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NCAAW Tournament Preview (Round 1, Day 1): Mid-majors can shine in a schedule full of upset potential

Top seeds will likely coast to victories on the first day of tournament play. But several mid-majors are either playing each other or have decent chances to upset their power-conference opponents.

Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year Becca Hittner looks to lead Drake to a first-round upset of Missouri on Friday.
Courtesy of Drake Women’s Basketball via Twitter

The first round of the NCAA Tournament might heavily showcase the top-seeded power-conference schools — the ones with a trip to the Final Four as the goal. But the first two days of the tournament aren’t about them.

Brackets live and die off picking upsets which, in some cases, means picking any mid-major over its power conference opponent. By this logic, there is plenty of upset potential on the very first day of the tournament.

No. 10 Buffalo made it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen last season, while No. 8 South Dakota looks to assert itself as a single-digit seed for the first time. There’s also the meeting between No. 5 Marquette and No. 12 Rice — two very different programs facing off for two very different types of tournament glory. The first round is about upsets, yes, but it’s also about which teams can show they can pull off upsets later in the tournament.

With five No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in action on the first day, there won’t be any shortage of high-scoring games or big performances from individual stars. But taking a closer look at the middle of the bracket at this stage isn’t a bad way to spend a day watching top-tier basketball, either.


NCAAW Tournament — Round 1, Day 1

3 key matchups

No. 5 Marquette Golden Eagles vs. No. 12 Rice Owls

When: Friday, March 22, at 2 p.m. ET

Where: Reed Arena, College Station, TX

How to watch: ESPN2

Notes: While the Golden Eagles are making their third straight trip to the Big Dance, the Owls are making their third trip ever. But that doesn’t mean Rice isn’t ready for a fight, coming into this meeting on a 21-game winning streak. Marquette, meanwhile, has played somewhat questionably of late, losing three of their last six Big East games as well as the tournament championship. Which will win out — heavy momentum or being battle-tested by a stronger schedule?

No. 7 Missouri Tigers vs. No. 10 Drake Bulldogs

When: Friday, March 22, at 4 p.m. ET

Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, IA

How to watch: ESPN2

Notes: Drake has had the better part of a week to recover from its big MVC Tournament championship loss to Missouri State on Sunday. But playing in the state of Iowa today should help the Bulldogs get back on track. While Missouri is good — they beat Mississippi State on the road during SEC conference play — the Tigers have been inconsistent all season long. Balancing wins against the likes of Mississippi State and Texas A&M against losses to Florida and LSU, it’s difficult to say which Mizzou team will show up today. But it can be reasonably assured that a tough, cohesive Drake team capable of knocking off power-conference programs will be there to greet them.

No. 4 Miami Hurricanes vs. No. 13 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles

When: Friday, March 22, at 9 p.m. ET

Where: Watsco Center, Coral Gables, FL

How to watch: ESPN2

Notes: In another edition of momentum versus strength of schedule, Florida Gulf Coast comes into this game on a 19-game winning streak, while Miami lost both of its final ACC regular-season games and its only ACC Tournament game. For a team that’s taken down both Notre Dame and Louisville this season, the Hurricanes need to get back on track soon, and they’ll need to do it against a familiar tournament opponent. After all, their only tournament win in the last three seasons came against these Eagles — by just two points. Depending on how Miami approaches this game, it could be a rout, or it could be an FGCU upset in the making.


The day’s other games

No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 16 Robert Morris, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2

No. 4 South Carolina vs. No. 13 Belmont, 1:45 p.m. ET, ESPN2

No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 15 Mercer, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2

No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 9 Kansas State, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2

No. 4 Texas A&M vs. No. 13 Wright State, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2

No. 5 Florida State vs. No. 12 Bucknell, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2

No. 7 Rutgers vs. No. 10 Buffalo, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

No. 2 UConn vs. No. 15 Towson, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

No. 5 Arizona State vs. No. 12 UCF, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

No. 7 Texas vs. No. 10 Indiana, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

No. 8 South Dakota vs. No. 9 Clemson, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

No. 1 Mississippi State vs. No. 16 Southern, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2

No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 15 Portland State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2


NCAAW Tournament game information

First round

When: Friday, March 22; Saturday, March 23

Where: Campus sites (teams seeded 1-4 host)

How to watch: ESPN2, WatchESPN

Second round

When: Sunday, March 24; Monday, March 25

Where: Campus sites (teams seeded 1-4 host)

How to watch: ESPN, ESPN2, WatchESPN

Sweet Sixteen

When: Friday, March 29; Saturday, March 30 (click for times)

Where: Albany, NY; Chicago, IL; Greensboro, NC; Portland, OR

How to watch: ESPN, ESPN2, WatchESPN

Elite Eight

When: Sunday, March 31; Monday, April 1 (click for times)

Where: Albany, NY; Chicago, IL; Greensboro, NC; Portland, OR

How to watch: ESPN, ESPN2, WatchESPN

Final Four

When: Friday, April 5, at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. ET

Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, FL

How to watch: ESPN2, WatchESPN

National Championship

When: Sunday, April 7, at 6 p.m. ET

Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, FL

How to watch: ESPN, WatchESPN


More ways to watch the games

Want to watch in person? Tickets for the first two rounds can be purchased on the websites of the 16 hosting teams, listed below as the first through fourth seeds. Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight and Final Four tickets can be found on the websites of the hosting arenas, or here.