NCAA Tournament Blitz: Here Are The Top 5 First-Round Matchups That Absolutely Cannot Be Missed

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One of the best things about the magic of the NCAA Tournament is it usually delivers the greatest Thursday in all of sports.

From late morning on an otherwise routine day of the week until late night spins the first round of March Madness on day one. This Thursday could continue to be like no other.

There’s nothing like watching March Madness in person. OutKick will be in Birmingham and Greensboro for the first two rounds. Join us by getting your own seats through StubHub, the easiest place to buy/sell tickets to all the biggest games.

NCAA Tournament Top 5 First-Round Matchups

No. 7 Texas A&M (25-9) vs. No. 10 Penn State (22-13), 9:55 p.m., Thursday, TBS

Midwest Region … Des Moines, Iowa.

The Aggies should be much better than a No. 7 seed. They finished second in the eight-bid Southeastern Conference to No. 1 overall seed Alabama by one game at 15-3. They also won 10 of their last 11 before Sunday, including a 67-61 win over No. 2 Alabama on March 4. A&M reached the SEC Tournament championship game before an 82-63 loss to, yes, Alabama, on Sunday.

Penn State is also hot, though it finished just ninth in the Big Ten at 10-10. The Nittany Lions won eight of their last nine games before a 67-67 loss to No. 1 seed Purdue on Sunday in the Big Ten Tournament. During that 8-1 run, they beat NCAA Tournament teams Indiana, Northwestern, Illinois and Maryland.

No. 16 Northern Kentucky (22-12) vs. No. 1 Houston (31-3), 9:20 p.m., Thursday, TNT

West Region … Birmingham, Alabama.

Here is your near-upset special. Northern Kentucky won the Horizon League Tournament to get here and has won seven of its last eight games. That included a win over regular season champion Youngstown State, 75-63, on March 6. NIT-bound Youngstown State is No. 6 in the nation in scoring at 82.5 points a game.

This is only the third Division I NCAA Tournament appearance in history for the Norse. But in 2017, it at least smelled an upset in a 79-70 loss to No. 2 seed Kentucky as a No. 15 seed. Houston could be looking ahead to the winner out Iowa and Auburn for the second round.

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl took the Tigers to the 2019 Final Four. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)

No. 8 Iowa (19-13) vs. No. 9 Auburn (20-12), 6:50 p.m., Thursday, TNT

South Region … Birmingham, Alabama.

Auburn will be playing in front of a home crowd at 17,654-seat Legacy Arena in its fourth NCAA Tournament since 2018 under coach Bruce Pearl (Final Four in 2018). But the Tigers are slumping at 3-7 after opening the season on fire at 16-3. Look for Alabama fans to be hanging around to boo them on after the No. 1 seed Tide (29-5) plays the winner of a directional school festival earlier in the day (2:45 p.m., CBS) in the same arena. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi meets Southeast Missouri State in a play-in on Tuesday at 6:40 p.m. on TruTV.

Iowa and Auburn have never played. Auburn will face a high scoring team. The Hawkeyes are No. 18 in the nation in scoring with 80.2 points a game to Auburn’s 72.7 a game for 150th nationally. Kris Murray, a 6-foot-8 forward, leads Iowa with 20.4 points a game for No. 20 in the nation.

No. 4 Tennessee (23-10) vs. No. 13 Louisiana (26-7), 9:40 p.m. Thursday, CBS

East Region … Orlando, Florida.

Tennessee is a sorry 177th in the nation in scoring with 71.8 points a game and a popular pick to be upset by Louisiana, which is No. 38 with 78 points a game. The Vols will have to stop or contain the Cajuns’ 6-11 power forward Jordan Brown. He is a junior transfer from Nevada and Arizona. Brown is 38th in the nation in scoring with 19.4 points a game.

No. 5 Duke (26-8) vs. No. 12 Oral Roberts (30-4), 7:10 p.m. Thursday, CBS

East Region … Orlando, Florida

Ok, Jon Scheyer, not aka Coach S, you have done OK in your first season of replacing Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski. You tied for third in the ACC regular season at 14-6. Coach K won 13 ACC regular season titles. And you made it to the NCAA Tournament. Coach K holds the record for NCAA Tournament wins at 101. Oh, and he also won five national championships.

It will not be easy for starters. Oral Roberts is No. 3 in the nation in scoring with 84.2 points a game. Guard Max Abmus is No. 7 nationally with 22.2 points a game.

Good luck, Jon. Not that there is any pressure on you.

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

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