The first (*second*) round of the NCAA Tournament was probably the best ever. Thursday was a college basketball fanatic’s dream day, and Friday hasn’t been too shabby so far, either.
Here are some picks for the Round of 32 games that we’ll be seeing on Saturday:
(All times ET)
No. 1 Florida vs. No. 9 Pittsburgh, 12:15 p.m. on CBS, South Region
Florida needed just about all 40 minutes to knock off Albany, a tough No. 16 seed. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh breezed past Colorado in a 29-point, second-round victory. The Panthers have been playing much more inspired basketball ever since their regular season finale at Clemson.
If the Panthers keep that up, they will give the No. 1 overall seed a good fight. Talib Zanna has the size and muscle to combat Patric Young, and Lamar Patterson and James Robinson have been solid playmakers all season.
But there’s a reason Florida is the No. 1 overall seed. The Gators are a seasoned group with great chemistry and stalwart defense. Their only two losses are on the road to great teams, Wisconsin and Connecticut. And in those games, the Gators did not have their full lineup because of suspensions and injuries. With a full team, Florida is undefeated, and it will stay that way as it advances to the second weekend.
My pick: Florida 72, Pittsburgh 62
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 5 Saint Louis, 2:45 p.m. on CBS, Midwest Region
Both these teams squeaked out of the Round of 64. Louisville trailed Manhattan by three points in the final four minutes until Luke Hancock’s heroics saved the Cardinals. Saint Louis trailed NC State by 16 points late in the second half, needing a Wolfpack meltdown at the foul line to force overtime, and eventually win it in the extra period.
Although Louisville struggled in its opening game against Manhattan, it is not a sign that the Cardinals are not actually a title contender. They had a very tough matchup against Manhattan, which plays the same style and knows the ins and outs of Louisville’s system. The Cardinals are still ranked No. 2 in KenPom and have been playing as well anyone in college basketball in recent weeks.
Like Manhattan, Saint Louis is a tough defensive team that will give Louisville some offense troubles, but the Cardinals have already shown they can overcome struggles on the offensive end.
My pick: Louisville 68, Saint Louis 61
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 7 Texas, 5:15 p.m. on CBS, Midwest Region
One of the misconceptions about Michigan this year is that the Wolverines are a good defensive bunch. Whether it has to do with the Big Ten reputation or the Wolverines ranking No. 49 in points allowed with 64.6 per game, I don’t know. But Michigan defense ranks among the worst among NCAA Tournament teams on KenPom at No. 93 in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Texas is not a great offensive team, but the Longhorns did just post 1.24 points per possession against Arizona State, which has a solid, top-50 defense.
The Longhorns will have the advantage in the frontcourt with Jonathan Holmes, Cameron Ridley and Connor Lammert, but their backcourt will be overmatched. Michigan’s Nik Stauskas is Big Ten Player of the Year for a reason and Caris LeVert will cause a mismatch, as he often does.
My pick: Michigan 76, Texas 75
No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 12 North Dakota State, 6:10 p.m. on TNT, West Region
North Dakota State became one of this year’s Cinderellas with a Thursday victory against No. 5 seed Oklahoma. It was the Bison’s first NCAA Tournament win in program history, and they are poised to earn another Saturday against San Diego State.
The Bison are a tough mid-major to tackle because they have so many weapons, as demonstrated in the Oklahoma win. Summit League Player of the Year Taylor Braun had arguably his worst game of the season, but the Bison survived. Combo-guard Lawrence Alexander went off for 28 points, forward Marshall Bjorklund remained a model of consistency with 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting, and forward TrayVonn Wright provided an offensive boost with 14 points.
And then freshman guard Carlin Dupree added four points in overtime to seal the victory, just for good measure.
The Bison also have good size across the board. Although Bjorklund is a bit undersized at 6’8″ in the post, Wright and Braun are both 6’7″ on the wings, and Kory Brown and Alexander have good size at the guard positions.
North Dakota State will not be stopped by San Diego State, and the Bison will make school history.
My pick: North Dakota State 67, San Diego State 63
No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 11 Dayton, 7:10 p.m. on TBS, South Region
Vee Sanford came through for Dayton on Thursday with a game-winning bucket to defeat Ohio State in the final seconds.
The Flyers have the pieces to keep this game competitive, but Syracuse’s length will prove to be an issue. With its deep frontcourt, Dayton had an advantage on Ohio State. Syracuse can match the Flyers’ front line.
Although Sanford hit the game-winner, most of Dayton’s production against Ohio State came from the frontcourt. Starters Dyshawn Pierre, Devin Oliver and Matt Kavanaugh combined for 32 of the starting lineups’ 43 points. Reserve forwards Jalen Robinson and Kendall Pollard was the highest bench scorers after Sanford.
As always, Syracuse has great length with four rotation players standing 6’8″ or taller. Sophomore wing Michael Gbinije can also be added to that group at 6’7″. Dayton simply does not have the size to keep up with that for 40 minutes.
My pick: Syracuse 70, Dayton 63
No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 7 Oregon, 7:45 p.m. on CBS, West Region
Oregon has been looking pretty darn good every since mid-February. The Ducks have looked more like the team that started 13-0 and not at all like the team that faced a 2-8 stretch in the middle of the season.
But Wisconsin has also been playing greta basketball. The Badgers lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament and a toughie at Nebraska to close the regular season. But those are their only two losses since Feb. 4, when they started a eight-game winning streak by beating Illinois.
Oregon likes to run, and Wisconsin is playing with a faster tempo this season. (Still, the Badgers rank only No. 274 in tempo on KenPom.) Oregon ranks No. 12 in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom, and Wisconsin ranks No. 5. So this should be a fun one.
This year’s Wisconsin team has played worse perimeter defense than teams in the past have. The Badgers are simply average in that area, and that works to Oregon’s advantage. The Ducks have a slew of 3-point shooters, led by Joseph Young and Jason Calliste. Mike Moser and Johnathan Loyd are also capable shooters from beyond the arc.
If the Ducks get their jump shots to drop, they could find themselves in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.
My pick: Oregon 74, Wisconsin 72
No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 12 Harvard, 8:40 p.m. on TNT, East Region
I picked Michigan State to the Sweet 16 in my bracket, but after watching the Crimson and the Spartans play Thursday, why can’t the Crimson pull off another upset? This one will be much tougher for Harvard, as Michigan State has many more options offensively.
But, the Spartans are yet to prove they can score against a good defensive team. Harvard falls into that category with the 31st-best adjust defensive efficiency, per KenPom. This healthy Michigan State group that everyone is raving about has ganged up on similar teams that have great offenses but mediocre defenses. But against tough defensive groups, they’ve struggled. The Spartans lost to Ohio State, Illinois and Nebraska all in the final weeks of the season.
Harvard is also a group that has many options offensively. Siyani Chambers is mainly a distributor, but he showed his scoring ability late in the game against Cincinnati. Wesley Saunders is a do-it-all type of hybrid. Laurent Rivard is a deadly shooter. And Kyle Casey and Steve Moundou-Missi produce well in the post.
These teams match up very well and should wind up playing in an epic battle.
My pick: Michigan State 79, Harvard 78
No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 7 Connecticut, 9:40 p.m. on TBS, East Region
I don’t know how deep of a run Connecticut can make this season, but Shabazz Napier sure reminded me of Kemba Walker in the Huskies’ second-round win against St. Joseph’s. Napier struggled from the field but still posted 24 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals. As long as he is on the court, Connecticut can be competitive with any team in the country.
Villanova is a very, very good team. The Wildcats are solid across the board but are not great at any one thing, and their offense has been lacking recently. Villanova had no flow in their Big East Tournament loss to Seton Hall and could not get much going against Milwaukee on Thursday until the latter part of the second half.
The Wildcats are also a very young team going up against one of the more experienced teams in college basketball. Also, remember that Connecticut truly deserved to be a No. 6 or possibly even a No. 5 seed instead of a No. 7.
If Napier gets some help, the Huskies will find themselves returning to Madison Square Garden next week.
My pick: Connecticut 73, Villanova 66