The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament brings some whiplash for college basketball fans who are required to make difficult decisions with their remotes. The sheer volume of games makes it difficult to keep up as there are often four games going on simultaneously. But the Sweet 16 offers a chance to dig in and get to watch the action a little more closely.
There are are four games set for Thursday and four more scheduled for Friday as the field will be whittled down to an Elite Eight entering Saturday. Four TVs are no longer needed. In fact, the games are spaced out enough that viewers can catch the most-important windows of each game with a single screen.
Still, some games will wind up becoming the talk of the sports world while some others may end without much drama. Historical powers such as Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Duke and Indiana are nowhere to be found this weekend. That leaves programs like UCLA, UConn and Michigan State carrying the banner for the the "big brands" against a cast of Cinderellas that includes FAU and Princeton.
As the action approaches, let's take a closer look at which games are most compelling by ranking the Sweet 16 games in terms of watchability. Games are ranked in descending order with all times ET..
8. South: (1) Alabama vs. (5) San Diego State
Friday, 6:30 p.m. | TBS, March Madness Live
San Diego State is an elite defensive team that could make Alabama work to figure things out. But the Crimson Tide are excellent defensively themselves and have too many offensive playmakers to remain silenced. Alabama's path to the Final Four always looked simple and the door has been flung wide open for this squad to reach Houston. There's always the chance that the Aztecs catch fire and the Crimson Tide go cold from beyond the arc. But unless both those things happen simultaneously, Alabama should cruise into the Elite Eight.
7. Midwest: (1) Houston vs. (5) Miami
Friday, 7:15 p.m. | CBS, March Madness Live
Miami averages 79.1 points per game and Houston allows just 56.6. So what gives? The contrasting styles between the Hurricanes and Cougars makes for a compelling matchup. Both squads have elite guard play and seasoned coaches, which are traits that suggest neither is going to back down on the big stage. Ultimately, this one might come down to Miami's ability to keep Houston from attacking the offensive glass. The Hurricanes may need to study the way Princeton rebounded last weekend if they are going to withstand the Cougars' physical barrage on the glass.
6. East: (4) Tennessee vs. (9) FAU
Thursday, 9 p.m. | TBS, March Madness Live
Who is ready for some rugby? FAU coach Dusty May is already bracing for Tennessee's physical style, which is unlike anything the relatively small Owls encountered during Conference USA play. But FAU has an edge on Tennessee in 3-point shooting and mirrors a Missouri team that gave the Volunteers' vaunted defense fits this season. FAU had never won an NCAA Tournament game before last week. That the Owls are now playing in the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden makes this one of the few remaining Cinderella stories of the tournament. Of course, they forfeited some goodwill with a goofy last-second dunk attempt in the second round against Fairleigh Dickinson, which was this tournament's most lovable underdog.
FAU coach Dusty May with an incredible walk-off answer to his postgame presser Sunday when asked about the Sweet 16 matchup with Tennessee.— Kyle Boone (@Kyle__Boone) March 21, 2023
"We're going to study Australian rugby rules and get ready for the Vols." pic.twitter.com/zkefUFWw4W
5. South: (6) Creighton vs. (15) Princeton
Friday, 9 p.m. | TBS, March Madness Live
Princeton is this year's Cinderella, but it hardly played like one last week. The Tigers just looked flat-out better and more prepared for the Big Dance than both Arizona and Missouri. Make no mistake, though, any team that emerges from the Ivy League as a No. 15 seed is the epitome of an underdog. Now, Princeton has a chance to take the nation by storm by making it two seasons in a row that a No. 15 seed from New Jersey has reached the Elite Eight after Saint Peter's did it last season.
No Better Feeling! 💦#MakeShots 🐯🏀 pic.twitter.com/ecNnAF5Bn4— Princeton Men’s Basketball (@PrincetonMBB) March 17, 2023
4. Midwest: (2) Texas vs. (3) Xavier
Friday, 9:45 p.m. | CBS, March Madness Live
Both teams rank among the top-40 in scoring and among the top-20 in assists, which suggests this could be the most offensively pleasing game of the weekend. Neither team has some ultra-dominant offensive alpha, so the list of players who could emerge as heroes is lengthy. The coaching subplots are good, too, with Sean Miller on his redemption tour at Xavier and Rodney Terry trying to prove he deserves the full-time coach job at Texas. If Terry can guide the Longhorns to an Elite Eight after Chris Beard's midseason dismissal, he will become one of this month's main storylines.
3. East: (3) Kansas State vs. (7) Michigan State
Thursday, 6:30 p.m. | TBS, March Madness Live
The guard matchup between 5-foot-8 Kansas State dynamo Markquis Nowell and Michigan State's Tyson Walker should be great. Both are undersized players coming off big performances last weekend and can become legends if they carry their teams to a Final Four. The coaching matchup between Michigan State's Tom Izzo, a March legend, and Kansas State's Jerome Tang also presents a fascinating contrast. This is Izzo's 15th Sweet 16, but it's Tang's first season as a head coach. If Tang manages to take down Izzo and the Spartans, it only improves his case for National Coach of the Year.
STEPBACK SPLASH CITY @KStateMBB pic.twitter.com/0HP3ckXyqG— CBS Sports College Basketball 🏀 (@CBSSportsCBB) March 19, 2023
2. West: (4) UConn vs. (8) Arkansas
Thursday, 7:15 p.m. | CBS, March Madness Live
Dan Hurley vs. Eric Musselman. What a coaching matchup! These are two of the most high-strung, combustible coaches in college basketball and that alone makes this a compelling matchup. There's a solid chance we'll some tirades or shirtless celebrations. As for the actual game, containing Huskies' star big man Adama Sanogo will be a challenge for the Razorbacks after he enjoyed a monster first weekend. But Arkansas likes to play fast and force turnovers, and that formula just led it to a win over reigning national champion Kansas. This one has the ingredients of a classic.
1. West: (2) UCLA vs. (3) Gonzaga
Thursday, 9:39 p.m. | CBS, March Madness Live
This is a rematch of the Final Four thriller from 2021 that Gonzaga won on a legendary buzzer-beater from Jalen Suggs. Though a couple of seasons have elapsed, some of the biggest names from that game are still around. Drew Timme is still Gonzaga's leading scorer, and UCLA stars such as point guard Tyger Campbell and forward Jaime Jaquez are now senior leaders. These teams also played early last season, and Gonzaga throttled UCLA 83-63, which makes Mick Cronin 0-2 against the Zags since becoming the coach at UCLA. Getting over the hump against the high-powered Zags will be especially challenging for the Bruins since they are playing without top defender Jaylen Clark, who is out with an Achilles injury.
Jalen Suggs' all-time game-winner against UCLA called by Gonzaga's IMG radio team of Tom Hudson and Adam Morrison (yes, that Adam Morrison): pic.twitter.com/DBtqdFjenL— Brian Fonseca (@briannnnf) April 4, 2021