basketball Edit

Ranking all 32 first-round NCAA tournament games

AJ Storr
AJ Storr (Dan Sanger/

The 2024 NCAA tournament field is set and games are set to begin on Tuesday evening. With that in mind, there’s no time like the present to dive into each of the 32 matchups that are already set.

Below, Rivals national analyst Rob Cassidy ranks all 32 games in order of watchability, starting with No. 32 and counting all the way down to No. 1.

MORE MADNESS: Four former unranked prospects to follow in the NCAA tournament | Four former five-stars that will shape the NCAA tournament's first weekend | Yahoo Men's Bracket Madness


2024 Rankings: Rivals150 | Team | Position

2025 Rankings: Rivals150 | Team

2026 Rankings: Top 100

TRANSFER PORTAL: Latest news | Transfer search | Transfer tracker/player ranking (football) | Transfer team ranking (football) | Transfer tracker/player ranking (basketball) | Transfer team ranking (basketball) | Rivals Portal Twitter



32. No. 1 Houston vs. No. 16 Longwood

LJ Cryer
LJ Cryer

OK, so this one is admittedly difficult to sell. Houston is an early 24.5-point favorite and plays a style of basketball that will frustrate both Longwood and anyone that tuned in hoping for scoring or a competitive game.

Longwood’s weirdly jacked horse mascot, Elwood, looks like he should be the star of an Adult Swim cartoon, so tune in to get a look at that equine freak if for no other reason.


31. No. 1 UConn vs. No. 16 Stetson 

This one is probably going to get ugly, but tuning in will get you a look at UConn’s Stephon Castile, a future lottery pick, as well as get you acquainted with hot-scoring Stetson junior Jalen Blackmon, who ranks among the NCAA leaders in points, and may be tempted by transfer portal this spring, should big NIL deals become available.


30. No. 10 Virginia vs. No. 10 Colorado State

Do you like bubble teams that don’t score a ton of points? How about games that have no semblance of offensive flow? If you’re looking for a reason to be annoying about the quality of college basketball, this is your best bet to complain.

These two teams will probably combine for a hard-earned 117 points and inspire the most insufferable Twitter takes of the week. Rams-Cavaliers could yield a tight game with a wacky finish. But even if that happens, the first 35 minutes will feel a like a tedious homework assignment.


29. No. 16 Howard vs. No. 16 Wagner 

Two of the most unlikely stories in this tournament, Wagner won the NEC tournament as a No. 6 while Howard punched its ticket by capturing the MEAC crown for the No. 4 line. Howard was 9-14 at one point this season while Wagner closed the regular season by losing eight of its final 12 games.

On one hand, games like this are the beauty of the sport. On the other hand, only tune in if you’re cool with a meat grinder of a contest that might be a race to 55 points with the winner earning the right to be massacred by North Carolina.


28. No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 15 Long Beach State

There’s something satisfying about the fact that Long Beach State pushed out head coach Dan Monson, and announced this would be his final season in charge, just before his team went on a three-game winning streak that led the program to a Big West Tournament title as well as its first tournament appearance since 2012.

Now, every win comes with an awkward subtext, and an unlikely upset victory over Arizona would be downright hilarious. Pac-12 Player of the Year Caleb Love became a March legend for North Carolina a few years back when he hit a massive shot to send the Tar Heels to the title game. He hopes to reprise his role as one of the tournament’s central figures as a Wildcat in the month ahead.


27. No. 2 Iowa State vs. No. 15 South Dakota State

The Cyclones feel under-seeded and are a heavy favorite for good reason. This game will probably be played in front of an army of Iowa State fans that will make the 2.5-hour drive from Ames to Omaha. At the very least it should be a good atmosphere.

Jackrabbits center William Kyle III garnered Summit League Tournament MVP honors and will need to continue on his current trajectory if South Dakota State is going to scare the Big 12 tournament champs in any meaningful way.


26. No. 2 Marquette vs. No. 15 Western Kentucky

This game should mark the return of Marquette star Tyler Kolek, who missed the entire Big East Tournament with an abdominal injury. Kolek is one of the most explosive players in the country when healthy.

Still, Marquette is more than just one player, having made a run to the Big East tournament final even without its top player. The Golden Eagles will be forced to deal with Western Kentucky’s pace, which ranks among the nation’s fastest and resulted in 77.3 possessions per game, which ranks third nationally.

Come for the Hilltoppers’ dazzling end-to-end speed. Stay for Big Red, the school’s bright red, furry blob of a mascot that seems to straddle the line between species.


25. No. 16 Montana State vs. No. 16 Grambling

An opening-round game between 16 seeds fighting for a crack at No. 1 seed Purdue, Grambling-Montana State could be a sneaky thriller. Montana State rides in as a four-point favorite against a Grambling State squad that won both the SWAC regular-season and tournament titles.

It feels as though the Tigers could pull the upset, however, as high-scoring guard Kintavious Dozier has proven up for the tasks in big moments, having scored 34 points against Pac-12 power Washington State early in the season.

Montana State is playing in its third-consecutive NCAA tournament despite a sub-.500 regular season. The game isn’t likely to be remembered for high-level play that resembles poetry in motion, but it could provide one of this year’s first exciting finishes.


24. No. 6 BYU vs. No. 11 Duquesne

Welcome to one of the weekend’s weirdest-seeded matchups. Why is Duquesne a No. 11 seed after going just 10-8 in the Atlantic 10 and ranking 86th in KenPom? Who knows? Still, the Dukes are in the field for the first time since the 1970s, and that’s worth something.

Meanwhile, BYU sits on a No. 6 line despite being 16 in KenPom and No. 12 in the NET. The Cougars fire away from 3-point range, shooting more than 30 long-range attempts per game and will either shoot themselves to a comfortable win or right out of the tournament.

The career of Duquesne head coach Keith Dambrot hangs in the balance, as the 65-year-old has announced he intends to hang it up following the season.


23. No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 15 St Peter’s 

The darlings of the 2022 tournament that burst onto the scene by slaying Kentucky, St. Peter’s will get a crack at another highly regarded SEC team when it goes to battle against Tennessee and All-Everything junior Dalton Knecht.

Knecht, of course, has gone from fringe NBA prospect to top-15 projected pick on the back of a surprising monster season in which he averaged 21 ppg while leading the Vols to an SEC regular-season championship.

The most frightening things about his game for Tennessee will be the slow, methodical pace the Peacocks look to play, as shortening the game will work in the underdog’s favor.


22. No. 7 Dayton vs. No. 10 Nevada 

Dayton doesn’t have a single victory over a tournament team to its name this season. But, as they say, there’s no time like the present. The Flyers and fringe NBA prospect DaRon Holmes are slight underdogs to a Nevada team that shot a whopping 818 free throws this season, which ranks ninth in the country.

If Holmes gets in foul trouble because of the Wolf Pack’s knack for drawing contact, it could be lights out for the Flyers. If not, the Dayton big man's inside presence will open things up for 3-point sniper Kobe Brea on the perimeter.


21. No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 14 Colgate 

Your most annoying co-worker will probably continue to fire off lame toothpaste jokes in the office pool chat and continue to do so until the Raiders lose. The good news for you is that Baylor should – should – have your back on Friday, seeing as the Bears are 14-point favorites. Scott Drew will unleash future first-round picks Yves Missi and Ja'Kobe Walter on a Colgate team that will have to light it up from deep if it hopes to pull an upset.

The Raiders are shooting roughly 36 percent from 3-point range this season and are led on that front by forward Ryan Moffatt, who will need to be especially dialed in from long-range in order to give his team a chance.


20. No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 14 Akron

Creighton boasts a three-headed scoring monster comprised of Baylor Scheierman, Trey Alexander and Ryan Kalkbrenner. The trio leads one of the country’s most efficient scoring offenses, as the Bluejays are shooting 48.6 percent from the floor this season.

Akron is less balanced to say the least as it leans heavily on forward Enrique Freeman, who averages 18.6 points and 12.9 rebounds for a Zips team that needed a miracle to knock off Kent State in the MAC tournament championship game.

Freeman is both a double-double machine and a treat for fans that like throwback forwards that do most of their damage in the paint. Freeman knows where his bread is buttered and doesn’t overcomplicate things with silly characteristics such as finesse.


19. No. 5 San Diego State vs. No. 12 UAB

Last year’s national runners up, San Diego State is one of six Mountain West teams in the field, a situation that is particularly offensive to Big East fans that think they were disrespected with just three selections. That’s all to say that UAB will have scorned supporters scattered throughout the Eastern seaboard when this game tips.

UAB is one of the country’s best free-throw shooting teams, which is worth knowing should this game remain close in the final two minutes.


18. No. 4 Auburn vs. No. 13 Yale

The SEC tournament champs led by top-flight head coach and prolific Twitter political correspondent Bruce Pearl will tussle with a Yale team that needed a buzzer-beating miracle to slip capture the Ivy league Tournament crown.

Versatile Yale 7-footer Danny Wolf, who dominates the paint in addition to being comfortable letting it fly from three-point range, will match up with Auburn forward Johni Broome, whose 6-foot-10 frame and athleticism will allow him to challenge Wolf all over the floor.

If Yale has any hope of winning this game, it’ll have to force the up-tempo Tigers into a grind-it-out game that suits the Bulldogs’ typical methodical pace.


17. No. 3 Illinois vs. No. 14 Morehead State

Big Ten tournament champion Illinois will take on Morehead State and star Riley Minix, as the OVC Player of the Year’s 20.8 points per game average ranks him among the top-25 scorers in the country.

Illinois guards Terrence Shannon and Marcus Domask make up one of the country’s best backcourts, while head coach Brad Underwood is one of the most animated coaches in the field.


16. No. 10 Boise State vs. No. 10 Colorado 

There are plenty of reasons to tune in to the Broncos and Buffs, not the least of which is future top-five draft pick Cody Williams whose upside is more striking than his production at this juncture. Still, the Colorado freshman will wow onlookers in spurts with his versatility and ability to impact games in endless ways. He’s also one of two Buffs currently wearing protective face masks that make them look like knock-off superheroes.

Boise State is as tough a team as there is in the Mountain West and is led by forward Tyson Degenhart as well as hyper-athletic wing O'Mar Stanley, who is capable of making highlight reel plays on a consistent basis.


15. No. 8 Nebraska vs. No. 9 Texas A&M

There’s a lot to like about this matchup of former Big 12 foes. Texas A&M snatched sitting Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts just a few days back and now the Aggies hope to spoil the Huskers’ opportunity to win their first ever NCAA tournament game.

Nebraska guard Keisei Tominaga is a certified 3-point sniper that is as spirited and fun to watch as anyone in the country. If he leads the Huskers to their first tournament win in school history, he’ll become one of the faces of the first weekend.


14. No. 7 Washington State vs. No. 10 Drake

Washington State is easy to root for, seeing as though it secured its first NCAA tournament berth in 15 years just a few months after its conference was nuked by television money and greed, leaving the Cougars out in the cold. Also, Wazzu’s Myles Rice is one of the most exciting players in the country.

The Drake story is a tale of an undersized but scrappy bunch that could give Wazzu serious trouble. Head coach Darian DeVries and superstar wing Tucker DeVries is the event’s only father-son duo now that St. John’s head coach Rick Pitino is out recruiting while his son Richard Pitino coaches New Mexico against Clemson.


13. No. 5 St. Mary’s vs. No. 12 Grand Canyon 

“That other WCC team” was the league’s best squad by far this season, as St. Mary’s enters its first-round game with Grand Canyon with a WCC tournament title and pair of wins over conference rival Gonzaga to its name. This could be head coach Randy Bennett’s most complete Gales team, which is saying something considering he’s in year 11 as the program’s head coach.

Grand Canyon is led by Tyon Grant-Foster, who is must-see TV for those interested in near-death experiences or sleeper pro prospects that could play their way up draft boards on college basketball’s biggest stages.


12. No. 4 Duke vs. No. 13 Vermont

Vermont doesn't shoot the ball particularly well or get up and down in a hurry, so the Catamounts might not be as much of an upset threat as they have been in tournaments past. That said, the Blue Devils haven't exactly set the world on fire with their play as of late and Vermont prides itself on its defensive intensity.

Expect this one to be played at a slow tempo due to the styles of both teams, but there are serious stakes that go beyond simple elimination. Should Duke be on the wrong side of an upset, groans about Jon Scheyer will get louder, and next season could see the young head coach operating under a bit of fire. The Blue Devils are a more complete team, obviously, but Vermont has won 10-straight, and confidence can make a mid-major dangerous in this kind of spot.


11. No. 6 South Carolina vs. No. 11 Oregon 

The Gamecocks and Ducks are surprising in different ways. South Carolina is at-large six seed in this year’s field after a 11-21 disaster season a year ago, Meanwhile, Oregon wouldn’t be here at all without a three-game run to capture the Pac 12 Tournament title. The Ducks are finally healthy and clicking at the right moment, as Dana Altman teams tend to do.

All-name team member Meechie Johnson also happens to be one of the most dynamic point guards in the SEC despite making some odd shot selections from time to time.

Oregon is led by big man N'Faly Dante, who is back after missing a chunk of the year with an injury, as well as freshman Jackson Shelstad, who has been a revelation in his first college season, posting four 20-point games.

In some ways, this is a game between underdog high-majors capable of capturing the country’s imagination with a deep tournament run.


10. No. 8 Mississippi State vs. No. 9 Michigan State 

One of a handful of first-round games that features the lower seed as the betting favorite, No. 9 seed Michigan State is favored by one point against the No. 8 seed Bulldogs. Everything about the game suggests a closely contested game and everyone’s favorite Tom-Izzo-owns-March narrative will rear its head whether it’s being championed or mocked.

The Spartans have been inconsistent offensively to say the least, but they defend at a level that will give them a chance against almost anyone.


9. No. 6 Texas Tech vs. No. 11 NC State

NC State seemed destined to be watching the tournament from home until it rattled off five wins in five days to capture the ACC tournament championship and punch its ticket to the Big Dance. Beefy Wolfpack big man D.J. Burns boasts the 275-pound body of a defensive end but is a weapon in the midrange in addition to under the glass and will become a certified fan favorite should NC State advance.

This year’s Texas Tech group is a bit more offensive minded than the teams that help build head coach Grant McCasland’s defense-first reputation, but it’s still capable of frustrating high-level opponents on any given night. Texas Tech guard Pop Isaacs averages 15.9 points and is one of many long-range threats that suit up for the Red Raiders.


8. No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 14 Oakland

Can I interest you in a game that will probably feature a metric ton of points? Good.

Kentucky is one of the most exciting young teams in the country led by future first-round picks Rob Dillingham, Reed Sheppard and Antonio Reeves. Meanwhile, Oakland will rely on a time-tested Cinderella tradition of bombing away from the three-point line, from which junior Jack Gohlke has launched an eye-popping 327 shots this season and leads the nation with 212 makes.

Kentucky is the heavy favorite for a reason, but things in the tournament can get weird if the underdog starts lighting it up from three-point range, which the Golden Grizzlies are capable of doing.


7. No. 8 Utah State vs. No. 9 TCU

TCU is among the most pleasing teams to watch for fans that like transition scoring and the 79.2 points the Horned Frogs average are a product of that. Utah State is part of a six-bid Mountain West that is hoping to have better NCAA tournament results than it did a year ago when three of the four qualified teams were bounced in their first game.

First-year head coach Danny Sprinkle built this Aggies team from near scratch this offseason and won 27 games with what once seemed like a patchwork roster,


6. No. 8 FAU vs. No. 9 Northwestern

The darlings of last year’s tournament will tussle with one of the country’s most beloved players when the Owls take on Northwestern and Boo Buie, the Wildcats’ all-time leading scorer and certified fun name to say.

A case could be made that the Owls didn’t deserve to make the field as an at-large, but here they are, back in the underdog role. FAU is as experienced a squad as there is in the tournament and is dangerous because of a three-headed scoring monster comprised of guards Johnell Davis and Vladislav Goldin, as well as center Alijah Martin.


5. No. 5 Gonzaga vs. No. 12 McNeese

Former LSU head coach Will Wade and his McNeese team will play underdog to a Gonzaga squad that is significantly less complete than it has been in the recent past.

Still, Ryan Nembhard is a true point guard that is a pleasure to watch when he’s at his best, as he’s vital to every part of the Zags’ attack.

Meanwhile, Wade’s 30-3 Cowboys are statistically one of the country’s top defensive teams, in part due to a relatively soft schedule. It’s been some time since McNeese has been tested, having won 11 straight games, so running into a talented Gonzaga team might be a bit jarring.


4. No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 13 Samford 

KansasHunter Dickinson is set to make a return after missing a handful of games with a shoulder injury. The return of fellow injured star Kevin McCullar seems slightly less certain.

This year’s Jayhawks aren’t particularly deep to begin with, so the status of their two stars will mean everything to their tournament hopes. It seems as though Samford has become a trendy upset pick based on the Jayhawks’ injuries. but also because the Bulldogs have won 17 straight and shoot 39.32 percent from three, which ranks seventh nationally.

Samford’s Achor Achor is more than just a guy with an impossibly cool name, as the Bulldog star averages 15.8 points per game and can score around the basket as well as from deep.


3. No. 4 Alabama vs. No. 13 Charleston

The NCAA tournament is capable of creating odd bedfellows, and it’s done so here. This game will be played in Spokane, Wash., but the fact that the Tide’s sworn enemy Auburn is also playing at the site could make the crowd a bit more pro-Charleston than you’d expect, Alabama is one of the nation’s top scoring teams and plays at a breakneck pace.

Charleston, which is known for bombing 3-pointers, is comfortable playing up-tempo as well, which could create an up-and-down shootout of a contest in the Pacific Northwest. The over-under sits at a robust 173.5, and the over might still be the play.


2. No. 6 Clemson vs. No. 11 New Mexico

Richard Pitino is the only guy with his last name coaching in this year’s NCAA tournament and will lead his New Mexico squad against a Clemson team led by P.J. Hall, who makes a difference in the paint at both ends. The Tigers have surrounded Hall with capable shooters and will go as they go this weekend.

New Mexico plays at a freakishly fast pace and will provide fans with a dose of nostalgia as both Jaelen House (son of Eddie) and Jamal Mashburn Jr. suit up for the Lobos.


1. No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 James Madison 

James Madison is a trendy upset pick, but Vegas lists the Dukes as 5.5-point underdog to a hyper-efficient Wisconsin team led by St. John’s transfer AJ Storr, who led the Badgers to the Big Ten championship game last week.

Meanwhile, the Dukes have won 13 games in a row and will arrive in Brooklyn brimming with confidence. The Dukes’ meeting with the Badgers won’t be the first time they've clashed with a Big Ten foe this season, having taken down Michigan State on the season's opening night thanks in part to a 21-point performance from forward T.J. Bickerstaff, who will almost certainly create problems for the Badgers.