South Region – Louisville, KY
(2) Villanova vs. (3) Miami | Thursday, 6:10 PM, CBS
After being tied at 13 six minutes into its second round game against Iowa, Villanova went on an 11-2 run to pull away, finished the first half with 54 points (while holding the Hawkeyes to 29) and never had less than a 64 percent win probability the entire contest. Earlier in the day, Miami got 1.02 points per possession against Wichita State’s nationally renowned defense en route to a convincing victory, bookended by both a strong start and strong finish — outscoring the Shockers 46-20 in the opening and closing 10 minutes of the game.
But what’s funny is how each team’s path to victory Thursday night could be similar to how things went down in those games last weekend. For Villanova, it will be about imposing its will against a senior-laden Miami, like Iowa, that does everything well but nothing great. For Miami, it will be about keeping Villanova’s foot off the accelerator early and playing to its strengths on offense, like they did so well against Wichita.
Keep an eye on the perimeter. The Hurricanes allow opponents to score 26.5% of their buckets from three-point range, just 288th nationally. But the Wildcats get nearly 34% of theirs from long range. Something here will give.
KenPom Line: Wildcats by 3
Matchup to Watch: Ryan Arcidiacono vs. Angel Rodriguez
Random Fact: Jay Wright is 18-5 in neutral court games over his last three seasons
(1) Kansas vs. (5) Maryland | Thursday, 8:40 PM, CBS
South Dakota State and Hawaii were a couple sexy opening weekend picks, both double-digit seeds coming out of the South region. So it’s a bit surprising for many to even see Maryland alive at this stage in the tournament.
Neither the Terrapins nor the Jayhawks dig terribly deep into their benches on any given night, and I think that plays more into the hands of Bill Self who got a combined 43 points and 15 rebounds from Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden against Connecticut, with plenty of other contributors. But Rasheed Sulaimon could provide an interesting test defensively for a guy like Selden after committing just 1.7 fouls per game this season while recording 20 steals since Jan. 31.
Even with its size, Maryland is somehow an abysmal rebounding team and is -5 in overall margin so far in the tournament. If that’s a weakness Kansas can expose early, its overall talent will win over at most every position from Frank Mason on up.
KenPom Line: Jayhawks by 6
Matchup to Watch: Perry Ellis vs. Robert Carter
Random Fact: Kansas has lost eight games east of the Mississippi River since 2014 by an average of 11.4 points per game.
West Region – Anaheim, CA
(2) Oklahoma vs. (3) Texas A&M | Thursday, 6:37 PM, TBS
It’s not just the state of Iowa that’s coming into this game a little salty — Texas A&M robbed the entire universe of an Oklahoma-UNI Sweet 16 matchup thanks to its eternally insurmountable double-digit comeback Sunday night.
This matchup smells like trouble for the Aggies, though. After allowing 12 3-pointers to UNI and nine in its first round tilt with Green Bay, A&M is vulnerable defensively on the perimeter, which is a recipe for utter annihilation at the hands of the Sooners. Oklahoma’s starting backcourt (Buddy Hield, Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins) is averaging a combined 63 points per game with a total of 17 made threes in the tournament.
It’ll be forcing turnovers and getting out in transition that could keep the Aggies in this game, but OU held up pretty well against VCU in that regard. I think KenPom’s line might be a bit off, but what do I know?
KenPom Line: Sooners by 1
Matchup to Watch: Buddy Hield vs. Danuel House
Random Fact: Texas A&M’s last win as a member of the Big 12 was over Oklahoma in the 2012 Big 12 Tournament. The Sooners have beaten them twice since then.
(1) Oregon vs. (4) Duke | Thursday, 8:55 PM, TBS
Look to your left… Now to your right… At least one of those people picked Duke over Oregon in their bracket.
Thursday’s nightcap showcases an upset favorite, and most will tell you its because Oregon is the weakest 1-seed we’ve seen in years and, well, Duke is Duke. In reality, you won’t find a hotter team with more quality wins in the last month than the Ducks (and maybe Kansas), and the 20 total victories over the KenPom top-100 speaks for itself.
Duke’s opening weekend games against UNC Wilmington and Yale transpired very differently — the former defined by a slow start and the latter a bumpy finish — so now would be a decent time for Coach K to find a happy medium. The Ducks haven’t lost a single game since Feb. 13 and have been lights out defensively in this postseason while maintaining a 310th national ranking in bench production. Ironically, that’s still better than seven teams left in the tournament, including Duke.
KenPom Line: Ducks by 1
Matchup to Watch: Dillon Brooks vs. Brandon Ingram
Random Fact: Oregon is 24-9 in the postseason under Dana Altman.
East Region – Philadelphia, PA
(6) Notre Dame vs. (7) WIsconsin | Friday, 6:27 PM, TBS
It’s not hard to figure out where majority rooting interest lies here, and if we’re being honest, we all probably wish it were Stephen F. Austin facing Wisconsin in this game.
Alas, Notre Dame eked by both Michigan and SFA in dramatic fashion and take on (Death. Taxes.) Greg Gard’s Badgers, who are as hot as anyone in the country winning 13 of their last 16 games since starting the season 9-9. The Irish should prepare to be uncomfortable. Despite boasting one of college basketball’s most efficient offensive machines, Wisconsin has held Pittsburgh and Xavier to 43 and 63 points, respectively. And though ND can score a ton of points, they operate slowly and methodically with one of the thinnest rosters you’ll find. It’s a style of play this Wisconsin team can manage.
Offensively, however, they’re going to have to do better than their 233rd ranked FG efficiency. Even SFA’s 76 points wasn’t enough to beat Notre Dame last weekend.
KenPom Line: Badgers by 1
Matchup to Watch: Ethan Happ vs. Zach Auguste
Random Fact: Notre Dame is 8-9 vs. the KenPom top-50 this season. Wisconsin: 8-6.
(1) North Carolina vs. (5) Indiana | Friday, 8:57 PM, TBS
It’s the same rationale I used trying to dispel any notions that Iona had a shot in the first round against Iowa State — in a matchup of similar styles of play, give me the more talented roster every time.
This is going to be a track meet, but it’s hard to bet against North Carolina team that has blown away its entire opposition over the last month except for a five-point road loss to Virginia. The Tar Heels have 4-5 different guys that can take over a game on any given night, led by arguably the best forward in the country in Brice Johnson (16.8 ppg, 10.5 rpg).
Yogi Ferrell vs. Marcus Paige is the best individual matchup in this upcoming round, and if Ferrell has the Hoosier offense clicking, they’re damn near impossible to catch from behind.
Turnovers (and the points scored off of them) could decide this game. Indiana has committed 40 in its three postseason games, 273rd nationally in that regard this season.
KenPom Line: Tar Heels by 5
Matchup to Watch: Marcus Paige vs. Yogi Ferrell
Random Fact: Mar. 25 would be the latest Indiana has won a game since its run to the National Championship in 2002.
Midwest Region – Chicago, IL
(1) Virginia vs. (4) Iowa State | Friday, 6:10 PM, CBS
It’s been a long, long time since Iowa State has played with house money on a stage like this, but here we are. Iona as a trendy upset pick? Squashed. Purdue? Try Little Rock! Little Rock as a trendy upset pick? Squashed.
And the result? A trip to Chicago to face one of the best teams in the country for a trip to the Elite Eight. Iowa State is not supposed to beat Virginia. Compete? Definitely. Hang? Probably. But win, on this stage? Not many people are counting on it. But I guarantee you won’t find many of them around these parts.
I’m of the opinion that if the Cyclones can game plan twice a year for a full court press like West Virginia’s, there’s a lot they can accomplish in a week preparing for UVA’s pack line defense. But the Cavaliers are also well coached with phenomenal athletes at every position — and fundamentally they’re flawless. At their best, we’ve seen them beat Villanova by 11.
But when these Cyclones are at their best, we’ve seen the top overall seed in this tournament lose by 13. I don’t know what else to say besides buckle up.
KenPom Line: Cavaliers by 6
Matchup to Watch: Malcolm Brogdon vs. Niang/Nader
Random Fact: Iowa State is awesome.
(10) Syracuse vs. (11) Gonzaga | Friday, 8:40 PM, CBS
In a college basketball season as completely bonkers as it has been in 2015-16, we should have seen this matchup coming.
Both Gonzaga and Syracuse received tournament bids by the skin of their teeth — the Bulldogs by winning the WCC tournament title, and the Orange… well… we’re still not really sure. At one point, a Jim Boeheim-less Syracuse was 10-7 overall (0-4 in the ACC), leaving some to wonder if this was the year Boeheim might move on and leave Mike Hopkins with the keys to the kingdom.
But they’re here, by some miracle, as the higher seed in a Sweet Sixteen game — but don’t let seeds fool you. At last check, Gonzaga was a 4.5-point favorite after rolling through Seton Hall and Utah behind 20 points and 13 rebounds per game from big man Domantas Sabonis. The Orange will need to stick their strength on the perimeter because Sabonis is a force inside, and 6-9 DaJuan Coleman can’t stop him on his own.
The winner gets Iowa State, eh? Eh?
KenPom Line: Bulldogs by 2
Matchup to Watch: Trevor Cooney vs. Eric McClellan
Random Fact: Sixteen of Syracuse’s 21 wins have been by double digits.