A bunch of great matchups are on Sunday’s slate.
The day tips off with No. 10 seed Stanford going for its second straight upset against a Kansas team that will once again be without Joel Embiid. Then undefeated Wichita State gets its toughest matchup of the season when it faces No. 8 seed Kentucky, a team whose talent far exceeds its seed.
No. 3 seed Iowa State, without starting forward Georges Niang, will try to hold off No. 6 seed North Carolina in a game that should be filled with offense. Then No. 14 seed Mercer can become the second-straight Atlantic Sun champion to reach the Sweet 16 in a bracket-collapse game with No. 11 seed Tennessee.
Plus, National Player of the Year Doug McDermott will be in action against Baylor, UCLA will look to avoid becoming Stephen F. Austin’s next victim, and two more No. 1 seeds try to reach the Sweet 16.
(All times ET)
No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 10 Stanford, 12:15 p.m. on CBS, South Region
Bill Self ruled out Joel Embiid for this game, but Kansas is still the favorite. The Jayhawks did not pull away from No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky until the very end of their Round of 64 game, but their frontcourt showed they can make up for the absence of Embiid. Tarik Black posted 12 points, five rebounds and four blocks with perfect, 6-of-6 shooting; Perry Ellis had a double-double with 14 points and 13 boards; and Jamari Traylor had the best game of his career with 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting along with 14 rebounds.
However, that production did come against Eastern Kentucky’s four-guard lineup. Stanford has a deeper, more talented frontcourt with Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis and Stefan Nastic. Stretch-four John Gage is good for a few points and rebounds off the bench.
Stanford guard Chasson Randle has been playing the best basketball of his career and hybrid Anthony Brown can do a bit of everything alonside him.
The Cardinal will give the Jayhawks a tough fight. But as long as Kansas gets good play from Andrew Wiggins and Naadir Tharpe and the Embiid-less frontcourt holds its own, the Jayhawks will advance to Memphis.
My pick: Kansas 77, Stanford 73
No. 1 Wichita State vs. No. 8 Kentucky, 2:45 p.m. on CBS, Midwest Region
The matchup every college basketball was hoping for came to fruition. To remain perfect, undefeated Wichita State will have to get past a Kentucky team that underperformed this season but is loaded with talent.
To hand Wichita State its first loss of the season, Kentucky needs to exploit its frontcourt advantage. The Shockers do not have any stars in the post, using a committee of players instead. Chadrack Lufile, Kadeem Coleby and Darius Carter are all very solid players, but none are even close to as talented as Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress.
To survive the Wildcats, the Shockers will need big games from their guards and wing Cleanthony Early. Fred VanVleet, the MVC Player of the Year, is arguably the best point guard in the nation. VanVleet ranks No. 13 in offensive rating, No. 31 in assist rate, and No. 66 in steal percentage on KenPom. He is also in the top 100 for true shooting percentage. The Shockers did not need VanVleet to score in their Friday win against No. 16 seed Cal Poly, but he still dished out eight assists and had zero turnovers.
Ron Baker and Early are two other All-MVC First Team members. Both can score in a multitude of ways and play hard-nosed defense. Baker, with his ability to distribute, is able to take a bit of the pressure of VanVleet.
My pick: Wichita State 73, Kentucky 67
No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 6 North Carolina, 5:45 p.m. on CBS, East Region
Iowa State had a very realistic chance at making its first Final Four since 1944. Then sophomore forward Georges Niang broke his foot in the Cyclones’ second-round win against North Carolina Central, and suddenly this matchup with North Carolina becomes a much larger obstacle.
Still, the Cyclones deserve to be favored over the Tar Heels. Even without Niang, the Cyclones have two of the best players from this year’s Big 12 in DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim. Kane has great size for a point guard at 6’4″ and averages 16.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists. He doesn’t shoot many 3-pointers, but makes the ones he does take at a 40% clip. Ejim is undersized but an imposing presence regardless. He’s a double-double threat who can step out and knock down some triples as well.
Dustin Hogue is another double-double type of player, and young guards Monte Morris and Naz Long add great depth to the backcourt.
North Carolina has a guard who can take over a game in Marcus Paige and a potentially dangerous shooter in Leslie McDonald. Athletic small forward J.P. Tokoto is the team’s silent killer. In the Tar Heels’ second-round win against Providence, Tokoto posted 10 points, four rebounds, six assists and three steals.
My pick: Iowa State 84, North Carolina 82
No. 11 Tennessee vs. No. 14 Mercer, 6:10 p.m. on TNT, Midwest Region
Mercer became an NCAA-Tournament darling with its upset of No. 3 seed Duke while Tennessee pulled off a more expected upset against No. 6 seed Massachusetts.
The Bears will once again give a BCS-school a tough matchup in this one. They start five seniors and high-end size and athleticism.
But one of the reasons Mercer was able to knock off Duke was because the Blue Devils defended awfully, allowing 1.22 points per possession. (The Blue Devils have been a poor defensive team all season, ranking No. 115 in adjust defensive efficiency on KenPom.)
Tennessee is a fabulous defensive team, ranking No. 13 on KenPom. According to metrics, the Volunteers are also much better than a No. 11 seed. They rank No. 7 overall on KenPom and No. 20 on Sagarin. And even though the Volunteers have had some very poor offensive performances, overall their offense is very good, ranking in KenPom’s top 20.
Unless Tennessee has one of those rough offensive outings Sunday, it should survive Mercer.
My pick: Tennessee 68, Mercer 65
No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 12 Stephen F. Austin, 7:10 p.m. on TBS, South Region
Can Stephen F. Austin continue its Cinderella run? It’s definitely possible, but UCLA will be a much tougher matchup for the Lumberjacks. The Bruins have too much size for the Lumberjacks to handle.
Tanner Clayton, who is 6’9″, is Stephen F. Austin’s only rotation player taller than 6’6″. Four UCLA players are 6’9″ are taller, including point guard Kyle Anderson. Even shooting guards Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine have solid size at 6’5″.
But it’s hard to imagine the Lumberjacks getting run out of the gym after winning 29 games in a row. Plus, they showed their resiliency with a 10-point comeback in the final five minutes Friday to force overtime against VCU.
My pick: UCLA 78, Stephen F. Austin 71
No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 6 Baylor, 7:45 p.m. on truTV, West Region
Baylor better be prepared for Creighton’s 3-point barrage. The Bears’ zone already defends the perimeter poorly, and playing the zone against the Bluejays will basically be suicide. So expect some defensive adjustments from head coach Scott Drew.
If Baylor is able to keep up with Creighton, this has the potential to be a thrilling matchup. Neither team plays at a fast tempo, but they are among the nation’s best offensive teams. The Bluejays rank No. 1 in adjust offensive efficiency on KenPom, and the Bears rank No. 7.
The one area where Creighton will be at a disadvantage is the inside game. The Bluejays two main forwards are Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge. McDermott can post up, but he also does a large amount of his work on the perimeter. Wragge is almost exclusively a 3-point shooter. The Bluejays’ only true big man is Will Artino, who averages just 13.3 minutes per game.
Meanwhile, Baylor has a great, deep frontcourt with Cory Jefferson, Rico Gathers, Isaiah Austin and Royce O’Neale.
My pick: Creighton 80, Baylor 69
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 8 Memphis, 8:40 p.m. on TNT, East Region
Virginia nearly became the first No. 1 seed to lose to No. 16 seed, but the Cavaliers pulled away to escape with a 70-59 win. Don’t let the Cavs’ opening-game performance make you doubt them, because they are a serious Final Four contender.
Virginia plays stifling defense and has many options on offense. Joe Harris is a deadeye shooter, Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes have developed into great guards, and Anthony Gill and Akii Mitchell are imposing presences down low.
The Cavaliers’ defense will shut down Memphis, sending the team to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1995.
My pick: Virginia 66, Memphis 55
No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 8 Gonzaga, 9:40 p.m. on TBS, West Region
Gonzaga was over-seeded, and Arizona will reap the benefits of that. The Wildcats should not have too much trouble with this mid-major, which is typically one of the kings of the West.
Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski will be overwhelmed by Kaleb Tarczewski, Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The Zags are not deep enough up front to outplay Arizona’s frontcourt.
The Bulldogs will need guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. to light it up if they are going to have any chance. Otherwise, Arizona is cruising to its third Sweet 16 in the last four years.
My pick: Arizona 69, Gonzaga 64