#1 Kansas vs. #8 Arkansas
Saturday, March 18th 4:15 PM CT, CBS
1 seed Kansas (28-7) was in a little bit of a close game early in their matchup against 16 seed Howard before they blew the doors off of them in the second half and won 96-68. They now take on 8 seed Arkansas (21-13) who secured a ten point victory over Illinois in their first round game. Arkansas has been really suspect in the latter half of their season, losing six of their last ten games before the tournament. So while the win over Illinois should certainly help boost them, Kansas just seems like too much for them in my book. Especially with this game being in Des Moines, in close proximity to Kansas, I have KU advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.
#2 Texas vs. #10 Penn State
Saturday, March 18th 6:45 PM CT, CBS
The theme for a lot of Big 12 teams in the first round was a close battle in the first half that became not a close battle in the second half. 2 seed Texas (27-8) fits that to a tee, as they battled 15 seed Colgate in the first half of their first round game, before going on to win 81-61. The Longhorns now take on 10 seed Penn State (23-13), who denied 7 seed Texas A&M a matchup with their heated rival. Much of that win by the Nittany Lions, their first NCAA tournament win since 2001, was on the back of Andrew Funk, who went 8 of 10 from three point range. That’s impressive, but it’s hard to keep that offensive fire between games, especially when fatigue can hit in the second game of a single weekend. Texas is a much more rounded team so I have them advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.
#3 Kansas State vs. #6 Kentucky
Sunday, March 19th 1:40 PM CT, CBS
3 seed Kansas State (24-9) snapped a two game losing streak from before the NCAA tournament by defeating 14 seed Montana State, 77-65. Their second round opponent is 6 seed Kentucky (22-11), a showdown of Wildcats. The Kentucky Wildcats took down 11 seed Providence in their first game, winning 61-53. On paper, Kentucky has more raw talent than Kansas State, with stars like Oscar Tshiebwe, but they just haven’t been able to synergize that talent consistently throughout the season. Both of these teams have nearly identical offensive stats, but Kentucky has had a much stronger defense. Combine that with what will likely be a heavy Kentucky crowd in Greensboro, North Carolina, and I like Kentucky to “upset” KState in a close, low-scoring game.
#3 Baylor vs. #6 Creighton
Sunday, March 19th 6:10 PM CT, TBS
Like a lot of other top seeded squads, 3 seed Baylor (23-10) struggled with 14 seed UC Santa Barbara early in their matchup. In fact, Baylor trailed by one point at half, However, the Bears started seeing some more threes fall in the second half and got some really nice production from Caleb Lohner, who amassed 13 points on a perfect 5 for 5 shooting. That powered them past UCSB, 74-56. They now battle 6 seed Creighton (22-12), who had an ugly shooting day against 11 seed NC State, especially from three where the Blue Jays only hit 3 of 20. But, the crowd that heavily favored Creighton powered the team on to a victory to now face Baylor. My concern for Baylor in this game is two fold. First, Keyonte George had a pretty ugly first game of the tournament, only shooting 2 of 9 from the field. Hopefully that’s just some freshman jitters that wears off for this game. Second, and perhaps most consequential, is that Baylor very clearly has a big man problem. Flo Thamba is just not getting it done right now, only scoring 1 point in 10 minutes of action. Josh Ojianwuna, similarly, put up a goose egg in 12 minutes of playtime. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatuoa played the best out of the group, amassing 4 points in 17 minutes. But still, that is not a great look when the Bears have to face a 7 foot 1 Ryan Kalkbrenner, who just dropped 31 points on NC State. So unless something changes quickly, this will be a game of polar opposites where Creighton is going to pound the post and Baylor is going to try to let it fly from three. We know that the Bears can certainly hit from deep, and I don’t expect them to have two off-games in a row from that range. As we saw from Purdue/Fairleigh Dickinson, threes beat twos even when you have a dominate big man. Give me Baylor to the Sweet Sixteen.
#3 Gonzaga vs. #6 TCU
Sunday, March 19th 8:40 PM CT, TBS
6 seed TCU (22-12) needed a JaKobe Coles floater with less than 2 seconds on the clock to squeeze past 11 seed Arizona State in their first round game. They are now set to face 3 seed Gonzaga (29-5), who got a challenge from Bryce Drew’s Grand Canyon squad in the first half, before Julian Strawther and Drew Timme put the Antelopes away in the second half. TCU’s up-tempo style of play has helped it out throughout the season, but I actually think it might hurt them in this one: Gonzaga likes to score, a lot. The Bulldogs average 87.4 ppg this season, while TCU only averages 75.1. Both teams are dead even in defense, allowing only 70 ppg. While you can quibble about the quality of teams these two have played in conference affecting those stats, I still think Gonzaga wins this one to head to the Sweet Sixteen.