Well, that was fun! There’s nothing in sports like the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, something that was reinforced by the first two days of action this year. The good news is we’re only halfway done, and unless you’re keeping eyes on the NCAA wrestling championships this evening, all eyes are going to be on the first slate of Round of 32 games.
Because keeping track of all of this can be a lot, and because we love you, here’s a watch guide of everything you need to know for Saturday’s slate of games.
Game of the Day: No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 7 Wofford (2:40 pm ET, CBS)
Call this hunch whatever you want, but I think this game has the potential to get weird. Kentucky is a better basketball team, even without the injured P.J. Washington, but Wofford isn’t good for a mid-major, they’re just straight-up good. The Cats come into this game seventh in KenPom, while the Terriers sit at 18th.
It’s very possible John Calipari’s squad overwhelms their opponents with length, athleticism, and skill that Wofford hasn’t seen in months. Talent generally wins out, and Kentucky just has more of that than the Terriers. The Wildcats do have an achilles heel, though, and in Tournament play, it’s oftentimes the great equalizer: Calipari’s team is 191st nationally in defensive three-point field goal percentage, allowing opponents to connect on 34.6 percent of their triples.
Wofford will kill you if you let them get up shots from deep — the Terriers are the second-best team in America at hitting threes, with their fourth-best shooter by percentage being Fletcher Magee, who has made more threes than any other college player ever and knocks them down at an unreal 41.9 percent clip. Mike Young is a good, creative coach, and he’s assuredly going to have something fun up his sleeve for this game.
Kentucky taking the floor, even without Washington, and just thrashing Wofford is possible. I, however, don’t think that happens. Strap in for a potentially really, really fun one.
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No. 3 LSU vs. No. 6 Maryland (12:10 pm ET, CBS): Both squads managed to survive first round scares against plucky mid-major squads, and now, we get a fascinating showdown between two really solid basketball teams. The point guard matchup between LSU’s Skylar Mays and Maryland’s Anthony Cowan will deserve your full attention, and watch for the frontcourt battle — the Tigers’ trio of Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams, and Kavell Bigby-Williams going against the Terps’ Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith will be one heck of a fight.
No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 5 Auburn (9:40 pm ET, TBS): It’s been a down year for Kansas, and by that, I mean the Jayhawks won 26 games and are 16th in KenPom. The Jayhawks are quite good, but their issue is that Auburn might be a better squad. Expect an up-and-down affair that is perpetually too close for comfort for both squads. Two questions will determine the winner: 1. Can Auburn slow down Kansas standout Dedric Lawson? 2. Can the Jayhawks slow down the Tigers’ arsenal of shooters, which knock down threes at a 38.1 percent clip?
No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 12 Murray State (6:10 pm ET, TNT): Ja Morant, you are the man. The Racers star lived up to the hype during his NCAA Tournament debut, looking in complete control of everything while his team hit seemingly every shot it took against Marquette. That won’t be as easy against a long, athletic, and nasty Seminole defense, but Murray State will have the best player on the floor, which is a huge boost in the Tournament.
Could get interesting
No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 6 Villanova (8:40 pm ET, TNT): The point guard matchup between the Boilermarkers’ Carsen Edwards and the Wildcats’ Phil Booth should be a blast. Purdue sits 16 spots higher in KenPom and boasts better offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency, but Matt Painter teams have been known to underperform, while Jay Wright has shed that title as Villanova has won two of the last three national championships. If that matters, Nova wins. If not, Boiler up.
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Minnesota (7:45 pm ET, CBS): Admittedly, it’s very easy to see this going the way of their regular season matchup in which the Spartans won by 24. But seeing as how Michigan State looked a bit off against Bradley, while Minnesota caught fire from deep — particularly Gabe Kalscheur, who went 5-for-11 — to take down Louisville, this has the potential to get silly.
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 10 Florida (5:15 pm ET, CBS): Do you like games where the first team to score 50 points wins? Well, then you’ll love Michigan-Florida. Both of these teams can really get after it defensively, and while the Wolverines’ efficient offense should get the job done, you never know what will happen when a game turns into a rock fight.
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Baylor (7:10 pm ET, TBS): Perhaps Baylor’s hot shooting against Syracuse was because they’ve actually caught fire from deep, which could make this interesting, and not because the Orange play a 2-3 zone. Still, even if that happens, Gonzaga has the firepower to go shot-for-shot with the Bears. Possibly interesting? Sure. Worth watching intently? Probably not.