>> More: Fill out your bracket here | TV schedule, tip times | Ranking the field 1-68
OK, you’re still digesting this bracket and wondering who to pick, which games to overthink, which ones you know you’ll get wrong no matter the choice, and all that.
It’s a wonderful exercise in mental exhaustion and self-loathing.
But beyond the picking, know there is, as always, a batch of games that are just plain fun. Watchable. Ones you’ll want to see regardless of rooting interest or what your bracket says.
Each year, we give you the five must-watch first round games. But this year: YOU GET A BONUS GAME. Because one of these games isn’t in the first round — it’s in the First Four.
There’s a tilt happening Tuesday night in Dayton that amounts to the most enticing matchup in the history of the First Four. So let’s get into it right now. If you’d like to see all the tip times and announcing crews for the NCAA Tournament, you need to head right here and save/print/bookmark/do your thing with that page.
Vanderbilt (11) vs. Wichita State (11): Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, truTV
This is some game — and it’s a positive referendum on KenPom.com. The analytics site has Wichita State ranked 12th and Vanderbilt ranked 27th, continuing a trend from the past decade that any team ranked 30th or better in KenPom has been made the field.
On the court, it’s the final push for Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet; two guys who will go down in Wichita State lore — as they’ve made the NCAA Tournament every year of their careers. The Final Four in 2013, the undefeated run to a No. 1 seed in 2014, and a Sweet 16 appearance in 2015. What will 2016 bring? And will Vanderbilt, which is considered among the biggest disappointments in college hoops this season, suddenly show itself to be the team it should be? A team stocked with NBA talent? This sets up to be a competitive game with very different styles.
Iowa State (4) vs. Iona (13): Thursday, 1:30 p.m. ET, TBS
Oh, the points! These two can score and never burn the clock. Iowa State’s in a situation here where, if it gets past the Gaels, it could go all the way to the Elite Eight. But the first test could be the toughest. You’ll have to watch this game to see whose career comes to an end: ISU’s Georges Niang or Iona’s A.J. English, who has a decent chance to make the NBA.
ISU coach Steve Prohm will try to avoid what happened to Fred Hoiberg last season: an opening-game upset. You’ll recall the Clones, as a 3 seed, got upended by UAB. Iona has won an NCAA Tournament game once in its history (1980).
Baylor (5) vs. Yale (12): Thursday, 2:30 p.m. ET, CBS
This is interesting because Baylor got no favors. Yale is 103 miles south from the Dunkin Donuts Center, where this game will be played. And Yale is a very good team this season. The committee got the Bulldogs’ placement right in the bracket in seeding.
Baylor’s got some beasts up front. Rico Gathers is leaving basketball when this season ends to pursue an NFL career. He’ll be challenged by Brandon Sherrod down low. This could be a beautiful mix of physicality and quick guard play. Lester Medford vs. Makai Mason is the matchup to watch. I have a good feeling this game will be within two possessions with less than three minutes to go.
Yale’s in the tournament for the first time since 1962.
Indiana (5) vs. Chattanooga (12): Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, CBS
Tom Crean was not given an easy opponent, not by any stretch. The Mocs, similar to Yale, are a worthy 12-seed. Chattanooga went 29-5 this season with a road win at Dayton, plus wins over power-conference teams Georgia and Illinois. The Hoosiers have a defensive task on its hands here. And you can fully expect Matt McCall’s team to try and slow this game down. Keeping Yogi Ferrell in check will be a task, but I’d like to see how Greg Pryor does with that assignment.
Indiana fans have watched their team cruise to a Big Ten title, but the loss against Michigan in the Big Ten quarterfinals was a bitter pill. There will be an uproar if the Hoosiers can’t win this one. That subplot alone is worth tuning in for.
Seton Hall (6) vs. Gonzaga (11): Thursday, 9:55 p.m. ET, truTV
Now how about this game? You could make the case Seton Hall should have played its way onto the 4-line, but at least the 5. And this 11-seed for Gonzaga proves the Bulldogs would not have been in the field if they didn’t win the WCC championship.
So here’s why the game is must-watch.
You’ve got Seton Hall, which just won its first Big East title game in 23 years, playing as well as any team in the country. Truly. The Pirates look freaking terrific in the past month, and Isaiah Whitehead has become one of the most dangerous players on the court in the country.
Then you’ve got Gonzaga, whose performances in March vary. Not a lot of expectations here. But don’t forget about what this team has in Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis. The Sabonis-Angel Delgado battle in the paint will be a donnybrook. Such a good game. To me, the biggest toss-up of any listed in this post.
West Virginia (3) vs. Stephen F. Austin (14): Friday at 7 p.m. ET, CBS
You’ll notice this is the only Friday game on the list. Sometimes that’s just the way the schedule breaks. I’ll tell you this, the only game I’m looking forward to more than WVU-SFA is Vandy-Wichita State. The Lumberjacks haven’t lost since it was 2015, and they’re ranked No. 33 in KenPom. As I wrote in my East Region preview, Thomas Walkup is a walking problem. I don’t know how WVU is going to check him.
And for all the talk of WVU’s press, you do realize that SFA has the No. 1 turnover defense in the country, yes? So the Mountaineers have size and tremendous rebounding. But they don’t shoot 3s well, and SFA is going to bring five guys onto the court who are capable of scoring at the mid-range and long range.
Eat an early dinner on Friday. This one has the makings of a first round classic.