COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — First- and second-round games for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament will be played at Nationwide Arena this weekend.
Columbus will be a part of the opening weekend of March Madness, where favorites assert themselves, numerous games come down to the wire and Cinderella stories begin to bust millions of brackets.
On Friday, four games will be played at Nationwide Arena from the East Region, with two second-round games Sunday. Meanwhile, the women’s tournament will stage first- and second-round games at Value City Arena, where Ohio State is a No. 3 seed and host team this weekend.
Here is a look at the four first-round men’s games in Columbus.
12:15 p.m.: No. 10 USC vs. No. 7 Michigan State
The second day of the tournament tips off in Columbus with an expected tight game between two schools from Power Five conferences. Michigan State of the Big Ten and Southern California of the Pac-12 have had a handful of memorable runs in March.
The Spartans and coach Tom Izzo are making history with their 25th consecutive tournament appearance, an NCAA record. They are hoping to celebrate that with another Final Four appearance as a 7-seed, something they accomplished in 2015. Michigan State enters the game as the favorite despite a Big Ten tournament loss to Ohio State one week ago.
USC is in its third straight tournament after a 22-win season that included an upset win over No. 7 UCLA in January. Among its other major nonconference results included an overtime loss to Tennessee and a six-point loss to Wisconsin. Coach Andy Enfield’s team will look for big scoring from senior guard Boogie Ellis while trying to stop a Spartan team with one of the top passers in the country in A.J. Hoggard.
Although Michigan State is always a March staple to potentially go on a run, the Trojans’ recent success makes this one of the most even matchups in the tournament. This certainly could be a game to come down to the last shot, and the winner could make noise in the region.
2:45 p.m.: No. 15 Vermont vs. No. 2 Marquette
The second game at Nationwide Arena will be among the biggest mismatches in the first round.
Marquette is fresh off its first conference title since 1997 when the Milwaukee-based school was part of the Conference USA. Now as Big East champions, the Golden Eagles are looking to make their fourth Final Four appearance and snap a decade-long winless streak in the tournament.
They are hoping second-year coach Shaka Smart has more tournament magic in him. Smart is 12 years removed from guiding 11th-seeded VCU from the First Four to the Final Four. The Golden Eagles boast the 14th-best scoring offense in Division I (81 points per game) and second-highest in the East Region.
Vermont will have its work cut out after winning its second consecutive America East tournament. The Catamounts are looking to join the exclusive list of No. 15 seeds to execute a first-round upset, something that has happened the last two tournaments with Oral Roberts beating Ohio State in 2021 and Saint Peter’s beating Kentucky last year.
6:50 p.m.: No. 16 Texas Southern/FDU vs. No. 1 Purdue
Friday’s evening slate will start with one of the No. 1 seeds in this year’s bracket.
Purdue, the Big Ten regular-season and tournament champion, is champing at the bit to break the team’s more than 40-year drought without a Final Four appearance. Boilermakers fans have entered tournaments with high expectations but have dealt with March heartbreak for years. Two recent instances were a 2019 regional final loss to Virginia in overtime and last year’s Sweet Sixteen loss to 15-seed Saint Peter’s.
This year, Purdue fans are optimistic it can get to the Final Four in Houston with the team being led by 7-foot-4 All-America center Zach Edey. The 20-year-old from Toronto showed his dominance all season and is among the country’s top scorers (21.9 points) and top rebounders (12.8).
Its opponent will be determined Wednesday night in Dayton when Texas Southern plays Fairleigh Dickinson in a First Four game. The Tigers have won in each of the last two First Fours, while the Knights are under first-year coach Tobin Anderson and have a top-50 scoring offense.
9:20 p.m.: No. 9 Florida Atlantic vs. No. 8 Memphis
The final game Friday will pit 9-seed Florida Atlantic and 8-seed Memphis. Similar to the USC-Michigan State contest, this matchup could go down to the wire.
For the Tigers, it’s a chance to resolidify itself as a regular contender. Memphis missed the tournament for five straight years before returning in 2022 after a string of appearances in the 2000s, which included multiple regional final appearances and reaching the national championship game in 2008.
With coach Penny Hardaway and one of the country’s top scorers in Kendric Davis, the Tigers claimed the American Athletic Conference tournament title with an upset of Houston.
The Owls are conference champions, winning Conference USA and booking their first March Madness ticket since 2002. They come to Columbus with a 31-3 record and the highest seed in their history. These sides could play a close game and then look to play spoiler in a likely second-round game against the Boilermakers.