The field of 68 already has been cut by more than half as the men’s NCAA Tournament rolls into the second round. Thirty-two teams are left standing with eight games both Saturday and Sunday to set the Sweet 16.
The first half of the second round features exactly what you would want. There’s power programs facing off. There’s mid-majors capable of knocking off big names. And there’s Cinderellas that have managed surprising upsets in the first round that shocked fans and shattered brackets.
It shapes up to be a great Saturday to pull up a chair and watch one of the greatest sporting events in America. So let’s break down games in order of watchability and offer a prediction of who advances to the four regionals.
(All times ET)
No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 5 Saint Mary’s (Calif.), TBS, 7:10 pm
The Bruins barely survived their first-round matchup against Akron with Tyger Campbell making some key clutch shots to rally past the Zips. They will have to play much better against the Gaels, who cruised past Indiana and have already knocked off Gonzaga this season. UCLA needs more scoring from Johnny Juzang, a tournament star last year who has struggled in the last four weeks. The Saint Mary’s backcourt of Tommy Kuhse and Logan Johnson combined for 39 in Thursday’s win and if they stay hot it will be the lower-regarded Gaels who advance.
Prediction: Saint Mary’s, 70-67
No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 8 North Carolina, CBS, 12:10 pm
The defending national champions against one of the sport’s elite programs isn’t the usual story line for the second round, but this shapes up as a possible upset that could alter the outlook in the East Region. The Bears lack their usual depth with two key players out, including leading scorer LJ Cryer. That could pose a problem, especially in the interior where Tar Heels big man Armando Bacot can do damage. UNC also has Caleb Love and Brady Manek, who are both capable of providing an outside threat that can stretch the Baylor zone. The Bears backcourt of Adam Flagler and James Akinjo will be tested and must deliver.
Prediction: Baylor, 70-64
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 8 Memphis, TBS, 9:40 pm
The Bulldogs enter as the solid favorites, but after a middling effort against Georgia State for 30 minutes. The Tigers present a completely different challenge with their size and athleticism capable of slowing the nation’s top-scoring offense. Memphis is also playing its best basketball with seven wins in eight games. It would be easy to just move Gonzaga into the Sweet 16, but its losses to Duke and Alabama provide a blueprint for the Tigers to follow. The question is how long they can hang around and make things tight for the No. 1 overall seed. This game has the potential of being decided in the final minutes.
Prediction: Gonzaga 78, Memphis 73
No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 11 Michigan, CBS, 5:15 pm
This might be the best opportunity for the Volunteers to finally break through and reach the Final Four. They were devastating against Longwood for their eighth consecutive win and look poised to run through the Wolverines. Juwan Howard’s team fell behind Colorado State by 15 in the first round and managed to come back when the Rams went cold. That likely won’t happen with Tennessee shooters capable of knocking down open shots. Michigan could get a big boost if starting point guard DeVante ‘Jones returns after missing the first round with a concussion.
Prediction: Tennessee, 71-59
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No. 4 Arkansas vs. No. 12 New Mexico State, TNT, 8:40 pm
The star who shined brightest in Thursday’s first round wasn’t a household name to many college basketball fans. Timmy Allen of New Mexico State went off for 39 points, including clutch basket after clutch basket late in his team’s defeat of Connecticut. He will get plenty of attention from the Razorbacks, meaning some of his teammates are going to have to step up to pull another upset. Arkansas, which has won 16 of 19, will continue to rely on the offense of JD Notae and try to wear down the Aggies and reach the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season.
Prediction: Arkansas, 72-64
No. 4 Providence vs. No. 12 Richmond, TNT, 6:10 pm
The Spiders have been here before. They reached the Sweet 16 in their last appearance in 2011 under Chris Mooney and this veteran group is playing its best basketball after four wins in the Atlantic 10 tournament that preceded Thursday’s shocker against Iowa. After beating the Big Ten tournament champs, now comes the winners of the Big East regular season. The Friars are a gritty bunch that wins most of its close games. Don’t expect a blowout, but Providence should be able to grind out another victory with Nate Watson and Al Durham providing enough scoring.
Prediction: Providence, 63-57
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 9 Creighton, CBS, 2:40 pm
Perhaps if the Blue Jays hadn’t lost center Ryan Kalkbrenner, the team’s No. 2 scorer, in their first-round defeat of San Diego State then maybe there would be the possibility of a surprise. But Kalkbrenner’s absence coupled with the previous loss of guard Ryan Nembhard for the season leaves Creighton short-handed for the high-powered Jayhawks. This looks like a game that gets out of hand if Big 12 player of the year Ochai Agbaji produces like he normally does.
Prediction: Kansas, 80-62
No. 7 Murray State vs. No. 15 Saint Peter’s, CBS, 7:45 pm
It’s difficult to put the plucky Peacocks last on this list after their shocking upset of Kentucky that was one of the biggest surprises in tournament history. There’s always the possibility Saint Peter’s could catch lightning in a bottle twice in three days, though the Racers have only lost twice this season, the fewest of any team. However, Murray State faces a short recovery after a late-night overtime defeat of San Francisco. If fatigue isn’t a factor then the combination of KJ Williams and Tevin Brown should be too much for the biggest underdog left in the field.
Prediction: Murray State, 70-57
Follow colleges reporter Erick Smith on Twitter @ericksmith