The packed schedule on the NCAA Tournament’s first two days creates more magical moments, sure, but the latter two days of the opening weekend is where March Madness legends are made.
You pulled off one upset? That’s awesome, but you have to make the Sweet 16 if you really want to etch your name in tournament lore. So what’s going to happen Saturday?
We’re here to offer you a sneak peek.
Notre Dame (5) vs. West Virginia (4)
Time/location: 12:10 p.m. ET, Buffalo, N.Y.
Need to know: Neither of these teams looked very Sweet 16-worthy in their openers. West Virginia’s press was only mildly effective against Bucknell — yes, it created turnovers, but the Bison also countered with easy points off the press break — and Notre Dame fans had to watch in agony as Princeton let loose with a 3-point attempt that would have broken Irish hearts the day before St. Patty’s Day. Both are better than that.
Prediction: We see ACC Tournament Notre Dame, not Princeton Notre Dame, and the Irish continue their pot-of-gold quest.
Wisconsin (8) vs. Villanova (1)
Time/location: 2:40 p.m. ET, Buffalo, N.Y.
Need to know: This is the fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament for Wisconsin senior stars Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. As freshmen, they helped the Badgers make the Final Four, then they made it to the title game as sophomores and to the Sweet 16 as juniors, so don’t expect that they’ll go quietly in this matchup against the overall No. 1 seed. Villanova, though, is really good, really balanced and really hungry to repeat as national champs.
Prediction: Villanova gets the job done.
Northwestern (8) vs. Gonzaga (1)
Time/location: 5:15 p.m., Salt Lake City
Need to know: Hey, have you heard that the Northwestern Wildcats have won every single NCAA Tournament game they’ve ever played in? Yeah, that’s been mentioned a time or two. It proves that just because something never has happened doesn’t mean it never will happen. Well, the Wildcats will see another first on Saturday — their first NCAA Tournament loss ever. It’s been an amazing season and coach Chris Collins is building something special, but Gonzaga’s really, really good. The Bulldogs got their tournament hiccup out of the way in the first half against South Dakota State and should be able to control this one.
Prediction: Zags win.
Xavier (11) vs. Florida State (3)
Time/location: 6:10 p.m. ET, Orlando, Fla.
Need to know: It’s not that Florida State’s giants in the paint are great offensive players, but both Michael Ojo (7-1, 304 pounds) and Christ Koumadje (7-4, 233) pick up a handful of buckets and swats that “normal” centers might not. Against FGCU, for example, the two combined for 13 points (on 6-of-8 shooting),six blocked shotsand countless altered shots. And when you add in freshman Jonathan Isaac, whois more of a wing but at 6-10 still creates all kinds of havoc (he had 17 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals against FGCU), you start to realize that Xavier is going to have matchup problems. The Musketeers looked good upending sixth-seeded Maryland, but Florida State presents a wholly unique challenge.
Prediction: FSU marches on.
Middle Tennessee (12) vs. Butler (4)
Time/location: 7:10 p.m. ET, Milwaukee
Need to know: This is a showdown between two of the teams that looked the best on the first full day of the tournament. Pretty much everyone knew Middle Tennessee was better than your typical 12 seed — heck, they were favorites in Vegas —and the Blue Raiders proved worthy of that praise by dismantling a Big Ten team in the opening round for the second year in a row. Last year, their magic ran out in the second round, but on thistrip, they’re fueled by experience, not magic. Butler did a great job limiting second-chance opportunities against Winthrop (the Eagles had only three offensive rebounds) but Middle has a bigger lineup and pulled down 11 offensive rebounds against a Minnesota team that’s bigger than Butler.
Prediction: Middle carries the Tennessee state flag for another week.
Saint Mary’s (7) vs. Arizona (2)
Time/location: 7:45 p.m. ET, Salt Lake City
Need to know: If nothing else, this should be an enjoyable basketball game to watch for those folks who like offense. Both operate at a very high level — Saint Mary’s is 14th in adjusted offensive efficiency and Arizona is 18th — and both scored a lot of points Thursday. The Gaels dropped 85 on a VCU team that only gave up more once all year, and the Wildcats scored an even 100 points against North Dakota. It’s just hard to see Saint Mary’s slowing down all of Arizona’s threats, which means it’s hard to see the Gaels keeping pace on the scoreboard for the full 40 minutes.
Prediction: Arizona wins.
Virginia (5) vs. Florida (4)
Time/location: 8:40 p.m. ET, Orlando, Fla.
Need to know: Both teams trailed in the second half Thursday, but both showed great resiliency in holding off feisty champions from smaller conferences. For the Gators, their relative lack of size in the paint (offensively, at least) wasn’t an issue against East Tennessee State, but Virginia, an ACC school, has more big bodies in the stable (though the availability of Isaiah Wilkins certainly is a concern). On the other hand, Virginia’s guards won’t be able to get to the rim as easily or as often as they did against UNC-Wilmington; Florida’s guards are quicker. Which team makes better game-to-game adjustments?
Prediction: We’ll give the tiny nod to a much more tournament-tested Virginia squad.
Iowa State (5) vs. Purdue (4)
Time/location: 9:40 p.m. ET, Milwaukee
Need to know: This should be an awesome game with star point guard Monte Morris leading the charge for Iowa State and star big man Caleb Swanigan setting the tone for Purdue. On paper, the Swanigan advantage certainly seems to favor the Boilermakers — he has 27 double-doubles this season, including 16 points and 16 rebounds in the opener against Vermont. But guard play is so very important this time of the year, so we’ll stick with Morris and the Cyclones, who had five players with at least a dozen points against Nevada.
Prediction: Iowa State wins.