Intriguing first-round matchups and storylines

Now that the First Four is officially over, the first round of the NCAA Tournament is ready to kick off Friday. Here are some games, teams and players to keep an eye on:

  • Azzi Fudd back in full: After missing nearly two months with a knee injury, the UConn guard averaged 8.3 points in the Big East Tournament. She will have to return to her old self of 13.1 points per game and take it to another level if the Huskies want to keep their Final Four streak of 14 straight years going.
  • The player of the year race: The two frontrunners are South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston (13.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and two blocks per game) and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark (27 points, 7.5 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game). It is this writer’s personal opinion that Boston should get it for the second straight year based on her continued dominance and impact on her team. Other candidates include Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist (28.9 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.2 blocks per game), LSU’s Angel Reese (23.4 points, 15.4 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.4 blocks per game) and Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes (22.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.9 blocks per game).
  • Mid-majors to watch: No. 11 seed UNLV, No. 13 Cleveland State, No. 12 Toledo, No. 10 Princeton, No. 6 Creighton, No. 12 FGCU, No. 9 South Dakota State, No. 13 Sacramento State and No. 11 Middle Tennessee are all mid-majors that could pull upsets. Each of these teams are capable of making deep runs into the bracket. We saw Creighton upset Iowa and Iowa State last year to advance to the Elite Eight, and we’ll see if a mid-major can do something similar this season.
  • Highest-ranked matchups: Only once has a No. 16 seed upset a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and that was in 1998 when Harvard defeated Stanford. Never has a No. 15 seed upset a No. 2 seed, nor a No. 14 seed upset a No. 3 seed, but that could change this year. Potential upsets from least, to most likely, include: No. 16 Norfolk State vs. No. 1 South Carolina, No. 15 Southeastern Louisiana vs. No. 2 Iowa, No. 16 Chattanooga vs. No. 1 Virginia Tech, No. 15 Holy Cross vs. No. 2 Maryland, No. 16 Sacred Heart vs. No. 1 Stanford, No. 16 Tennessee Tech vs. No. 1 Indiana, No. 15 Vermont vs. No. 2 UConn, No. 15 Gardner-Webb vs. No. 2 Utah, No. 14 James Madison vs. No. 3 Ohio State, No. 14 Hawaii vs. No. 3 LSU, No. 14 Southern Utah vs. No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 14 Iona vs. No. 3 Duke.
  • Injuries take tolls on top ACC teams: Two teams from the ACC, No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 7 Florida State, both announced today that they have lost their star guards for the season. The ACC’s leader in assists, Irish guard Olivia Miles, is out with a knee injury, and the ACC freshman of the year, Ta’Niya Latson, is out with an undisclosed injury. Both teams still have plenty of offensive talent, but will have to fill the leadership void left by these two women.