March Madness 2018: Five best first-round (and possible second-round) matchups

A look at the five best matchups in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, and five more second-round matchups we're all in on.

The 2018 NCAA Tournament begins Thursday, and it's all about the matchups.

Which first-round game are you looking forward to watching most? Which second-round matchup do you want to see most?

NCAA BRACKET PICKS:
Bender (Virginia) | Birdsong (Arizona) | DeCourcy (Villanova) | Fagan (Villanova)

Here's the good news: Sporting News will answer both questions for you, and Kentucky is involved in both rounds. Hey, Big Blue Nation is must-see TV. Here are the matchups we're looking forward to in the first (and maybe second) rounds.

Best first-round matchups

No. 10 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Rhode Island

(All times Eastern)

When: Thursday, 12:15 p.m., CBS

Why: It's the first game of the day, and it's a good one. Oklahoma's Trae Young (27.4 ppg., 8.8 apg.) is an obvious choice, and the Sooners are a bubble team with something to prove. Rhode Island senior guards Jared Terrell (17.2 ppg) and E.C. Matthews (13.1 ppg) are worth the price of admission.

No. 11 Loyola-Chicago vs. No. 6 Miami

When: Thursday, 3:10 p.m., truTV

Why: Loyola is the tournament darling. The Ramblers won the 1963 NCAA Tournament but haven't been back since 1985. This is a hot upset pick because Loyola is tied for fifth nationally in points allowed (62.2 ppg). That could get the crowd in Dallas going.

No. 12 Davidson vs. No. 5 Kentucky

When: Thursday, 7:10 p.m., CBS

Why: This has potential to be the most viral game of the day if Davidson starts winning and Stephen Curry starts tweeting (the Warriors are off Thursday). Kentucky is a six-point favorite and they're up against a team that shoots 48.6 percent from the field. The longer Davidson hangs around. …

No. 9 Alabama vs. No. 8 Virginia Tech

When: Thursday, 9:20 p.m., TNT

Why: It's a classic tossup 8-9 game, and it's another chance to see Alabama star Collin Sexton (19.0 ppg.). Virginia Tech has five players who average double-digit scoring figures, and this is a chance for Buzz Williams to get his first tournament victory with the Hokies.

No. 10 Texas vs. No. 7 Nevada

When: Friday, 4:30 p.m., TBS

Why: Nevada was good enough to get an at-large bid out of the Mountain West Conference, and the Wolf Pack have four players who average in the double figures. Texas snuck into the tournament, and Shaka Smart is looking for his first tournament win with the Longhorns. It's a chance for 6-11 big man Mohamed Bamba to shine.

NCAA BRACKET BREAKDOWNS:
East | South | Midwest | West

Best possible second-round matchups

No. 4 Arizona vs. No. 5 Kentucky

When: Saturday

Why: John Calipari and Sean Miller: two heavyweights who might get a shot at No. 1 Virginia in the Sweet 16, if it comes to that. Both teams won their conference tournaments and at least seven of their last eight games. This is the second-round heavyweight matchup.

No. 2 Duke vs. No. 10 Oklahoma

When: Saturday

Why: It's one of only two possible matchups of the weekend with two top-10 scoring teams (the other being Gonzaga-South Dakota State). We'd take Rhode Island against Duke, too, but the possibility of Young getting a shot at a loaded Blue Devils team is too much to pass up.

No. 2 Purdue vs. No. 10 Butler

When: Sunday

Why: Butler, with Kelan Martin (20.8 ppg.), could play spoiler here if it gets a second crack at the Boilermakers, who won this matchup 82-67 on Dec. 16, 2017. The in-state factor and the pressure on Purdue for that long-awaiting tournament run add to the allure.

No. 4 Wichita State vs. No. 5 West Virginia

When: Sunday

Why: Small disclaimer: If Marshall somehow upsets the Shockers, then a potential in-state matchup against the Mountaineers would be off the charts. As it stands, Gregg Marshall and Bob Huggins both have bracket-busting teams capable of a Final Four run. That's a fun matchup that's tough to pick.

No. 1 Xavier vs. No. 8 Missouri

When: Sunday

Why: Xavier is a well-seasoned No. 1 seed inching closer and closer to that elusive Final Four bid. What could mess that up? Perhaps a last-minute tournament run by Missouri's Michael Porter Jr., who scored 12 points in his first game back in the SEC tournament. The Tigers must get here first, but it could be fun.