We made it, college basketball fans. At last, after two long years, the first full day of March Madness returns.
These next two days of round-of-64 action are what makes this event unique. Here is where unlikely stars are born, where Cinderella runs begin and where national championship quests get started.
Some games are inevitably going to be better than others, but thankfully we have a full slate to choose from. Once again to help you prioritize your viewing choices, here’s how we think the games will rank in terms of watchability.
Obviously, you might have different preferences if you have a rooting interest for a particular school or if you want to keep tabs on your favorite upset pick on your bracket. Strictly from a competitive standpoint, however, here’s how we rate the Friday schedule with a final score prediction (times p.m. ET).
CHANNEL INFO, ODDS:: Betting lines and TV info for all of Friday's NCAA Tournament games
Here are Friday's games ranked by watchability with our pick for each one:
No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 9 Wisconsin
Time/TV: 7:10 p.m. ET, CBS
The 8-9 games can – usually – be counted on if you want a close contest. The Tar Heels’ considerable size won’t be new to the Badgers, who’ve had to deal with a lot of big teams in the Big Ten. It will be up to Wisconsin’s veteran point guard D’Mitrik Trice to limit turnovers and prevent UNC from getting its transition game going.
Prediction: North Carolina 74-72.
LAST-MINUTE BRACKET TIPS:
No. 6 Texas Tech vs. No. 11 Utah State
Time/TV: 1:45 p.m. ET, TNT
One of the more intriguing matchups of the round pits the Aggies, who are built around big man Neemias Queta, against the more perimeter-oriented Red Raiders. If Mac McClung starts knocking down treys early on, it will be a good sign for Texas Tech, but Utah State can defend a bit, too.
Prediction: Texas Tech 69-67.
No. 8 Loyola Chicago vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech
Time/TV: 4 p.m. ET, TBS
We strongly considered placing this one atop the list, but the reported unavailability of Georgia Tech star Moses Wright puts a bit of a damper on it. The good news for the Yellow Jackets is they can still put one of the nation’s most disruptive defenses on the floor thanks to Jose Alvarado, but the Ramblers aren’t easily bothered and they can also defend.
Prediction: Loyola 62-57.
No. 6 San Diego State vs. No. 11 Syracuse
Time/TV: 9:40 p.m. ET, CBS
The Aztecs, one of the more dangerous and possibly underseeded teams in the field, got a challenging draw to start the tournament as they try to solve the signature Syracuse zone. It might not be the fastest paced game of the day, but it should be close throughout.
Prediction: SDSU 60-55.
No. 7 Florida vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech
Time/TV: 12:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Energy shouldn’t be an issue for the Hokies, who haven’t gotten to play much over the past month. They’re in for a tussle against the Gators, whose physicality sometimes gets them into trouble as they commit 18.5 fouls a game.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 77-71.
No. 5 Villanova vs. No. 12 Winthrop
Time/TV: 9:57 p.m. ET, TNT
Due to the well-publicized absence of Collin Gillespie (knee), the Wildcats will rely heavily on Jeremiah Robinson-Earl to carry the offense. The Eagles will play a lot of guys, but one who won’t sit down much is Chandler Vaudrin, Winthrop’s leader in minutes, points, rebounds and assists.
Prediction: Winthrop 73-61.
No. 7 Clemson vs. No. 10 Rutgers
Time/TV: 9:20 p.m. ET, TBS
This clash of battle-tested teams from power conferences should be worth a look. Both can struggle to score at times, but Clemson’s Aamir Simms and the Scarlet Knights’ Ron Harper Jr. have takeover ability.
Prediction: Rutgers 70-63.
No. 3 Arkansas vs. No. 14 Colgate
Time/TV: 12:45 p.m. ET, TruTV
This has the potential to be the best of the 3-14 matchups, especially if Colgate’s deep group of 3-point marksmen are connecting. The Razorbacks won’t be afraid to run with the Raiders, however, and Arkansas’ interior advantage should eventually carry the day.
Prediction: Arkansas 88-75.
No. 4 Oklahoma State vs. No. 13 Liberty
Time/TV: 6:25 p.m. ET, TBS
This is another one that could be interesting for a while if the Flames live up to their moniker and start out hot. In the end, though, they are unlikely to have any answers for the Cowboys’ Cade Cunningham.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 83-67.
No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 14 Morehead State
Time/TV: 9:50 p.m. ET, TruTV
The Eagles have all the elements to pull off a first-round stunner, meaning a lot of long-range shooters and a big man, Johni Broome, who can play with anyone on the blocks. But the Mountaineers’ pressure defense never relents, and Derek Culver can be just as dominant at the rim.
Prediction: West Virginia 88-79.
No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 12 Oregon State
Time/TV: 4:30 p.m. ET, TNT
The Beavers already strung together some surprises in the Pac-12 tournament just to get here. Another is certainly possible if Tennessee shows the troublesome inconsistency that cropped up during the latter half of its SEC slate.
Prediction: Tennessee 75-62.
No. 2 Houston vs. No. 15 Cleveland State
Time/TV: 7:15 p.m. ET, TruTV
While this is only the third NCAA appearance for the Vikings, their prior two visits in 1986 and 2009 produced at least one upset. Taking down Quentin Grimes and the Cougars, though, is asking a lot.
Prediction: Houston 88-68.
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Oral Roberts
Time/TV: 3 p.m. ET, CBS
You’ll want to at least be around for the beginning of this one to get a look at the Golden Eagles’ Max Abmas, the nation’s leading scorer at 24.2 points a game. It could conceivably still be interesting into the second half, but the Buckeyes’ depth will close it out sooner or later.
Prediction: Ohio State 81-70.
No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 13 North Texas
Time/TV: 7:25 p.m. ET, TNT
The Boilermakers were hoping for a first-round breather after their arduous journey through the Big Ten. They might get it, but the Mean Green know how to defend and have several shooters with 3-point range.
Prediction: Purdue 77-60.
No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Hartford
Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, TruTV
The Hawks’ first visit to the Big Dance will almost certainly be a short one. Yes, they do come from the same conference as 16-seeded giant killer UMBC, but the Bears will not be victims this year.
Prediction: Baylor 80-49.
No. 1 Illinois vs. No. 16 Drexel
Time/TV: 1:15 p.m. ET, TBS
Though the Fighting Illini had occasional lapses during the season that allowed outmanned opponents to hang around longer than necessary at times, they should make short work of the Dragons.
Prediction: Illinois, 90-57.
Follow Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: March Madness 2021: Ranking, picks for Friday's NCAA Tournament slate