Mar 9, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Tigers guard Will Barton (5), forward Ferrakohn Hall (0), guard/forward Wesley Witherspoon (11), and guard Chris Crawford (3) celebrate their victory in the game against the UCF Knights during the second half of the semi finals of the Conference USA Tournament at the FedEx Forum. The Memphis Tigers defeated the UCF Knights 83-52. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE
After a sedate start to the Second Round on Thursday, the NCAA Tournament heats up on Friday. We rank the day's most- and least-watchable games, from the Owls and Bulls to the Tigers and ... Billikens. | Live NCAA Tournament Scoreboard
Thursday's opening day of the "real" NCAA Tournament was not nearly as thrilling as we have come to expect from one of sport's most volatile events. Just two higher seeds, No. 12 VCU and No. 11 Colorado, pulled upsets, and they did so despite being in the most- and least-watchable Second Round games on paper, according to my very subjective rankings.
Friday might be better, despite just a single 5-12 clash. Two feisty No. 16 seeds take aim at No. 1s that might be vulnerable, and talented teams dot even the lower seed lines.
Without further ado, here's Friday's NCAA Tournament viewer's guide, telling you what to miss and what to make sure you see from tip to buzzer. (All times Eastern Daylight.)
16) No. 5 Temple vs. No. 12 South Florida (9:50 p.m., TNT)
First to 55 wins! Both Temple and USF boast good-to-excellent guard play on their best days, but USF rarely looks explosive when not playing overseeded Pac-12 teams in the First Four (sorry, Cal), and three of Temple's six games of 80 or more points in 2011-12 required overtime.
15) No. 2 Missouri vs. No. 15 Norfolk State (4:40 p.m., TNT)
No one plays offense nearly as well as Missouri: the Tigers (125.6 offensive efficiency) produce almost .05 points more per possession than the second-most efficient team in the country, Indiana (120.9). Norfolk State is making its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. Gulp.
Anthony Grant's Alabama team defends like hell and can struggle to score (Grant, whose first head coaching job was at VCU, was Shaka Smart before Shaka Smart was Shaka Smart); Creighton's high-flying Bluejays, led by Doug McDermott, have only made casual acquaintance with the concept of defense. Contrasts of styles are fun, and both teams are a lot better than their seeds indicate.
13) No. 7 Notre Dame vs. No. 10 Xavier (9:45 p.m., CBS)
The Musketeers were a top-10 outfit before their ruinous throwdown with Cincinnati and still have plenty of talent, but Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons take bad shots by the half-dozen, and Kenny Frease isn't as effective as he should be with his seven feet of height. Notre Dame won't bail out Xavier by fouling, and should look for sharpshooter Jack Cooley to solve Xavier's good three-point defense.
12) No. 6 Cincinnati vs. No. 11 Texas (12:15 p.m., CBS)
Two big-school teams without overwhelming resumés makes for a possible letdown game in Friday's first tilt, but Cincy's balance and defense against what may be J'Covan Brown's one-man show has potential. Neither team is likely to run away from the other, either.
11) No. 7 Saint Mary's vs. No. 10 Purdue (7:27 p.m., truTV)
Saint Mary's remains a free-wheeling, offense-first team under Randy Bennett, and the Gaels are led by skin-and-bones point guard Matthew Dellavedova and a few efficient offensive players (Stephen Holt, Brad Waldow and Rob Jones). Purdue's claim to fame, besides having a healthy Robbie Hummel for the first time since 1993, is its extreme care with the ball: Hummel and D.J. Byrd avoid turnovers like Purdue football avoids competence, boosting a squad that does nothing else at an elite level.
10) No. 6 San Diego State vs. No. 11 N.C. State (12:40 p.m., truTV)
The Aztecs are not the same team that they were with Kawhi Leonard in 2011, but a slew of talented underclassmen helped them stay near the top of a strong Mountain West. N.C. State snuck into the NCAA Tournament by catching fire (insert Katniss Everdeen joke here) over its final five games, only losing to North Carolina by a bucket in the ACC Tournament, and C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown are a pair of high-grade scorers. Scott Wood's shooting could be the difference.
9) No. 2 Duke Blue Devils vs. No. 15 Lehigh Mountain Hawks (7:15 p.m., CBS)
Before you ask: Jim Nantz is, indeed, on the call.
But really, Duke might not have the easiest route possible to the Third Round. The Blue Devils' defense is historically bad for a team of their stature, and Lehigh's smart, patient offense could trouble Duke. The Mountain Hawks' upset chances revolve around C.J. McCollum, who could do a reasonable impression of VCU's Eric Maynor in a pinch. If Austin Rivers is on, though, Lehigh's doomed.
8) No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 14 St. Bonaventure (2:45 p.m., CBS)
The Seminoles' streaky shooting and merciless defense have made them a trendy Final Four pick, but Michael Snaer's run of clutch play has had to make up for an offense that can stagnate and be downright charitable in the turnover department. The Bonnies are hot, too, having ripped off three wins with their backs to bricks in the Atlantic 10 Tournament to make March Madness, while big man Andrew Nicholson served notice that he can be a force of nature. Florida State fits the "Can beat anyone, can lose to anyone" profile well, too, so there's upset potential in this one.
The hype about Detroit having more McDonald's All-Americans than Kansas is a kind of red herring, thanks to Detroit's Ray McCallum, Jr. outnumbering the Jayhawks' zero by himself. McCallum is amply talented, and Bill Self's history of struggles against mid-majors (don't say "Patrick O'Bryant" to Kansas fans) gives me a little pause when declaring this a Kansas blowout, but Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor are just too good for this game to end up close.
6) No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 16 Long Island (9:20 p.m., TBS)
The Spartans have rebounded from injuries and outperformed preseason expectations by running Tom Izzo's offense to perfection and locking down on defense. The Blackbirds just run, and run -- and run. There's significant blowout potential in this one, but if LIU can make Sparty chase it and sweat, it might be close.
5) No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 16 Vermont (4:10 p.m., TBS)
Ken Pomeroy's drumbeat for a No. 16 staging the upset of all upsets has been loudest for Vermont, which gets a North Carolina team that has superb talent and an unnerving knack for falling asleep. If the Catamounts can come out hot, and Four McGlynn (yes, it's a real name, and he wears the exact number you think he wears) and Matt Glass hit their threes, an upset is possible. More probable: Carolina turns up the gas and runs an athletically inferior team out of Greensboro.
Florida bombs away from deep like no other with Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Bradley Beal, but the Cavaliers use Tony Bennett's Pack Line defense to stifle offenses. Mike Scott, one of the nation's most underrated players, gets a big-time matchup in Beal, a presumptive lottery pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, but Patric Young and Erik Murphy could wreck shop against an undersized Virginia frontcourt. If you want a contrast of styles, there's no better one on Friday than these two orange-and-blue bunches colliding.
3) No. 3 Georgetown vs. No. 14 Belmont (3:10 p.m., truTV)
Georgetown's loss to Ohio as a three seed is undoubtedly in the Hoyas' minds, and getting a generous three seed against a No. 14-seeded Bruins team that may have been slighted is not the scenario John Thompson III's crew probably wanted. Henry Sims anchors this defense-first Georgetown team up front, and the Hoyas are tops in America at defending the three-point line, but they'll have their hands full with a Belmont roster that has shooters (Kerron Johnson, Drew Hanlen) and bruisers (Mick Hedgepeth, Scott Saunders) alike.
John Beilein's Wolverines were one of the surprises of the college basketball world this year, rebounding from significant offseason losses thanks to the emergence of freshman point guard Trey Burke and some good shooting. But Ohio's a dangerous No. 13: D.J. Cooper is a streaky shooter and a thief, leading a Bobcats defense that is second only to VCU in forcing turnovers. (The Bobcats are actually closer to the Rams than national No. 3 East Tennessee State is to them.) And Nick Kellogg can rain triples from afar, giving Ohio the same chance as any could-be Cinderella with range.
1) No. 8 Memphis vs. No. 9 Saint Louis (6:50 p.m., TBS)
This really shouldn't be a Second Round matchup, and that's even more true if you examine both teams' Kenpom.com profiles, which each have as much highlighter green as Digger Phelps at College GameDay before a Notre Dame game. Do-everything forward Will Barton leads the Tigers on offense and defense, Tarik Black is about as automatic as any post player in America, and Memphis will look to run; Saint Louis counters with excellent defense, and the Billikens could exploit Memphis' weaknesses on the offensive glass.
For more on the 2012 NCAA Tournament bracket, stay with SB Nation's Selection Sunday StoryStream, and stick around SB Nation's NCAA Tournament hub for a complete printable NCAA Tournament bracket and tons of analysis on who was snubbed, who got the best bracket, and who will make it all the way to New Orleans and the Final Four.