The stakes get higher with each round, and Saturday’s series of games has a chance to become one of the highlights of the men’s NCAA tournament.
Saturday’s winners earn a spot in the Sweet 16, and the eight games feature some of the best teams and players in college basketball. Three No. 1 seeds are in action, with the spotlight on first-team All-Americans Jalen Wilson of Kansas and Alabama forward Brandon Miller, and possibly Houston’s all-rounder Marcus Sasser.
Here’s the list of Saturday’s eight games, ranked by how good they are to watch.
No. 4Tennessee vs. No. 5 Duke
Time/TV: 2:40 p.m. ET, CBS
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A matchup of the top two seed of the day, the Blue Devils play their best basketball of the season, having rolled through the ACC Tournament and knocked out their first-round opponent Oral Roberts with relative ease, ending their winning streak increased to 10. this game will be based on defense.
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Tennessee is able to keep the score low, but it must also prevent Duke center Kyle Filipowski from dominating in the paint if the Vols want to advance. The Volunteers ranked third in the NCAA in scoring defense, second in field goal defense, and first in three-point percentage defense. Look for maximum television exposure, especially among Duke haters when the Blue Devils are late.
No. 1 Alabama to No. 8 Maryland
Time/TV: 9:40 p.m., TBS
There’s no question that all eyes will be on Miller, not only because he’s been in the news lately, but also because he played 19 minutes in the Crimson Tide’s win over Texas A&M Corpus-Christi and had a goose egg in the scoring column. Maryland will need another big game from Julian Reese, who led the Terps with 17 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in their victory over West Virginia. If Alabama plays its A-game, it could get out of hand early.
No. 7 Missouri vs. No. 15 Princeton
Time/TV: 6:10 p.m., TNT
Playstyle is sometimes important, especially when you’re watching college basketball, but this game in the Tigers’ battle is intriguing because of the seeds involved. Princeton is trying to become just the fourth No. 15 to make it to the second round, but if you’re looking for offensive fireworks, there are much better options. Princeton can let opponents down with its deliberate pace of play, but Missouri has extraordinary offensive talent in Kobe Brown and D’Moi Hodge who can make that a moot point if the Tigers get rolling like they did in the second half against Utah State .
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 8 Arkansas
Time/TV: 5:15 p.m., CBS
Arkansas is playing a No. 1 seed for the third NCAA tournament in a row, and as good as they were against Illinois, the way the Razorbacks shot the ball just won’t work against Kansas. The Jayhawks had no trouble with Howard in the first round, even without head coach Bill Self, who is still recovering from a medical issue that forced him to miss the Big 12 Tournament.
To stand a chance, Arkansas has to push the pace to get easy buckets, forcing the Jayhawks to defend in a way the Razorbacks get open three-point looks. Both teams have the ability to score into the 80s.
No. 1Houston vs. No. 9 Maroon
Time/TV: 7:10 p.m., TBS
Sasser’s health is Houston’s biggest concern. Sasser left the game in the first round after just 14 minutes against Northern Kentucky after re-injuring his groin, leaving the Cougars looking to replace his offensive production. The Norwegians shot 28% and lost only 11, showing Houston had trouble putting them away.
Houston’s calling card is on the defensive side, especially against guarding the three-point line, and Auburn is absolutely awful from deep. This is about the availability of Sasser. If he plays and is even slightly effective, Houston wins easily. But the sportsbooks snoop around and give Auburn a puncher’s chance, making for an intriguing prime-time matchup.
No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 7 Northwestern
Time/TV: 20:40, TNT
The Bruins have a knack for bringing down the nets in Houston, and the way they do their business lets you know they’ve been coached well and won’t implode themselves. They also don’t care about three-point shooting and will just wear you out on defense. Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell lead a balanced Bruins offense and freshman forward Adem Bona could return from a shoulder injury.
Northwestern makes no mistakes, averaging less than 10 turnovers per game, but UCLA ranks second in the country in terms of turnover margin in the game, so something has to be done. The Wildcats have to jump on UCLA early to stand a chance at an upset, but that’s easier said than done.
No. 2 Texas vs. No. 10 Penn State
Time/TV: 7:45 p.m. CBS
Texas, a popular sleeper pick to reach the Final Four, is riding high after his Big 12 championship and carried that momentum to an easy win against Colgate. Marcus Carr and Sir’Jabari Rice, who made seven 3-pointers in the first round, lead the offensive talent.
Penn State is one of the top three-point shooting teams in the country (39% of three-point range with 13 threes vs. Texas A&M). The Nittany Lions are one of the worst offensive rebound teams in the country, so if they don’t get consistent shots, the Longhorns — backed by a deep bench — will drive them out of the gym.
No. 5 San Diego State vs. No. 13 Furman
Time/TV: 12:10 p.m., CBS
Nothing against the two teams involved, but there’s no doubt people will tune in mostly because it’s the first game of the day. Furman beat Virginia on a late 3-pointer by JP Pegues with 2.2 seconds left, preceded by an all-time blunder by Cavaliers guard Kihei Clark. The Paladins score evenly with four starters averaging double digits.
San Diego State was stingy on defense in its win against Charleston, leaving the Cougars at 32% shooting. The Aztecs weren’t much better at shooting, but this game could turn into a boring party if the teams can’t get the ball into the basket.
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