March Madness 2023 viewer's guide: What to watch and what to skip on Friday

The opening Thursday of March Madness featured two massive upsets, one by an Ivy League program with a giant-slaying history and the other by a SoCon team that hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game in nearly half a century.

Now comes a Friday slate with twice as many games to choose from.

Not only are there 16 more men’s first-round games Friday, the first round of the women’s NCAA tournament also tips off. 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:


Men’s schedule:
12:15 p.m. — No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 10 USC (CBS)
12:40 p.m. — No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 14 Kennesaw State (truTV)
1:40 p.m. — No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 14 UC Santa Barbara (TNT)
2 p.m. — No. 5 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 12 VCU (TBS)

Women’s schedule:
11:30 a.m. — No. 8 South Florida vs. No. 9 Marquette (ESPN2)
12 p.m. — No. 7 Arizona vs. No. 10 West Virginia (ESPN)
1:30 p.m. — No. 7 Florida State vs. No. 10 Georgia (ESPN2)
2 p.m. — No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 16 Norfolk State (ESPN)

Must-see: What powerful person did Andy Enfield make angry? It’s bad enough that USC drew a Michigan State team that poses matchup problems for the Trojans because of its perimeter shooting. What makes it even worse is that the game is being played in Big Ten country in Columbus, Ohio, and that tipoff is at 9:15 a.m. PST. Will the adversity galvanize the Trojans or break them? Can Michigan State sink enough jump-shots over the top of the Trojans’ thicket of interior defenders? That’s what makes this battle of big brands intriguing.

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Must-skip: South Carolina-Norfolk State has the potential to get ugly in a hurry — maybe even ugly enough to challenge the NCAA tournament record for margin of victory (88 points) set by Baylor in 2017. Alabama’s unheralded women’s basketball team outscored Norfolk State 48-9 in the second half of a game in mid-December. What’s undefeated reigning champ South Carolina going to do to the 16th-seeded Spartans?

Most likely potential upset: Saint Mary’s is a top-15 team in the nation, per advanced metrics. It tied Gonzaga atop the WCC in the regular season and has beaten the likes of Gonzaga, San Diego State, Vanderbilt and Oral Roberts. So this is a deserving No. 5 seed and yet the Gaels drew a nightmare matchup. VCU has lost three games since early December and its hallmark is its disruptive defense. If you saw Saint Mary’s struggle to attack defensive pressure late in WCC play, it’s easy to see why VCU is a trendy first-round upset pick.

Player to watch: Ajay Mitchell, America. America, Ajay Mitchell. The UCSB standout is one of the best scoring guards that few know about, but that will change if the Gauchos can put a scare into a Baylor team with a high-scoring offense and a vulnerable defense. Mitchell, the Big West freshman of the year last season and player of the year this season, boasts a quick first step, the ability to change speeds and an uncanny knack for finding his way past help defenders and finishing at the rim.

South Carolina is undefeated this season. Will Aliyah Boston and Co. stay perfect in the tournament? (Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports)
South Carolina is undefeated this season. Will Aliyah Boston and Co. stay perfect in the tournament? (Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports)

Men’s schedule:

2:45 p.m. — No. 2 Marquette vs. No. 15 Vermont (CBS)
3:10 p.m. — No. 6 Iowa State vs. No. 11 Pittsburgh (truTV)
4:10 p.m. — No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 NC State (TNT)
4:30 p.m. — No. 4 UConn vs. No. 13 Iona (TBS)

Women’s schedule:
2:30 p.m. — No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 15 Holy Cross (ESPNews)
3 p.m — No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 UNLV (ESPNU)
3:30 p.m. — No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 14 Southern Utah (ESPN2)
4 p.m. — No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 15 SE Louisiana (ESPN)

Must-see: Before Rick Pitino leaves for a bigger job, perhaps in the Big East at St. John’s, he’ll try to lead what is likely his last Iona team to a massive NCAA tournament upset. The Gaels haven’t lost since January … but they also haven’t seen anyone as talented as UConn. Iona has a potent backcourt and decent size for a mid-major, but defensive rebounding is a huge concern. If the Gaels can hold the Huskies to one shot, this one has the potential to live up to the hype.

Must-skip: Maryland is favored by 23.5 points over Holy Cross. Iowa is favored by 29.5 points over SE Louisiana. There’s a decent chance neither game is even that close. You’d be forgiven for skipping both these and catching up on the Diamond Miller and Caitlin Clark highlights later in the day.

Most likely potential upset: The Michigan women’s basketball team dropped four of its final six games entering the NCAA tournament, including a stunner at lowly Wisconsin. That sent the Wolverines tumbling to a No. 6 seed and left them with a challenging first-round matchup. UNLV didn’t play the most challenging non-league schedule, but the Rebels (31-2) ripped through the Mountain West and haven’t lost a game since mid-December.

Player to watch: Sonia Citron, G Notre Dame — If the Notre Dame women are going to advance beyond the NCAA tournament’s first weekend and challenge for a Final Four bid, Sonia Citron will have to be special. Citron and Maddy Westbeld are the two weapons the Irish have left with Dara Mabrey out for the season with an ACL tear and Olivia Miles also sidelined with a knee injury. Notre Dame should handle Southern Utah without Mabrey and Miles, but from there nothing will be easy.


Men's schedule
6:50 p.m. — No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson (TNT)
7:10 p.m. — No. 6 Kentucky vs. No. 11 Providence (CBS)
7:25 p.m. — No. 5 Miami vs. No. 12 Drake (TBS)
7:35 p.m. — No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 14 Grand Canyon (truTV)

Women’s schedule
5:30 p.m. — No. 1 Virginia Tech vs. No. 16 Chattanooga (ESPNU)
5:30 p.m. — No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 Hawaii (ESPN2)
6 p.m. — No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 Mississippi State (ESPNews)
7:30 p.m. — No. 2 Utah vs. No. 15 Gardner Webb (ESPNU)
7:30 p.m. — No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 16 Sacred Heart (ESPN2)

Must-see: Two years ago, Kentucky endured its worst season in decades. Last year, the Wildcats suffered their worst NCAA tournament loss in program history. Thus, there is no coach in the country under more pressure to win his first-round game this week than John Calipari. Kentucky will be seeking to end a 1,449-day drought without an NCAA tournament victory when it faces a Providence team that contended for the Big East title into February but struggled on defense down the stretch.

Must-skip: In the wake of Fairleigh Dickinson’s First Four victory Wednesday night, coach Tobin Anderson enthusiastically told his players, "The more I watch Purdue, the more I think we can beat them!" I … do not share Anderson’s optimism. Fairleigh Dickinson is the shortest team in college basketball. The Knights start a 6-foot-6 forward at center. That’s not ideal when trying to figure out how to slow down college basketball’s national player of the year, 7-foot-4 Purdue center Zach Edey.

Most likely potential upset: The winner of the Creighton-Mississippi State women’s game has Sweet 16 potential as a result of Notre Dame’s injury woes. In the First Four, Mississippi State stifled Illinois’ offense and attacked in transition. The 6-foot-5 Jessika Carter, who had 22 points and 9 rebounds against the Illini, could be a tough matchup for undersized Creighton.

Player to watch: Miami’s hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament’s second weekend rest in part on Norchad Omier’s gimpy right ankle. Omier, who Jim Larrañaga has described as the best rebounder he has ever coached, suffered the injury just over a minute into the Canes’ ACC semifinal loss to Duke. Without him, the Blue Devils controlled the glass at both ends of the floor.

Purdue center Zach Edey is a shoo-in for national player of the year, but how far can he take the Boilermakers in the NCAA tournament? (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Purdue center Zach Edey is a shoo-in for national player of the year, but how far can he take the Boilermakers in the NCAA tournament? (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Men's schedule
9:20 p.m. — No. 8 Memphis vs. No. 9 Florida Atlantic (TNT)
9:40 p.m. — No. 3 Kansas State vs. No. 14 Montana State (CBS)
9:55 p.m. — No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 13 Kent State (TBS)
10:05 p.m. — No. 6 TCU vs. No. 11 Arizona State (truTV)

Women's schedule
8 p.m. — No. 8 USC vs. No. 9 South Dakota State (ESPNews)
10 p.m. — No. 8 Ole Miss vs. No. 9 Gonzaga (ESPNU)
10 p.m. — No. 7 NC State vs. No. 10 Princeton (ESPN2)

Must-see: On one side is a 31-win Florida Atlantic team that was the class of the always underrated Conference USA and 13th nationally in the NCAA’s NET rankings. On the other side is a scalding-hot Memphis team that just upset Houston in the American Athletic Conference title game and hasn’t lost to anyone besides the Cougars in six weeks. This is a first-round game that feels like it shouldn’t happen until deeper into the tournament.

Must-skip: You’re going to need multiple screens late Friday night. On paper, this is the rare window without a true dud. The biggest spread of any of these games is Kansas State-Montana State, but even that game could be within 8.5 points.

Most likely potential upset: Kent State won 28 games this season, yet it was two of the Golden Flashes' losses that show how dangerous this team can be. They led both Gonzaga and Houston deep into the second half on the road earlier this season. If senior guard Sincere Carry goes off or if Indiana takes Kent State lightly, look out.

Player to watch: Two years after collapsing in the middle of a game at Florida, Keyontae Johnson returned to the court and led Kansas State to a surprising top-four finish in the best league in college basketball. The former SEC preseason player of the year’s resurgence is among the best stories in the sport this season.