Butler vs Purdue
Obviously the biggest problem in this game for Purdue is going to be missing Isaac Haas and this will effect them the rest of the tournament. Haas broke his elbow on a very weird play and should not have even been in the game because Purdue was up by 20. Haas was a major source of points for the Boilermakers and would have provided them a nice size advantage in this game against an undersized Butler team. Purdue is going to have to ask Matt Haarms, who usually comes off the bench to start. Haarms has shown flashes of being able to score this year, but he mostly just fixes his hair and complains that he’s getting fouled. Carsen Edwards, Dakota Mathias and Vincent Edwards are going to have to contribute more than they already do for Purdue in order to stay alive in this tournament. Kelan Martin has lead Butler to this point in the tournament and hopes to get them through the next battle that is Purdue. Kamar Baldwin helped out Martin in the First Round against Arkansas as the duo combined for 51 of Butler’s 79 points. This is going to be an interesting game because no one really knows how this Purdue team is going to play without Haas. Butler dominated Arkansas at the beginning and end of the game, but I don’t think they’ll be able to dictate the pace of this one. Even without Haas, Purdue has a talent advantage. Talent doesn’t always win out, but I think it’ll be enough for Purdue in this matchup. Purdue may actually matchup better with the pick-and-roll offense of Butler without Haas on the court because they’ll be a little quicker. I expect this to be a grind it out type of game for Purdue, but once they get over the hump, they should be able to put Butler away. Purdue 75 Butler 64.
Syracuse vs Michigan State
Michigan State struggled early with Bucknell until Miles Bridges realized that no one on Bucknell could guard him. Bridges is playing like he should have been all season and has really turned up his intensity in the tournament. Michigan State is definitely a better team than Syracuse, but they really struggle with opening a game strong against inferior opponents. MSU also struggles with opponents that play at a slow tempo (Wisconsin) and that’s the exact game plan of Syracuse. Syracuse’s main strength is their defense. They excel at limiting their opponents field goal percentage. In consecutive games to start the tournament, they held Arizona State to 40.4% from the field and TCU to 39.6%, pretty damn impressive. However, their opponent Michigan State, shoots the ball extremely well, ranking 7th in effective field goal percentage and 5th in three point percentage. I don’t think the Orange can hold the Spartans to a low field goal percentage, so they will have to rely on their offense against MSU’s defense, not a good formula for them. Syracuse is going to have an extremely hard time scoring due to the length of Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges. The Orange are already not a good shooting team and Michigan State will just cause more problems for them. Syracuse ranks 323rd in effective field goal percentage while Michigan State ranks 1st in effective field goal percentage allowed. All signs here are pointing to a Michigan State blowout and that really worries me. Given everything that has already taken place in this tournament, nothing can be considered an absolute lock, but Syracuse would need the Michigan State starters to get food poisoning to win this game. Michigan State 86 Syracuse 67.
Texas A&M vs North Carolina
North Carolina struggled in the first half against Lipscomb, but their high powered offense allowed them to pull away at the end of the game and secure the victory. Joel Berry is an excellent leader and even though he struggled from the field in the First Round, he was still able to find his teammates when they were open. Theo Pinson is going to be the reason they lose or win games in this tournament. He’s the glue holding this team together and he has some serious superstar ability, but sometimes he just needs to dig a little deeper to find it. On the other side, Texas A&M has a very talented big man in Tyler Davis. Unfortunately, he’s on of the only strong points of this team. Their guards aren’t the best and their whole team really struggles shooting threes. One thing I saw that I really liked from Texas A&M was their ability to rebound and the way they moved the ball around on offense. They created a lot of holes in the defense of Providence which allowed them to dump the ball inside to Tyler Davis or penetrate and get to the hoop. North Carolina is one of the worst teams in the country at defending the three point line, so the fact that Texas A&M shoots them infrequently and poorly really plays to their advantage. North Carolina has been very good in transition this year and Texas A&M sometimes struggles getting back on defense. Both of these things coupled with the fact that Roy Williams is 17-0 when playing an NCAA tournament game in the state of North Carolina does not bode well for the Aggies. I guess their is a first time for everything though as we saw with UMBC defeating Virginia. I don’t see UNC losing this game. Once they really started clicking on offense and defense in their First Round game, they looked pretty much unstoppable. Everyone was hitting shots from everywhere on the floor. North Carolina is one of my favorite teams to watch when everything clicks for them. They play a really smooth style of basketball when everyone is on the same page. I think North Carolina wins this one fairly easily. UNC 76 A&M 65.
Nevada vs Cincinnati
These are two very different styles of teams. Nevada likes to get up and down the floor quick with a run-and-gun style and Cincinnati likes to play solid defense and slow the game down. Despite the talent that Nevada has with the Martin twins (Caleb and Cody) and Jordan Caroline, there aren’t too many places where the Wolfpack have an advantage in this game. The Cincinnati offense struggles against zone defense and Nevada never plays a zone. Nevada is good in transition, but Cincinnati is equally as good in transition defense. Nevada usually has a decent size advantage on the perimeter and like to run a pick and roll with the Martin twins, but Cincinnati has some versatile players on the defensive side of the ball and should be able to combat the pick and roll pretty well. This is definitely going to be a low scoring game because of Cincinnati. The leading scorer for the BearCats is Gary Clark who averages 12.9 points per game this season. Their offense isn’t the most efficient, but their defense is definitely going to cause some problems for Nevada until they can make some adjustments at half time. This game is being played in the South region of the bracket and that has been the least predictable so far, but I think that Nevada is going to be able to make the right adjustments during the game and end up knocking off the number 2 seed if their star players can stay out of foul trouble. Nevada 62 Cincinnati 58.
Clemson vs Auburn
These teams are pretty evenly matched and I really didn’t think either of them were going to make it out of the First Round. Clemson changed their gameplan after realizing they shot way too many threes and limited themselves to just 14. They were also extremely efficient from the floor, shooting 55.9% against one of the better defenses in the country in New Mexico State. Auburn struggled against College of Charleston and will probably struggle in this matchup too. I don’t think they are as good as everyone makes them out to be. Auburn shot terribly from the free throw line against Charleston (15 of 32) and cannot afford to do that again against Clemson or they’ll be packing their bags and heading home. Clemson will win this game if they are able to limit their three point attempts again and keep Auburn away from the rim. Auburn will have to find a way to be more efficient against a Clemson team that excels at limiting 2 point field goal percentage. This is pretty much a toss up, but after seeing each team play in the First Round, I think there is a slight advantage to Clemson in this one. Clemson was able to put away an inferior opponent whereas Auburn struggled until the game was over. Clemson 68 Auburn 62.
Maryland Baltimore County vs Kansas State
UMBC shocked the world when they beat Virginia and it was no fluke, this team can flat out ball. Their run started with their conference championship when they upset Vermont in Vermont’s home gym. It’s not common that when a 16 seed and 1 seed meet up that the 16 seed has the best player on the court. Jairus Lyles was the best player in that matchup and it really showed. The Senior guard played well on both sides of the ball and was a main part of the Retrievers success along with KJ Maura. Kansas State will likely be without top scorer Dean Wade again in this one, but Makol Malwein, Wade’s replacement, played well enough for Kansas State to beat Creighton in the First Round, Kansas State matches up better with UMBC than Virginia did. They have more length on the defensive side of the ball that can combat the offensive duo of KJ Maura and Jairus Lyles. Kansas State is less methodical on offense than Virginia is, so the traps that threw off Virginia may not have the same effect on Kansas State. I would not be surprised if UMBC came out and played as well as they did against Virginia. They are a very good basketball team and their coach seems to have everyone on the same page. My main concern here is that UMBC is satisfied with winning one game in the tournament and will become complacent against Kansas State. That’s not really the vibe I got from their team, but this is probably the first time these kids have had this much exposure in their lifetime. Kansas State handled a very good Creighton team pretty easily in the First Round and I think they can advance to the Sweet 16 if they play the same type of game against UMBC. I respect the hell out of what UMBC did in the First Round, but I don’t see them advancing here. Kansas State 72 UMBC 65. (I hope I’m wrong because I want to watch Jairus Lyles play more).
Florida State vs Xavier
Both of these teams had a lot of success on offense in the First Round of this tournament. Xavier put up 102 points against Texas Southern and Florida State scored 67 against Mizzou. I don’t know if I would count on this being an extremely high scoring game because both teams faced teams that struggle on defense. JP Macura and Trevon Bluiett will likely lead the way for Xavier as they have for most of the year. Macura had 29 points against Texas Southern, but I don’t see him repeating that against Florida State. The leading scorer for FSU in the First Round, Mfiondu Kabengele, came off the bench and this will likely lead FSU to make some adjustments to their starting lineup. Terrance Mann left the Missouri game with a groin injury and his status for Sunday’s game is unknown. If he is not 100% healthy, Xavier will have an advantage in the paint. These two teams played exactly 1 year ago in the tournament with Xavier beating FSU 91-66. Florida State will look to avenge their loss on Sunday. I don’t think they can get the job done. I know Xavier isn’t an extremely elite team, but they were good enough to get a number 1 seed in the tournament for the first time ever and I don’t think they’ll mess this opportunity up. Xavier has a very high potent offense and FSU does not have that deep of a bench. I expect Xavier to get out to an early lead and potentially take this game wire to wire. Xavier 85 Florida State 77.
Marshall vs West Virginia
This in-state matchup is for the West Virginia bragging rights. Jon Elmore put his name on the map in the First Round when he torched Wichita State for 27 points. Marshall played a really good game and I don’t think they would have lost against any of the 4 seeds in the tournament if they got matched up with someone other than Wichita State. Another player that really impressed me on Marshall was Ajdin Penava. His high shooting percentage and ability to find the open man were very good for a Forward. West Virginia has one of the best guards in the country in Jevon Carter and also an imposing figure down low in Sagaba Konate. Konate is a rim protector that is sure to cause problems for a smaller Marshall team. Carter has the experience and basketball IQ to help his team in just about every way possible when he’s on the court. I think the two players mentioned above for WVU will be able to shut down Elmore and Penava. I didn’t see enough from Marshall that showed me they could overcome these two being taken out of the gameplan. West Virginia has one of the best defenses in the country and that will surely come to light in this game. WVU should win this game and advance to the Sweet 16 where they will matchup with a hot Villanova team. West Virignia 74 Marshall 63.