Jay Wright and defending national champion Villanova look to advance to the Sweet 16 with a win over first-time Tournament participant Northwestern
On the first day of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, there wasn’t a ton of March Madness, at least regarding upsets. No. 12 Middle Tennessee and No. 11 Xavier both won their First Round games against lower seeds, but neither team was considered a big underdog.
On Saturday, half of the spots in the Sweet 16 will be filled. Will we continue to see the top teams prevail or will a Cinderella or two emerge? Here’s a preview of Saturday’s slate.
NCAA Tournament Saturday Second Round Games
Note: All times Eastern, some start times approximate
No. 5 Notre Dame vs. No.4 West Virginia
TV: 12:10 p.m., CBS
Site: Buffalo (West Region)
Preview: On Thursday, Notre Dame eked out a 60-58 win over No. 12 Princeton. The Fighting Irish were up 59-54 with 1:10 left, but the Tigers had a chance to win it on their last possession but Devin Cannady missed a three-pointer with just seconds left. Mike Brey’s team will hope for better success against West Virginia. The Mountaineers took charge early in their 86-80 win over Bucknell on Thursday. They were led by Nathan Adrian’s double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Notre Dame rarely turns the ball over (9.4 turnovers per game), while West Virginia loves to play full-court, aggressive defense and forces teams into plenty of mistakes (20.4 turnovers per game). That may be the one statistic to pay the most attention to in this game.
Prediction: Notre Dame 74, West Virginia 68
No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Villanova
TV: 2:40 p.m., CBS
Site: Buffalo (East Region)
Preview: For a No. 1 seed, Villanova played poorly in the first half game against Mount St. Mary’s. The Wildcats didn’t score for the first 6:06 of the game and led just 30-29 at halftime. They turned it up another notch in the second half, coasting to a 72-52 victory, but can’t afford another slow start against Wisconsin. The Badgers defeated Virginia Tech 84-74 as Wisconsin led virtually the entire game. A win over Villanova would put the Badgers in the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight season.
If Wisconsin is going to knock off the defending national champions, the Badgers will need to shoot like they did against the Hokies. UW was 13-for-31 from three-point range on Thursday night. Villanova has done a good job against teams on the perimeter, holding opponents to just 31.3 percent. Mount St. Mary’s connected on just five of its 21 attempts (23.8 percent).
Prediction: Villanova 77, Wisconsin 67
No. 8 Northwestern vs. No. 1 Gonzaga
TV: 5:15 p.m., CBS
Site: Salt Lake City (West Region)
Preview: Gonzaga struggled in the first half against South Dakota State on Thursday before pulling away 66-46. The Bulldogs are usually a team that gets off to good starts offensively, but that wasn’t the case against the Jackrabbits. Next up for the top seed in the West Region is a pesky Northwestern team. The Wildcats were just able to hang on for the 68-66 victory over Vanderbilt in arguably the best game on Thursday. The win was Northwestern’s first in NCAA Tournament history in the Wildcats’ first-ever appearance.
Gonzaga is not only a top-15 offensive team in the nation, but also ranks in the top 10 in defense as well. So Northwestern could have problems keeping up with the Bulldogs on either end of the court.
Prediction: Gonzaga 80, Northwestern 66
No. 11 Xavier vs. No. 3 Florida State
TV: 6:10 p.m., TNT
Site: Orlando (West Region)
Preview: Despite the 82-77 win over Florida Gulf Coast, Florida State’s play was sloppy at times and the Seminoles also struggled from the free throw line. FSU shot just 24-for-39 (61.5 percent) from the charity stripe, which allowed the No. 14-seeded Eagles the opportunity to hang around.
Xavier will look to attack Florida State on the offensive end much like the Musketeers did in their 76-65 victory over Maryland on Thursday. Trevon Bluiett led the way with 21 points while Sean O’Mara chipped in 18 off the bench.
If Florida State turns the ball over like it did against Florida Gulf Coast (16 times), Xavier can certainly pull off another upset.
Prediction: Florida State 74, Xavier 70
No. 12 Middle Tennessee vs. No. 4 Butler
TV: 7:10 p.m., TBS
Site: Milwaukee (South Region)
Preview: Middle Tennessee may be a No. 12 seed, but these Blue Raiders don’t play like one. They picked up their second straight opening round victory over a Big Ten team, beating Minnesota 81-72 on Thursday. MTSU will look to make another statement by advancing to the Sweet 16 with a win over Butler. The No. 4-seeded Bulldogs had little trouble in their 76-64 victory over Winthrop. Butler shot 49 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from three-point range, but can get the job done on defense too. The Blue Raiders love to score in bunches, but getting points against the Bulldogs could be a challenge.
Prediction: Butler 71, Middle Tennessee 67
No. 7 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 2 Arizona
TV: 7:45 p.m., CBS
Site: Salt Lake City (West Region)
Preview: Saint Mary’s held on for an 85-77 win over VCU on Thursday behind Jock Landale’s 18 points and 13 rebounds. The Gaels led most of the game but had to withstand a Rams spurt after they turned up the defensive pressure. Next up for Saint Mary’s is matchup with Arizona, a popular Final Four pick for many brackets. The Wildcats beat North Dakota Thursday night 100-82 as freshmen Lauri Markkanen and Rawle Alkins each put up 20 points.
Saint Mary’s is ranked second in the nation in both rebound margin and scoring defense. The Gaels will need to excel in both areas if they hope to pull off the upset.
Prediction: Arizona 87, Saint Mary’s 72
No. 5 Virginia vs. No. 4 Florida
TV: 8:40 p.m., TNT
Site: Orlando (East Region)
Preview: Florida looked good in its 80-65 win over East Tennessee State on Thursday. Devin Robinson led all Gators with 24 points while adding seven rebounds. Florida figures to have more difficulty scoring when it takes on Virginia. The Cavaliers had their hands full against UNC Wilmington, overcoming a 15-point first-half deficit in their 76-71 win. London Perrantes was the top scorer with 24 points while Marial Shayok was huge off of the bench with 23.
Virginia is known for its defense, but Florida has several guys that can score in Robinson, Kasey Hill, Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen. The Gators’ offensive balance could give the Cavaliers problems.
Prediction: Florida 72, Virginia 65
No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 4 Purdue
TV: 9:40 p.m., TBS
Site: Milwaukee (Midwest Region)
Preview: Purdue advanced past the first round for the first time in three seasons with an 80-70 win over Vermont. Vincent Edwards scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half for the Boilermakers, who outscored the Catamounts 43-34 over the final 20 minutes. Next up is a matchup against Iowa State, one of the hottest teams entering the Tournament. The Cyclones continued to roll, beating Nevada 84-73 behind 19 points and eight assists from Monte Morris. The Big 12 Tournament MVP, Morris has been one of the nation’s best players this season, averaging 16.4 points, 6.1 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game.
Purdue brings plenty of size to the table, led by sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan, but Iowa State has a dynamic backcourt and the edge in experience. This should be a close and entertaining Big 12 vs. Big Ten matchup.
Prediction: Iowa State 77, Purdue 73
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.