Everything you need to know about Thursday's first-round games

From ESPN - March 14, 2018

The Big Dance has finally arrived, and we are here to provide a preview of Thursday's 16 games. Below are the players and numbers to know, as well as the upset possibilities:

All times ET

No. 10 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Rhode Island
(12:15 p.m., CBS, Midwest Region)

Player to watch: Trae Young went from being the darling of college basketball in January to one of its most criticized players, as Oklahoma tumbled down the stretch before still sneaking into the tournament. Oklahoma's woes had more to do with its supporting cast than it did Young, the nation's leader in scoring (27.4) and assists (8.8).

Still, he did not play as well late in the year, either. If he gets hot again, the Sooners could be a dangerous double-digit seed. If not, they could be the first team out of the tournament.

Key stat: The Sooners are 15-0 when they score at least 85 points. They are 3-13 when they do not.

Upset factor: Depends. Just two months ago, the Sooners were fighting for a No. 1 seed. Then they morphed into a moribund bunch that wilted to a 10 seed. If the tournament can give Oklahoma a little of its mojo back, the Sooners will be dangerous. If they are the same team they have been since the start of February, Rhode Island will coast.

No. 14 Wright State vs. No. 3 Tennessee
(12:40 p.m., TruTV, South Region)

Player to watch: All-name team nominee Admiral Schofield has elevated his game in recent weeks. Over his last six games, Schofield is averaging 20.5 points per game to go along with seven rebounds. He also shot 40 percent from 3 over that stretch. Schofield's emergence has given Tennessee a perimeter complement to forward Grant Williams, Tennessee's leading scorer.

Key stat: Tennessee is a load on the defensive end. The Volunteers ranked fourth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, and give up just 66.1 points per game, the fewest of any team in the SEC.

Upset factor: Wright State, wrong opponent. The Vols are on a roll, having won six of their last seven while holding opponents to fewer than 70 points in all six wins. Wright State ranked all the way down at seventh in the Horizon League in scoring.

No. 13 UNC Greensboro vs. No. 4 Gonzaga
(1:30 p.m., TNT, West Region)

Player to watch: Big man Johnathan Williams leads a balanced Gonzaga attack. Williams is averaging 13.5 points and 8.3 rebounds. Though he's not a volume shooter, Williams has reached double figures scoring in 12 straight games.

Key stat: Gonzaga's average margin of victory is 17.4 points. That's the second-highest of any tournament team, trailing only Cincinnati (17.8).

Upset factor: Faint. Gonzaga, last year's national runner-up, has college basketball's longest active winning streak with 14 consecutive victories. The Zags are attempting to become the fourth team since 1985 to win the national title in the year following a defeat in the championship game. Gonzaga has the pieces to make another run to the Final Four.

No. 16 Pennsylvania vs. No. 1 Kansas
(2 p.m., TBS, Midwest Region)

Player to watch: If the Jayhawks are going to make a run to the Final Four, they are going to need 7-footer Udoka Azubuike on the floor. Azubuike, who is shooting 77.4 percent from the field this season -- on pace to be the second-highest rate in Division I history -- suffered a ligament injury in his left knee last week that kept him out of the Big 12 Tournament.

Kansas coach Bill Self indicated that Azubuike could see the floor against Penn in an "emergency-type situation." Emergency or not, if he's able to play, even sparingly, that would be a great sign for Azubuike and the Jayhawks moving forward.

Key stat: Big 12 Player of the Year Devonte' Graham is averaging 37.6 minutes per game. That is more than any other Kansas player in the Big 12 era. Expect Graham, who has played 16 full games this year, to see every minute, barring foul trouble, for as long as Kansas is in the tournament.

Upset factor: Maybe not completely unthinkable. Kansas enters as just a 14.5-point favorite against Penn. That's the second-shortest betting line ever in a 1-16 matchup. The Ivy League champs are not the normal 16 seed patsy.

No. 15 Iona vs. No. 2 Duke
(2:45 p.m., CBS, Midwest Region)

Player to watch: Marvin Bagley III is averaging 21.1 points per game, which would break Jabari Parker's freshman scoring record at Duke.

Key stat: Duke averages 40.1 paint points per game. That is the most among major conference teams. The last time Duke led major conference teams in scoring in the paint, it won the national title (2014-15).

Upset factor: Nonexistent. Iona is making a school-record third straight NCAA tournament appearance. On the other hand, the Gaels have lost 11 straight tournament games. Duke will run that streak to a dozen.

No. 11 Loyola vs. No. 6 Miami
(3:10 p.m., TruTV, South Region)

Player to watch: Lonnie Walker IV has been Miami's go-to guy since Bruce Brown Jr. had surgery on his left foot on Feb. 1. Walker IV leads Miami with 11.5 points per game, though that's the lowest scoring average by a team's leading scorer among tournament teams.

Key stat: The Ramblers are tenacious defensively, allowing only 62.2 points a game, which ranks fifth in the country. Loyola-Chicago also ranks 11th in defensive efficiency.

Upset factor: Substantial. BPI gives Loyola-Chicago a 43 percent chance of knocking off the Hurricanes. That's the highest rate of any team seeded at least five spots lower than its opponent. One more victory would give the Ramblers 29 victories, which would tie a school record.

No. 12 South Dakota State vs. No. 5 Ohio State
(4 p.m., TNT, West Region)

Player to watch: Ohio State's Keita Bates-Diop wo not be the only big-time player in this game. Mike Daum is a load, capable of propelling a Cinderella-like run. Daum is scoring almost 24 points per game, which ranks sixth nationally. He also has 21 double-doubles, tied for fourth-most.

Key stat: South Dakota State enters the tournament on an 11-game winning streak, the third-longest active streak in college basketball. To keep the streak going, though, the Jackrabbits will have to secure their first ever tournament win. South Dakota State is 0-4 all-time in the tournament.

Upset factor: BPI gives the Jackrabbits a 20 percent chance of pulling off the upset. And the last time Ohio State was a 5 seed? The Buckeyes lost to Utah State, in 2001.

No. 9 NC State vs. No. 8 Seton Hall
(4:30 p.m., TBS, Midwest Region)

Player to watch: How Allerik Freeman goes, so usually goes NC State. The Wolfpack are 13-4 when their leading scorer puts up at least 15 points. They are 8-7 when he does not.

Key stat: Led by Angel Delgado, Seton Hall is one of the tournament's top teams on the glass. The Pirates lead the Big East in offensive rebounding rate (34 percent) and second-chance points per game (12.7).

NC State allows 37.5 points in the paint per game, most among major conference teams.


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